Friday, June 19, 2009

The Book of Jer3miah: Straight Down the Radical Middle, or There's Still a God of Miracles?

Two posts, you say? In one day? What's the deal, man?

Well, it must be the day for confessing new love because I can't hold this in anymore and I'm going to scream it from the rooftops! Er, at least from my diminutive corner of Planet Blog.

Anyway. Here it is.

I'm hooked on the new series The Book of Jer3miah, a self-consciously and unequivocally Mormon conspiracy-thriller produced by some BYU students and their professor, Jeff Parkin, and distributed via the Web (on the show's website and, of course, on YouTube; see the trailer below and then check out the show for yourself).

The thing that interests me most about the show (and I'm considering doing a longer write-up for AMV sometime in the near future---maybe) is how it positions itself firmly between ultra-orthodox Mormon art (as in the kitsch offered by Deseret Book and Friends) and non-orthodox Mormon art, between "right-wing and left-wing piety and cultural[/political] correctness and mutual exclusion." It is part of the "radical middle," as Eugene England phrased things in terms of "parties" in the Mormon arts and letters camp. It attempts to negotiate the way towards a more honest, a more spiritually real depiction of Mormonism in art. And I define "spiritual realism" thus (as I first mention here): "The province of such spiritually real [art and] literature, as Lavina Fielding Anderson has it, isn’t so much to capture and embrace the ephemeral nature of spiritual knowledge---though that does seem to be part of the exercise of 'spiritual realism'---but to be an act of literary faith, an 'intelligent affirmation' of and engagement with the moral universe."

And that's making some Mormons quite uncomfortable with Jer3miah (see the range of comments offered in response to this excellent post from "'Twas Brillig"). As one commenter puts it,
The whole supernatural/conspiracy theory thing juxtaposed with religious stuff just doesn’t do it for me. I’m all about supernatural sci-fi-esque shows. But the reason I can watch them is because of the whole “suspension of disbelief” thing. When people cram a bunch of references to a religion that I believe it, and to things that I believe are true above all else, I can’t suspend disbelief enough to watch the show and enjoy it. So I get all nitpicky about the details.

My wife, who watched the last two episodes with me last night (they're all very short---between 3 and 9 minutes each, most about 5 minutes long or so---and I watched all 20 of them yesterday), responded with a similar sentiment. She said something like, "Too bad God doesn't do those things today." Meaning tell young men to kill people when the situation (arguably) requires it (a la the Nephi/Laban experience). Meaning transport people out of danger (a la Alma and Amulek, the Three Nephites, etc.). Meaning call people to take care of mysterious boxes/materials that contain great redemptive power (a la Lehi and Nephi and Joseph Smith, etc.). And I find myself asking the question, Why is it so hard for us, meaning Mormons in general, to suspend disbelief enough to think that God could do those things today, if circumstances warranted?

Do we take ourselves and our culture too seriously?

And I think that's one point of the show (which I'm calling a dialed-down, Mormon suspense akin to Lost): to explore the notion that God could do just those things, even today. If we believe, as Mormon taught, that God is a God of miracles and that, even today, he has not ceased to be God, why not explore the possibility that the miracles repeated anciently (and even, in the case of Joseph Smith, just a relatively short time ago) could happen in our own lives, even in Happy Valley, Utah (a la Singles Ward and Pride and Prejudice and friends)?

I believe they could happen. And that, for all intents and purposes, The Book of Jer3miah is one of them.

I, for one, hope it succeeds. And that it opens doors to more projects of the same radical middle moral caliber.


  1. Okay, first you provide me with feedcrack, next all sorts of Linky-Love! Wow. You're every bloggers dream.

    And, well, you know how I feel about Jer3miah. Pure genius.

    Great post!

  2. What an insightful, articulate post. It's exciting to read somebody who really understands the show. Thanks for spreading the word; the only way we'll see more projects like this is if we keep talking to each other. Keep up the good work--I'm excited to read your longer post.

  3. PS You might like this post by Gideon Burton:

  4. .

    It worries me if even Mormon say God Can't Do That Today or any of its many variations.

  5. I really enjoyed reading this. thank you.

  6. Hmmm. Why exactly do Mormons need to take themselves and their culture seriously? I'm not even sure there is a coherent Mormon culture anymore.

  7. Brillig:

    I'm all about the linky-love, especially when I see it directed my way. And when the links are as brillig as yours, I've got no problem directing my three or four readers elsewhere.

  8. Th.:

    I feel the same way, especially because I see how that limits our potential to exercise faith in God. It's also one indication, I think, that we take ourselves too seriously and God's promises not seriously enough. Perhaps if we were more liberal with ourselves and our belief, we'd be witness to greater miracles within and without Mormon culture.

  9. Peter R.:

    I wasn't necessarily suggesting here that Mormons need to take themselves and their culture more seriously. I was simply wondering whether or not we take such things too seriously and by so doing limit our potential for growth as individuals and as a semi-coherent culture. Because even though there are surely different varieties of Mormon cultural production and consumption, etc., there are commonalities that tie us together in our diversity---things I don't think we focus on enough. Sometimes these different groups may be so anxious to set themselves apart from other varieties of Mormonness that we neglect the similarities and the foundational concepts that draw us together.

  10. Oooh, the radical middle! That's me!

  11. Son of one of the three Nephites? Bad actors wearing cheap bluetooth headsets? Bullet-proof miniature copies of the Book of Mormon? Cheesy dialogue? This is "pure genius"?

    "Sharing the gospel" as an excuse for this ridiculous series is about at far fetched as it gets.

  12. Hmm. Drive-by commenting on a blogpost meant to engage in and encourage dialogue between religion (esp. Mormonism) and art? Using an anonymous profile name as a pretext for not having to defend one's argument (or the semblance thereof) and for not having to take responsibility for charitably encouraging positive change in the issues at hand?

    C'mon, Anonymous from Provo (though I know you likely won't be back). Surely you can do better than that.

  13. I googled "The Book of Jer3miah" trying to find what the actors real names are and came across your blog. I love this post.

    It's too bad about the anonymous drive-by commenter. Had one of them on my blog a while back. Just because some people don't get it, doesn't make the show any less brilliant.