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 Post subject: DCP's "most one-sidedly negative documentary"
PostPosted: Wed Apr 18, 2018 12:26 am 
Star A

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In Daniel Peterson's editorial titled, "Editor's Introduction: Questions to Legal Answers" for FARMS Review of Books, Vol.: 4, Issue: 1, 1992 which begins with the words “‘Shut up,’ he explained.” DCP made the following claim.

"Bobbie Birleffi’s May 1987 PBS documentary, “The Mormons: Missionaries to the World”—probably the most one-sidedly negative documentary that I have ever watched on public television".

On the LDSFilm website it is described in the following terms.

The Mormons: Missionaries to the World wrote:
PBS documentary made by non-LDS filmmaker Bobbie Birleffi. Funded by KCTS, the PBS (Public Broadcasting Service) affiliate in Seattle, Washington. Premiered nationally on 13 May 1987. The Church and Church leaders cooperated with the filmmaker and granted interviews, but had no control over the finished film. Church leaders interviewed for the documentary include apostles Elder Boyd K. Packer and M. Russell Ballard, Jr. Before the film aired, a letter from Howard W. Hunter, acting president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, was read in all U.S. wards. The letter acknowledged that the Church cooperated with the film's production but distanced the institution from the final product. The Church officially took issue with the finished film and pointed out factual errors, but these factual errors appear to have mainly been in the printed promotional literature about the film, and not in the film itself. From an academic and historical perspective, the biggest problem with the documentary was that it focused attention on negative missionary experiences, far out of proportion to their actual frequency among LDS missions. Daniel C. Peterson called "The Mormons: Missionaries to the World": "the most one-sidedly negative documentary that I have ever watched on public television" (FARMS Review of Books, Vol.: 4, Issue: 1, 1992). The principal financial underwriter of the documentary was George D. Smith, a wealthy northern California businessman who bankrolls Signature Books. George D. Smith is widely regarded as an anti-Mormon and a major source of funding for anti-Mormon publications and research, but Smith does not accept the label and says "I don't admit to being anti-anything." The National Conference of Christians and Jews criticized the film, saying it asserted that Latter-day Saints have a "disregard for other religious traditions," a criticism that the filmmaker said is inaccurate and unfounded. Addressing criticism levied against the documentary, the filmmaker told a Sunstone interviewer that a group of Latter-day Saint bishops contacted the sponsoring PBS station to say they liked the documentary. The filmmaker also noted that many anti-Mormon viewers thought that the documentary was "pro-Mormon propaganda." The independent filmmaker said that she tried to make as balanced and accurate a film as possible.


Given the recent allegations of McKenna Denson that the MTC President groomed and raped her in the basement I thought it might be interesting to review the Mormon reaction to the controversial documentary about the MTC and the Mormon missionary experience and to ask, was it fair? I don't have a copy of the documentary and but I have found an audio copy of the documentary and a brief discussion of it conducted by Paul Nibley, Hugh Nibley's son, for Sunstone magazine here.

Here's how the LA Times reported on it in 1987.

Quote:
Included are on-camera interviews with returned missionaries, some calling the experience an incredibly happy time, others saying it was the most harrowing and stressful time of their lives.

One man who failed to complete the training program talks about feeling trapped and says he escaped by taking an overdose of pills, only to return home to ostracism. In another segment, an emotional young man is seen breaking down before his local congregation as he talks of having to choose between his fiancée and the mission program.

Throughout the documentary, the Mormon Church is described by some members as "a system based on absolute authority." One Utah woman says she fears being excommunicated because of her appearance in the film.

Church spokesman Jerry Cahill said from Salt Lake City that church members and officials have seen the documentary and are "disappointed."


Was the documentary unfair in highlighting the difficulties and stresses of the oppressive missionary environment in addition to those who enjoyed their missions? Was the documentary really as biased as they were claiming? Would the documentary or the Mormon reaction to it have been different if McKenna's rape by Joseph Bishop three years earlier had been included in the documentary?

Paul Nibley actually reviewed the film in the audio link that I provided above and he found that the film was slightly skewed to being more for the Church than against it. There are a number of reasons why I could see Mormons disliking the documentary though,

1) It mentioned controversial issues like Joseph Smith reading the Book of Mormon from a stone and Joseph Smith's polygamy.
2) Some commentators focused on the authoritarian nature of the Church's missionary program.
3) Missionaries who did not serve full missions gave their accounts of returning home early.
4) It was suggested that many missionary converts in South America had hopes of moving to America and when they worked out that wasn't going to happen they disappeared.
5) Families describe the expectation of missionary service for their children and the fact girls are encouraged to put pressure on men to serve missions was mentioned.

It seems to me that the documentary was dealing with the fallout from all the pressure to serve an honorable mission and the social ostracism when Missionaries come home early. Given the dogwhistle to McKenna Denson's "brief Missionary service" and her being a "former Member" it seems the portrayal of the ostracism in the documentary is as relevant today as it was then.

Some other interesting features of the documentary.

1) Boyd K. Packer was apparently asked when there would be a black apostle and he answered by saying the Lord decides that and it could be "soon".
2) M. Russell Ballard said the reason missionary work is going so well in South America amongst the Lamanites, the Indians is because they are interested in a record of their people.
3) Boyd K. Packer said the reason why missionary work was conducted by men was out of respect for women's role and when a sister missionary commented on serving a mission she said she wanted to stay longer but they wouldn't let her. Then a sister missionary says that having children is a better way of bringing more people into the Church than missionary work.

Overall, I don't think DCP's evaluation of the film was fair, and given what we now know there's even more reason to question the way Missions operate and the rules and indoctrination that young people are subjected to.


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 Post subject: Re: DCP's "most one-sidedly negative documentary"
PostPosted: Wed Apr 18, 2018 4:59 am 
Sunbeam

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Interesting post. I have never heard of this documentary before and it sounds like an attempt to be honest about the realities of missionary work. Even from anecdotes that are slipped in here and there from active members, you know that the reality of the mission field is very different than people are willing to admit in their official accounts.

Just one comment on the point below. I think there's a tendency to of people today (active or inactive) to hurl a scorn towards converts in economically disadvantaged places and question their motives for converting, implying that there is an Amerophile element or desire to tap into church welfare.

Goldenbrass wrote:
4) It was suggested that many missionary converts in South America had hopes of moving to America and when they worked out that wasn't going to happen they disappeared.


But lest we forget, during the heyday of the British missionary program in 1837-1855, many of the converts openly admitted they joined the church because they wanted to immigrate to America and they thought it would be an economic step up on their lives. Most of us descended from pioneer stock were never told these stories - we all just assumed that people had burning testimonies of the gospel. Turns out, some people wanted a subsidized boat ride to America and a free plot of land in Deseret.


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 Post subject: Re: DCP's "most one-sidedly negative documentary"
PostPosted: Wed Apr 18, 2018 12:43 pm 
God
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Interesting. I've never heard of that documentary. Hopefully it will show up on YouTube one day.

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 Post subject: Re: DCP's "most one-sidedly negative documentary"
PostPosted: Wed Apr 18, 2018 5:39 pm 
Nursery

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I have a VHS copy of it. It is one of the most sensitive portrayals of real Mormons I have ever seen. I spoke with one of the people who was behind the documentary and he told me the producers had a difficult time finding people who had had successful missions.


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 Post subject: Re: DCP's "most one-sidedly negative documentary"
PostPosted: Wed Apr 18, 2018 6:05 pm 
Star A

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Tuna_Surprise wrote:
But lest we forget, during the heyday of the British missionary program in 1837-1855, many of the converts openly admitted they joined the church because they wanted to immigrate to America and they thought it would be an economic step up on their lives. Most of us descended from pioneer stock were never told these stories - we all just assumed that people had burning testimonies of the gospel. Turns out, some people wanted a subsidized boat ride to America and a free plot of land in Deseret.


I imagine there were many reasons why converts made the decision to become Mormon in the beginning and a free ticket to the Promised Land with the claim they would be given land probably seemed like an incredible opportunity. For young women being courted by a charismatic American missionary probably seemed like a fairy tale. It wouldn't be until they arrived with nothing to find they were trapped or that the American missionary preaching wholesome values was actually already married when courting them that they would find they had been sold a bill of goods too late.

I have seen modern members helping immigrants who have converted to help them move, but from the examples that come to mind it was more charitable acts by compassionate individuals who happened to be Mormons than the LDS Church reaching out to help. I don't think anyone can blame people for seeking a better life and if they thought that the Church would help them to do that it makes sense they would join. When they worked out the Church was not going to help them, expected donations to their billion dollar Church and expected them to pay to do janitorial duties who can blame them for leaving?


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 Post subject: Re: DCP's "most one-sidedly negative documentary"
PostPosted: Wed Apr 18, 2018 6:08 pm 
Star A

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cinepro wrote:
Interesting. I've never heard of that documentary. Hopefully it will show up on YouTube one day.


Me too. I think because of the reaction it received it wasn't widely available but I would love to watch it on Youtube and it would be interesting to see reactions today to what was supposedly so controversial back then.


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 Post subject: Re: DCP's "most one-sidedly negative documentary"
PostPosted: Wed Apr 18, 2018 6:20 pm 
Star A

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azzolina wrote:
I have a VHS copy of it. It is one of the most sensitive portrayals of real Mormons I have ever seen. I spoke with one of the people who was behind the documentary and he told me the producers had a difficult time finding people who had had successful missions.


I'm jealous Azzolina I would love to watch it. Paul Nibley in the discussion for Sunstone after the documentary mentioned how they had originally planned to show the average missionary experience and that it was only after the missionaries they were following kept having problems that it became a part of the documentary. From what he said it reached the point where they had to contact the LDS Church who gave them the names of missionaries who also struggled with their missions which confirms your recollection.

I wonder how Bobbie Birleffi feels about it now after all this time. She was allowed to film in the MTC so I wonder how she would feel about what happened with Joseph Bishop only a few years before she was there. I agree from listening to the audio it is one of the most balanced and honest representations of Mormons talking about the mission experience.


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 Post subject: Re: DCP's "most one-sidedly negative documentary"
PostPosted: Wed Apr 18, 2018 7:43 pm 
God
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I watched it when it aired. Our young men's group was encouraged to watch it and then discuss it at church the following Sunday. Most everyone had a negative reaction to it, and felt it was biased against the Church. I didn't see any issues with it, but was the odd man out. That said, we all served a mission, and only had one guy come home early due to mental or emotional issues.

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 Post subject: Re: DCP's "most one-sidedly negative documentary"
PostPosted: Wed Apr 18, 2018 8:11 pm 
Star A

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Doctor CamNC4Me wrote:
I watched it when it aired. Our young men's group was encouraged to watch it and then discuss it at church the following Sunday. Most everyone had a negative reaction to it, and felt it was biased against the Church. I didn't see any issues with it, but was the odd man out. That said, we all served a mission, and only had one guy come home early due to mental or emotional issues.

- Doc


It makes me wonder what it would be like to have a discussion in Young Mens about this documentary that's one of the highest search results for Mormon on Youtube. I only knew a handful of people that came home early from their missions, but the experience had a massive effect on them.


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 Post subject: Re: DCP's "most one-sidedly negative documentary"
PostPosted: Wed Apr 18, 2018 8:36 pm 
God
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cinepro wrote:
Interesting. I've never heard of that documentary. Hopefully it will show up on YouTube one day.

Strange that it fails to show up on an internet search. Wonder if some computer program has tamped it down in the search pages? Or maybe it never existed in our dimension and these Peterson and Nibley descriptions were made by their counterparts from an alternate reality.

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 Post subject: Re: DCP's "most one-sidedly negative documentary"
PostPosted: Fri Apr 20, 2018 5:08 pm 
Star A

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moksha wrote:
cinepro wrote:
Interesting. I've never heard of that documentary. Hopefully it will show up on YouTube one day.

Strange that it fails to show up on an internet search. Wonder if some computer program has tamped it down in the search pages? Or maybe it never existed in our dimension and these Peterson and Nibley descriptions were made by their counterparts from an alternate reality.


Well BYU did refuse to show it who knows? Maybe the Strengthening Church Members Committee has purchased Google? It would be more a useful purchase than a Shopping Mall. All Google searches on Mormonism in future will lead to a video on Mormon.org of Donny Osmond smiling while he turns to the camera and says, "Need an answer to a question, you can pray and ask God?"


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 Post subject: Re: DCP's "most one-sidedly negative documentary"
PostPosted: Sun Apr 22, 2018 10:18 am 
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Goldenbrass, that's a pretty rare find, are you familiar with documentaries about the Church generally? (I am not) If so, I'm curious if you are aware of any documentaries made about any aspect of Mormonism that the apologists have spoken highly of. What I'm looking for is a baseline publication that the apologists consider "fair". What constitutes fair in their world?

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 Post subject: Re: DCP's "most one-sidedly negative documentary"
PostPosted: Sun Apr 22, 2018 10:32 am 
God
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Maybe consulting the one-sided nonsense on fair Mormon will help solve the riddle? I know the church spends a lot of money trying to influence google searches and the like to keep alternative views to a minimum. So, my guess is that apologists would say that only church manufactured media is the only "fair" media out there. All the rest is biased against them.

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 Post subject: Re: DCP's "most one-sidedly negative documentary"
PostPosted: Mon Apr 23, 2018 12:03 pm 
Star A

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Gadianton wrote:
Goldenbrass, that's a pretty rare find, are you familiar with documentaries about the Church generally? (I am not) If so, I'm curious if you are aware of any documentaries made about any aspect of Mormonism that the apologists have spoken highly of. What I'm looking for is a baseline publication that the apologists consider "fair". What constitutes fair in their world?


I've always enjoyed looking into documentaries about Mormonism. One example I can think of is the Marriott sponsored PBS documentary "Joseph Smith American Prophet" that aired in 1999 and that was recently updated with new re-enactments and rebroadcast in 2017. You can watch it on youtube here's a playlist with the whole documentary.

The reviews from apologists were extremely positive and viewed the production as extremely fair, for example here's Daniel Peterson's take on that documentary.

Daniel Peterson wrote:
With the recent completion of the Lee Groberg/Mark Goodman film “Joseph Smith, American Prophet” (a virtually total revision of a similarly titled 1999 effort), Latter-day Saint filmmaking takes a significant step toward beginning to meet President Kimball’s challenge. Featuring interviews with both LDS and non-LDS scholars as well as LDS Church leaders, “American Prophet” — which will begin to appear on PBS television stations in October — adopts a balanced approach to its subject. But Joseph emerges impressive nonetheless.


The reviews from others weren't so favorable. Scott Pierce's review at the Salt Lake Tribune has these choice quotes.

Scott Pierce wrote:
It’s no surprise that “Joseph Smith: American Prophet” is airing Sunday at 2 p.m. on KBYU-Ch. 11. It’s somewhat surprising that it’s also airing on WETA in Washington, D.C. — one of PBS’ flagship stations — and a couple dozen other PBS stations across the country.

Make no mistake. Most of this production plays like something the Sunday School teacher at the LDS ward down the street might show to his/her class.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

Yes, the original version aired on PBS stations in 1999. But it seems somewhat unusual that what feels like a missionary tool for the LDS Church is airing on some PBS stations in 2017, labeled as a documentary. Because this is not a balanced film.


Scott Pierce wrote:
This is about as close as any of them comes to criticism: “Did Joseph Smith believe that he had seen a vision? Of course he believed it,” says author Richard T. Hughes (“Myths America Lives By,” “The American Quest for the Primitive Church”). “I mean, Joseph was severely persecuted and harassed for making that claim. He would’ve had to have been nuts to make that claim and stick with it if he didn’t really believe that he had had that vision.”


So Pierce's main issue was the way it was being called a documentary when it quite clearly does not present anything but a Sunday School version of Church history, even if it does have non-Mormon commentators.

Richard Leiby writing for the Washington Post in 1999 was much more scathing of the "documentary".

Richard Leiby wrote:
An unschooled religious zealot anoints himself king, takes as many wives as he wants and forms an army to protect his holy commune. He wields cultlike control over his followers. The authorities crack down: He's killed and mourned as a martyr.

It's the story of a tailor named John of Leyden, who espoused the heretical teachings of Anabaptism in Germany in the 1500s. It's also the story of Waco's David Koresh, who met his fiery end in 1993. But mainly it's the story of Joesph Smith, a handsome country lad with an oversize ego who established one of America's most successful new religions in the 1830s.

Like others in history, Smith brewed God, sex and politics into a fatal mix, but his church prospered. The somewhat sanitized documentary "American Prophet: The Story of Joseph Smith" attempts to explain why.

Sonorously narrated by Gregory Peck, "American Prophet" sketches a fascinating profile but it veers into hagiography. (The film was funded by the J. Willard and Alice S. Marriott Foundation, set up by the late Mormon hotel magnate.) We learn much about the persecution of Smith's sect, but little about its actual teachings. We are told how deeply Smith loved his wife, Emma, and how pure of heart he was--but we're not informed that he had, by some accounts, more than 30 wives while flatly denying he was a polygamist. (The program does acknowledge that he had "more than one" wife.)

The film also notes that Smith was frequently betrayed by those who once followed him; they even joined the anti-Mormon mobs that hunted him down. But we are left with little understanding of what, exactly, spurred their intense animosity for "Brother Joseph."


Richard Leiby wrote:
The prophet established the holy city of Nauvoo, Ill., which he ruled as mayor, chief justice and lieutenant general of the Nauvoo Legion, his own militia. He started a newspaper and in 1844 announced his candidacy for U.S. president, "a Western man with American principles."

But by merging church and state, Smith had breached a precious democratic principle. He also proved intolerant of dissent. When local apostates printed a newspaper calling Smith a polygamous Caligula who violated female followers--a charge not mentioned in the film--the prophet's army smashed and burned the presses. He declared martial law.

This incident provided the final spark that led to his demise at age 39. He and his brother, Hyrum, were summarily executed after they turned themselves in to face arrest warrants for inciting riot.

It's an edifying two hours, but the saga of Smith's life could have been far more gripping than this reverently rendered version. Smith saw himself and his flock as vital actors in a grand drama staged by the Almighty. In a sermon at Nauvoo, he claimed to have a more solid following than Christ himself--and to Hell with the dissenters.

"In all these affidavits, indictments, it is all of the Devil--all corruption. Come on! ye prosecutors! ye false swearers! All Hell, boil over! Ye burning mountains, roll down your lava! for I will come out on the top at last. I have more to boast of than ever any man had."

That quote speaks volumes about the man, but unfortunately you won't find it in "American Prophet."


I think by "fair" and "balanced" what they are actually looking for are documentaries that promote Mormonism.


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 Post subject: Re: DCP's "most one-sidedly negative documentary"
PostPosted: Mon Apr 23, 2018 12:06 pm 
Star A

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Exiled wrote:
Maybe consulting the one-sided nonsense on fair Mormon will help solve the riddle? I know the church spends a lot of money trying to influence google searches and the like to keep alternative views to a minimum. So, my guess is that apologists would say that only church manufactured media is the only "fair" media out there. All the rest is biased against them.


From the examples that I've seen you're completely right Exiled.


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 Post subject: Re: DCP's "most one-sidedly negative documentary"
PostPosted: Mon Apr 23, 2018 7:06 pm 
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Thank you for the detailed explanation Goldenbrass. That first quote was hilarious. It was fair and balanced because it had non-lds weigh in, but somehow Joseph Smith beat the odds and emerged impressive. What a triumph of Joseph over the extraordinary high bar the "LDS filmmakers" held up for him.

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"...supporters of Billy Meier still point to the very clear photos of Pleiadian beam ships flying over his farm. They argue that for the photos to be fakes, we have to believe that a one-armed man who had no knowledge of Photoshop or other digital photography programs could have made such realistic photos and films..." -- D. R. Prothero


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 Post subject: Re: DCP's "most one-sidedly negative documentary"
PostPosted: Wed Apr 25, 2018 9:44 pm 
Star A

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Gadianton wrote:
Thank you for the detailed explanation Goldenbrass. That first quote was hilarious. It was fair and balanced because it had non-lds weigh in, but somehow Joseph Smith beat the odds and emerged impressive. What a triumph of Joseph over the extraordinary high bar the "LDS filmmakers" held up for him.


Praise to the man! He's proving that he's greater than Jesus even after his death while mingling with Gods. I had a good laugh at that quote myself.


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