Monday, April 1, 2013

Book of Mormon Girl and Robert Bly's The Sibling Society

You can now listen to an audio file of my AML Conference presentation on "Jesus in Joanna Brooks's Book of Mormon Girl." I'm ashamed to say I went two minutes over my time limit, so it's a full 17 minute commitment to hear what I have to say. (Also: I've only listened to about the first thirty seconds of the recording, so I can't make any promises about sound quality throughout. Let me know if there are any problems.)

While 17 minutes of amateur recording of a scholarly conference presentation is not exactly most people's idea of fun, I think this presentation may be worth your time because in thinking about Book of Mormon Girl, I realized that Robert Bly's commentary on a "sibling society" cultural shift in America might help explain the fuel behind many of the debates Mormons have today about the church. That is to say: the ideas in my presentation don't just apply to one book. The patterns and absences I noticed in the book are probably instances of a larger cultural rift.

If you do listen, you'll hear me reference a handout a few times during my presentation. I am including the text below, with one slight addition: after giving the presentation, it occurred to me to look up the frequency of references to Marie Osmond.

Word search:

Instances of Mormon: 100
Instances of Marie (Osmond): 72
Instances of California: 52
Instances of Orange: 43
Instances of Jesus: 29
Instances of Christ: 9
Instances of Savior: 1
Messiah: 0
Atonement: 0
Salvation: 7

Breakdown of 29 references to Jesus:
First vision: 1
Name of the church: 4
Communist fears and related apocalyptic hopes: 5
Mormon racism: 1
Excuses the Three Nephites and Bigfoot/Cain from death: 1
Mormon fixation with Marie Osmond/perfection*: 1
Rivalry with born-agains*: 10
Rejection of intellectuals*: 1
Rejected-feeling Joanna admires an Episcopal crucifix*: 2
Prop 8 overshadows Jesus: 3

*Excluding church name, 14/25 references clearly deal with rejection/acceptance dynamics

Breakdown of 9 references to Christ:

Name of church: 4
Apocalypse: 3
Rivalry with born-agains: 1
Rejection of intellectuals: 1

Breakdown of 7 references to Salvation:

Chapter name: 2
Excerpt about belonging: 2
Rivalry with born-agains: 1
Rejection of intellectuals: 1
Tempting nostalgia of childhood simplicity: 1

Brooks on Belonging/Affirmation as Salvation (p. 10):

"What was there to compare to this feeling, of belonging to one another, [...] safe from the mocking and fashionable faceless crowds, safe where no one would say your books of scripture are all made up, or the sacred undergarments you promised to wear every day are funny, or your afghan is too ugly, or old woman there is nothing in you the world loves anymore."

Brooks on Keeping Score (p. 187)

"I try to distract myself by checking my text messages, then I start keeping score. Fifteen minutes into the lesson: Stories relating to Proposition 8 or anti-Mormon sentiment resulting from Proposition 8, 5; stories relating to Jesus, 0."

Robert Bly in The Sibling Society (pp. xi-xii):

"It is hard to be as popular as we are supposed to be. The superego or interior judge has altered its requirements [...] For one who fails to become successful and well-loved, punishment is swift and thorough. Self-esteem receives a battering from the inside, everyone feels insignificant and unseen until, in desperation, we finally agree to go on a talk show and tell it all. Once that moment is over, and universal love has not poured over our heads following the program, we fall still farther."

In any case, I hope the presentation gives you something valuable to think about. I'm happy to hear your thoughts, questions, and constructive criticism (especially since I'm supposed to write a paper based on this for publication)--but please only if you listened to the whole presentation.

Thank you.  


  1. Some thoughts:
    1. It might be useful to word-search words like "love," "grace," "compassion," "redemption"--qualities of Jesus Christ that Ms. Brooks may feel reference him indirectly.
    2. I was unclear about where the 3 different views of Jesus Christ (apocalyptic, calling, atonement) came from. I got lost a little here.
    3. I thought the analysis of Joanna Brooks's representation of salvation was interesting. A couple more quotations supporting or elucidating this would strengthen your argument, I think.
    4. The audio is actually really quite good. ;-)

    1. Thanks for the comments--especially #1. There are a few passages I can recall where I'd like a better understanding of what she means by grace, and a book-wide word search might help.

  2. Quite fascinating. I wish you had another 30 minutes to expound. Last week I was taken to task by a Christian reader for not talking about Jesus enough on my "Mormon" blog. As I looked, I could see His name - both written and implied - on a regular basis. Your point about "keeping score" was timely.

    Thanks for taking this on.

  3. I don't have much by way of critique. I thought the idea of no sin in the narrative could use more support, especially since it supports your idea about the atonement role not working. I followed it, but it was rushed. I'm sure in writing it will seem plenty fleshed out. I also liked the analysis of her understanding of salvation as affirmation. It supports my theory that she's aiming more to be a leader for cultural Mormonism (re: ask a Mormon girl) rather than spiritual, though I don't know that her fans all see that difference. Anyway, great presentation. Great conclusion.

  4. Where is the text of your presentation?



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