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Dumb Dumb Dumb Dumb Dumb
November 21, 2003 — 2:07 am

I guess I should comment on Wednesday night’s episode of South Park. For those of you who didn’t see it, it was about a Mormon kid and his family who move to town. The kids at school and Stan Marsh‘s parents find the new family’s preternatural happy friendliness off-putting at first, but Stan and the Marsh family are gradually won over. But as they learn more about the family’s religion, we’re treated to reenactments of early Mormon history — stuff like Joseph Smith being visited by the angel Moroni, translating the Book of Mormon, etc. — with musical narration and a catchy refrain: “Dum, dum, dum, dum dum.”

As the intermittent “historical” clips progress, and Joseph Smith’s stories and claims seem more and more outlandish, we realize that the refrain is a comment on the religion and its believers: “Dumb, dumb, dumb, dumb dumb.” (I realized it would come to this during the first refrain, incidentally.) When someone finally demonstrates real skepticism (Martin Harris‘s wife, no less), the refrain changes to: “Smart, smart, smart, smart smart.”

Stan becomes a skeptic himself, and denounces his new Mormon friend. But the episode ends on a note of tolerance, as the Mormon family is revealed to be sincere in their happy friendliness and the Mormon kid takes Stan to task: (paraphrasing) “Maybe Joseph Smith did make it all up. But even if he did, I don’t really care. Today, the church teaches families how to love each other and live good lives. I have a great life, and the Book of Mormon is responsible for that. But just because I have different beliefs, you let that stand in the way of friendship. You have a lot of growing up to do.” Roll credits.

Earlier tonight, Michael Malice sent me a message about the show:

i really liked that they had a pro-mormon message at the end. although most stupid people think the show is evil, they’re actually fairly balanced in the show with their iconoclasm. It also would have been very easy for them to show the family as phonies, but the fact that they were genuinely loving and caring I thought was clever.

Yeah, they’ve pulled out great endings like that many times — like in the Big Gay Al scoutmaster episode, and the “Harbucks” coffee chain episode.

I thought Wednesday night’s episode was pretty damn funny, but it’s always frustrating that Trey Parker gets so many Mormon details wrong, even while he demonstrates that he’s done a fair amount of research (as in Orgazmo). He pared Mormon history down to a series of absurd scenes that strain credulity. Not that those moments didn’t (kinda, sorta) happen, there’s just so much missing context. As an example, here’s a good paper on Book of Mormon translation (from a critical but ultimately apologetic institutional Mormon perspective).

However, satire should ignore context, and this was effective satire. I really laughed harder during this episode than I have in quite awhile.

But painting someone like Martin Harris as clueless and deluded just ignores too much history. I mean, Harris said stuff like this all the time:

“Yes, I did see the plates on which the Book of Mormon was written. I did see the angel, I did hear the voice of God, and I do know that Joseph Smith is a true Prophet of God, holding the keys of the Holy Priesthood.”

If he was following a charlatan, Harris wasn’t “dumb” — he was in on it, or purposefully living a lie. (But I don’t think these options make much sense in context, either.)

I think this episode is ultimately good for Mormons, partly because it’s positive toward modern family-oriented Mormonism in the end, but also because Mormons should be able to understand and deal with difficult historical questions (of which there are many) from an outsider’s perspective — and this kind of pop-culture exposure might force some worthwhile confrontations . . .

— Eric D. DixonComments (0)

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Eric D. Dixon

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