Sunday, February 27, 2005

Mormon Arts Consumption

Boy, now doesn’t THAT title sound nice and academic… :-) Perhaps because it was inspired by a post/essay over at A Motley Vision. He talks about some of the patterns that happen in “Mormon Arts Consumption”. It sprang out of a question of “What SHOULD we choose in our own media experiences?” (like, should we watch R-rated shows, or listen to rap music?), and moved into how to become good, conscious media consumers.

So, I’m going to retitle this one: “Step up to the Buffet”

You’ll see why in a minute, if you take the time to read all the way down this magnum opus…

So, the first point of my thoughts began as I read the AMV article. It reminded me of a time in my life about 6-8 years ago. I was working in Downtown (or near-downtown) SLC in an elementary school at the time. I was taking the bus in, because I found that I could actually get there faster (shocker) when I did. That, plus the faculty parking lot was a joke.

Anyway, I decided that I was going to take advantage of that time and do some reading. Now, for a long time, I considered myself to be sort of intellectual. I mean, I’m a smart guy, well-educated, well-informed, but over the years, I’d begun to realize that much of my knowledge-base was third-hand. In other words, I could converse pretty fluently about various works of art and culture because I’d heard other people converse about them. I was a Cliff-notes pseudo-intellectual!

Well, I decided I’d had enough of that. So, I went to the library, got a classics reading list, and started in on it. “For Whom the Bell Tolls”, “Les Miserable”, “The Hunchback of Notre Dame”, “Treasure Island”, and a whole bunch of others.

I learned a lot. Very notably, I learned to never trust Disney with a story line. But I also learned that a lot of the opinions that I’d been basing my opinions on were bogus. I should clarify. They weren’t necessarily “bogus”, they were just not mine. I had accepted a lot of other people’s opinions as my own, when, in fact, they were not.

So, here’s my first point.

Don’t rely on the opinions of others. Consume for yourself.

Which leads nicely into my next point. In order to really know what you like and don’t like, you’ve got to taste the whole buffet.

Admittedly, there’s a couple of dangers in that. One is that you might actually read/hear/see something that you don’t like. I’m not talking something morally offensive. Instead, I’m talking about something that doesn’t appeal to you. You might (woe of woes) find yourself in a movie that bores you. You might find yourself in a book that’s not moving like you’d like. You might listen to some music that’s not your general cup of tea.

Here’s a shocker: That’s OK. That’s good. It’s good that you’re experiencing something you don’t especially like. That gives you broad experience. Remember “opposition in all things”? Then you’ll really know it when you see something that really moves you. I listen to lots of music that I normally wouldn’t if I were listening casually. For fun. I tell myself that it’s “research”. I’m “studying” the music. And in reality, I am. I’m checking it all out, and learning from it. I’m looking for its good and its bad points.

Most importantly, I’m asking myself WHY I dislike, or like it. I think the biggest problem with media consumption is that few people try to figure that part out. They just like it or not, and never ask “Why?”

So, point two is to go to the buffet with a big plate and taste everything. The good stuff, the lame stuff, the weird stuff. Everything.

Another thought: While you’re sampling everything, don’t be afraid to admit your decisions. You are your own critic! Life doesn’t have to be an “acquired taste”! That means someone else told you that you had to keep eating it until you liked it! How silly is that? I was not impressed with “The Magic Flute”. It’s supposed to be one of Mozart’s greatest works, and I found it to be dull.

There. I’ve said it.

But I love his 40th.

OK, last point: Get aware.

The Mormon arts are in an awakening right now. ESPECIALLY in the popular arts. There has been more music, movies, and books created and published/released in the last five years than ever before. Blogging has created a vast network of sharing of ideas, experiences and thought. The Internet brings us the chance to become aware of LDS culture without having to live in Utah or Southern Califorina. John Hesch told me stories he’d received from missionaries who heard KZION playing on the computers of church members in Eastern Europe!

This is OUR culture! I’d love to see every member of the church step up to our own little buffet and fill his or her plate! Taste it all, come back for more of “that which is good,” as Paul said.

Mark Hansen


  1. I can only say this:

    I saw the Bad News Bears when it came out in the theatres. I was 11 and, before the movie, my lexicon of profanity consisted of "hell" and "damn," usually uttered in whispers.

    The movie, of course, was like an epiphany, as far as my vocabulary went.

    I've been (sometimes) fighting the effects of that movie ever since.

    Sample art, sure. Just remember that it almost always bites back.

  2. Mark,
    This is a great essay. You make excellent points, especially about sampling everything and admitting when you don't like something. It's hard to admit when you don't like something that everyone else likes. In fact, I often go into a situation already biased against or for it, thus skewing my chance at objective reasoning. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  3. What?? "Magic Flute" dull?? How could you possibly... wait...

    Hm. Must've seen the one I performed.

    Never mind.



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