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Monday, March 28, 2011

The Single's Ward (2002)

I don't even know where to begin? When I was growing up I remember that for a while every party, every time my friends would get together we would watch The Single's Ward. Then one day it clicked. This movie is a monstrosity. It is pure product placement. Watching it today made me seriously reconsider even doing this whole project (although later this week I'm going to be viewing The Book of Mormon Movie... now that makes me reconsider things). "Aristotle supposed that entertainment enjoys a natural advantage by providing us with certain sensual pleasures and thereby more readily chasing away our cares" (Anderson 232). This film is purposed to entertain about at the expense of the church. In other words, This Single's Ward, "primarily appeals to the body; it is more likely to be pleasing and diverting because it satisfies bodily cravings for rest, relaxation, and physical satisfaction" (232). However, this project is not about how good the movies are or how much they make me want to puke. It's about how these movies represent Mormon identity.
So how does this film stack up? You may remember a few weeks ago I wrote about the representation of women in the movie The RM (also made by Halestorm). Cammie Giles is a twenty something year old Activities director in the church. While she, unlike the women in The RM, is a very spiritual person, she has one major flaw. She is the definition of self-righteous. When she discovers that her boyfriend, Jonathan, tells slightly off color jokes about Mormons (nothing worse that what I've heard on BYU campus) she storms out of the room in a hysterical mess. It seems for a while that her only intentions with the unknown Jonathan in the foyer are to get him to come inside. In fact, Jonathan says himself that she'd "be a good missionary" in reference to her pushy attitude (Hollist, 142). One might even interpret this film by saying that the only way that women can be spiritual in the church is if they are self righteous or holier-than-thou.

What interests me more than the view of women in the church, however, is the perspective that this film contains about inactive members of the church. Jonathan is highly knowledgeable about the church. He quotes scripture and conference talks, references Book of Mormon stories, and "knows the tactics" used to reactivate less active members (he even still has his white shirt and tie in the closet). In fact, aside from occasional alcohol use and some off colored jokes in a comedy routine he is a stand up guy. His ex-wife is a recent convert that he himself got to join the church. Upon buying a six-pack of beer and a package of cigarettes she says, "I'm done. I don't even know if the church is true anymore".  No other explanation is given. From these two perspectives we can discern part of the attitudes that the filmmakers have concerning inactive members of the church. One, they lack a belief in the church. Two, inactives are opposed to the culture of the church. The first of these perspectives blames the individual for their inactivity. The second the community in which they live.
I've found through this project that most LDS films pigeonhole members, non-members and inactive members. They represent members as self-righteous, nerdy, or just plain weird. Non-members are seen as wild and free, but desperately wanting to connect with the world. Inactive members are hurt or confused about Mormon culture. These films create stereotypes of deeply complex identities that make up the Mormon Church.

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