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Big Love Fallout

MCQ - March 16, 2009

After watching the controversial latest episode of Big Love, and reading several excellent posts and comments about it at BCC, Mormon Mentality, Messenger & Advocate and Times & Seasons, I’m left wondering what, if anything will be the effect of this. 

Maybe nothing.  This show is, after all, a fictitious drama, not a documentary, but HBO has made statements to the effect that they are making an effort to be accurate regarding the temple ceremony, and such statements, coupled with the fact that many people take even fictitious programs as having some basis in truth, may mean that many people will base some part of their view of the Church on the way it is portrayed in Big Love.  That would be a mistake.

My feeling is that the temple segment itself, while objectionable on the basis that it gratuitously broadcast sacred rituals that the Church prefers to keep private, was nevertheless at least accurate and respectful.  Too bad you can’t say the same for the rest of the episode.  The plot was practically nonsensical, partly because it was required to bend over backwards to get Barb into the temple.  I found the portrayal of a church court to be both inaccurate and distasteful.  The developing “Hoffman forgery” plot is painting the Church as hypocritical and publicity-phobic on the issue of historical documents.  Practically every active Church member in the show comes off as a smiling phony, a  backstabber or a hypocrite. 

As offensive as all that is, I wonder if the final effect of this might not actually be positive.  My guess is that, despite its serious lack of proper context, those who watched the temple segment will not find it to be a negative experience.  Those who know Church members will know that they are not as portrayed in this show.  Those who are familiar with Mormon history will know that the Church is in the midst of a renaissance of sorts and has released many historic documents as part of a real openness about its history.  I’m guessing the show will engender at least some conversations between members and non-members about our Church that otherwise might not have happened.  It may be that, in the end, the old adage will be proved true: There’s no such thing as bad publicity.  Let me know your thoughts on the episode and, especially, what effects you observe from it.


  1. BTW, the best quote from the episode came from Nikki: “If you need a letter to confirm your faith, then what does that say about your faith?”

    I thought that was pretty good, in an otherwise pretty bad program. If HBO would stick to the story of the trials of a pretty normal family who just happens to be polygamous, this could be a pretty good show. Obviously, that’s not the strategy HBO has decided to pursue.

    Comment by MCQ — March 16, 2009 @ 1:38 am

  2. I have not seen the episode MCQ, and I don’t think I want to. I’ve only followed the discussion at BCC and T&S, but I’m just shaking my head at the contrived excuse to get Barb into the temple. The writers were concerned about portraying the actual ceremony accurately, down to the signs and tokens, but they weren’t concerned about giving Barb a legitimate reason to be there? That seems like accuracy in all the wrong places to me.

    I blogged my full thoughts here.

    Comment by Bridget Jack Meyers — March 16, 2009 @ 5:59 am

  3. Thanks for this MCQ. I agree with your analysis. BTW, I think BJM’s thoughts piggyback quite well with this post.

    You really need not carry on like that though. You’re the freaking Mormon church. According to the media, it was because of you that Proposition 8 passed in the 11th hour, and you did it blindfolded with one arm tied behind your back. It was also your fault that the ERA didn’t pass, screw Phyllis Schlafly. You’re the second wealthiest church in the world (and the only reason the Catholics are richer is because they have 45 times the membership and have been around a lot longer), you have skills at organizing and mobilizing that would have made Caesar cry. HBO should be afraid to piss you off.


    Comment by CJ Douglass — March 16, 2009 @ 8:54 am

  4. [...] Big Love Fallout over at Nine Moons [...]

    Pingback by Big Lies of Big Love « Messenger and Advocate — March 16, 2009 @ 9:00 am

  5. So you’re saying they didn’t show the animal sacrifice or blood drinking part? What a pity!>:)

    I’m curious to see the ratings of this episode over the others. Anyone know?

    Comment by Bret — March 16, 2009 @ 11:18 am

  6. Interesting thoughts, Jack.

    Bret, as I understand it, there are no Nielsen ratings for HBO shows because there are no advertisers. Their revenue comes purely from subscriptions, so there is no purpose for the ratings used on broadcast television. I don’t know if HBO or the cable companies have any way of tracking how many viewers the show had, or if subscriptions to HBO have increased or decreased, but I have not seen such data.

    Comment by MCQ — March 16, 2009 @ 4:56 pm

  7. This comment was posted by Blake on the Big Love thread at Mormon Mentality. I hope he will forgive my copying it over here. It’s just fantastic:

    HBO drew the line in the wrong place. Here is the essential aspect of context: within the context of the privacy of one’s own bedroom and covenants of faithfulness to protect the procreative potential for human intimacies, human sex is just the best that it gets in this life (in most cases). Precisely because it has such value, the problem with pornography (and out of wedlock sex for that matter) is not that too much is given, but that not enough is given. The value of the intimacy and context is profaned by trading it for something that is not merely of less value, but even dismissive of the value that could be realized.

    The context of privacy is one aspect; the context of the entire covenant-making-setting with the complete reverence for the capacity to be instructed and learn from personal revelation is the entire point. That entire point is missed — necessarily missed and mucked up — by what HBO did. The temple ceremony was mocked by taking it out of context and using it as a dramatic counterpoint to tell a story that has no meaning to non-Mormons. The rituals can only look confusing and silly from outside of the covenant relationship, just as your sexual acts with your wife are pornographic outside of the interpersonal context in which they have such sacred, even divine, meaning.

    Thus, the comparison to pornography is apropos. It profanes the sacred, takes out of context the holy and makes the interpersonal level of ritual performances into befuddled nonsense. Rituals have their meaning only within a context. Those outside the context, like anthropologists, are keenly aware of their limitations in entering into the world-view that gives meaning to the performances and rites. What HBO did was sheer peeping-Tom voyerism.

    Comment by MCQ — March 16, 2009 @ 5:10 pm

  8. I hadn’t thought of that with the ratings. Thank you. Is that why HBO’s shows ALL claim to be brilliant, popular works of art?

    I actually thought of a comparison to the sacred nature of intimacy during the hubbub last week but didn’t know how to articulate it. I’m glad I didn’t because how Blake put it is perfect! Thanks for quoting that here.

    Comment by Bret — March 16, 2009 @ 6:05 pm

  9. A, if not the, primary key in marketing is to generate interest in the subject matter. My bet is that this week, more missionaries will get through more doors than in any other week in LDS history. ‘Nuff said.

    Comment by ElderProdigal — March 17, 2009 @ 11:32 am

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