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Finding LDS Truths in Disney Films

By Toni Yee

Members of the LDS Church patronize Disney movies because of its wholesome family entertainment, themes that reclaim purity and hope in the world, it is a way of appreciating the sweet magic of children, and most importantly, it teaches life lessons which can be related to the teachings of the Church.

In Gordon B. Hinckley’s talk, he shared the story of a man who related Joseph Smith’s story to Disney. “Every time I would tell the bishop that Joseph Smith’s story was more Disney than Disney, he would tell me, “Maybe so, but it’s all true.” Members not only find happily ever afters in Disney movies, but also, in gospel truths of the Church.

The teachings of the Church is mostly emphasized on the importance of family. Elder Tom L. Perry, said “One of the great messages of the gospel is the doctrine of the eternal disneyandfriendsnature of the family unit. We declare to the world the value and importance of family life, but much of the confusion and difficulty we find existing in the world today is being traced to the deterioration of the family. Home experiences where children are taught and trained by loving parents are diminishing.” One Disney movie that strongly emphasizes family is Lilo and Stitch. “Ohana means family. Family means nobody gets left behind or forgotten.” This line was made famous by Stitch who was adopted by Lilo’s family.

Goal setting is an essential part of every individual in order to attain the desired outcome and success. It is always good to have dreams in order to stay motivated. Just like Cinderella, she dreamt of attending the ball with her step sisters, but they did not want her to. Cinderella’s friends knew about her desire to go and because of her kind heart, they helped her. “Whatever you wish for, you keep. Have faith in your dreams, and someday, your rainbow will come smiling through. No matter how your heart is grieving, if you keep on believing, the dreams that you wish will come true.” Elder M. Russell Ballard said, “Set goals that are well balanced—not too many nor too few, and not too high nor too low. Write down your attainable goals and work on them according to their importance. Pray for divine guidance in your goal setting.”

Past experiences are meant to be overcome. Whether we choose to disclose these experiences, like Simba has in the Lion King movie, is up to us as individuals and our personal relationships. There are some aspects of the past that hurt tremendously but Rafiki offers a sound advice. “The past can hurt, but the way I see it, you can either run from it or learn from it.” We can either take our past experiences and use those as learning tools or we can pretend that they never happened and run, risking making mistakes as a result of the pain we are trying to avoid.

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland said, “I plead with you not to dwell on days now gone, nor to yearn vainly for yesterdays, however good those yesterdays may have been. The past is to be learned from but not lived in. We look back to claim the embers from glowing experiences but not the ashes. And when we have learned what we need to learn and have brought with us the best that we have experienced, then we look ahead, we remember that faith is always pointed toward the future.” The pain of tackling the past might be overwhelming and hard, but in the end, we become the best version of ourselves.

Why do LDS General Authorities Quote from C.S. Lewis?

By Dylan Sage-Wilcox

As members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints strive to live the high standards of their faith, they look to their leaders for direction in biannual meetings known as General Conference. Thousands of members living in Utah convene together in the Conference Center while millions more tune in on TVs, laptops and phones. Faithful members who listen to these inspiring messages given on a variety of topics from selected General Authorities of the Church say that there is at least one talk that really touches them. Each message is often given through the personal experience of the speaker, however, there are other sources of inspiration that are called upon. Such a valuable resource is Christian apologist and renowned author, C.S. Lewis.

Lewis is one of the most quoted non-Latter-day Saints in General Conference. Marianna Edwards Richardson and Christine Thackeray wrote C.S. Lewis: Latter-day Truths in Narnia where they pointed out some of the reasons as to why Lewis is so often quoted by LDS leaders: “Lewis had a knack of speaking for ‘every man’ and gave us modern parables for Christian living. All can relate to his testimony of Christ and his practical understanding of how to put gospel teachings into practice today.”

The Deseret News complied 23 C.S. Lewis quotes shared in LDS General Conference, they found that Elder Neal A. Maxwell quoted Lewis the most, 19 times, four instances being in General Conference, the others in talks and devotionals he gave. President James E. Faust came next to Elder Maxwell, quoting the author at least seven times.

Lewis was born on November 29, 1898, in Belfast, Ireland. His religious background began as a youth when he was baptized in the Church of Ireland, under the nudging of his mother, Florence Augusta Lewis, whose father was a priest for the church. In 1908 Lewis suffered many losses; the death of his uncle, grandfather, and mother, the latter died of cancer. These life events helped to shape his view on life and even death as he began to immerse himself in Greek and Norse mythology and other literature. He was sent to Malvern to recuperate from respiratory difficulties, it was here at the age of 15 that he abandoned his childhood faith and became an atheist pursing mythology and the occult. The young Lewis viewed Christianity as cumbersome and time-consuming, however it wasn’t until Lewis read George McDonald’s “Phantasies” in 1916, which “baptized his imagination” did Lewis finally have a religious epiphany.

In 1929, as a faculty member at Oxford University, he met fellow colleague and equally-noted author, J. R. R. Tolkien, who persuaded Lewis to be fully converted to Christianity. Lewis recorded in his autobiography, Surprised by Joy, “That which I greatly feared had at last come upon me. In the Trinity Term of 1929 I gave in, and admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed: perhaps, that night, the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England.”

Since his conversion to theism at the age of 33, Lewis committed himself to the Church of England he became not just a defender of his Anglican faith, but of all Christianity. James Sire wrote “C. S. Lewis was a man with wide interests, a man who wrote with distinction in many fields – literary history, philology, criticism, Christian apologetics, science fiction, myth, poetry, and children’s literature. His readers are thus drawn from many walks of life.” Sire said that Lewis could be serious without being sentimental, he could be a genuine Christian without being trapped by religious piety, he could enjoy without the sole seeking of enjoyment, and he was willing to advise without becoming a professional advisor. Because of his broad perspectives and conversion from atheism to theism, Lewis was uniquely equipped to defend Christianity from naysayers because he was once a naysayer himself. His teachings and essays ranged from the Savior’s atoning sacrifice to the importance of motherhood. Hence the reason why many LDS leaders quote him so generously.

Jannalee Rosner, in her article for LDS Living, gives three insights into Lewis’s popularity among Latter-day Saint authors, leaders, and scholars. First, Lewis helps us with missionary work and Sunday School comments. Second, his ideas are related to Mormon doctrine. And third, he tells great stories and parables.

President Ezra Taft Benson gave a still-oft quoted talk in April General Conference of 1989 entitled, “Beware of Pride”, where he quotes Lewis, who said, “Pride gets no pleasure out of having something, only out of having more of it than the next man.” The first general authority to quote from the renowned British author was Elder Paul H. Dunn of the Seventy in 1977, who gave a talk entitled “We Have Been There All the Time” where he advised members of the church to give special attention to relationships with loved ones, family, and friends. He quoted Lewis’s words: “Take care. It is so easy to break eggs without making omelets.” From that point on, general authorities have been using Lewis’s profound insight to enhance their messages

LDS Students Size Up Power Rangers

By Myck Miller

For many the TV show Power Rangers was one that dominated the children of the 90s. These same children, now adults were ecstatic to hear of the production of the newest addition to the Power Rangers family. Rita-Repulsa-EW-e1461076145709The excitement was there, the technology was available, and yet many of BYU-Hawaii’s students were not happy with the result of the movie. Was it the anticipation? Could it be that the past can’t be replicated in the present? Whatever the answer is the BYU-Hawaii student body was not happy with the movie and voiced their opinions about where the movie went wrong.

Landin Hayter, a senior majoring in Political Science said, “my hope was that this movie was going to take me back to my childhood and give me the satisfaction that I once had as a kid. The problem is that the expectations that I placed on the film were too high and it ended up coming up short.” Landin later explained that much of what he loved as a kid now is no longer a form of entertainment. Many can remember those Halloween nights with one of the most popular costumes being Power Rangers.

When asked about what went wrong with the movie, Dave Johnson, a junior majoring in accounting said, “the plot wasn’t clear and the acting was terrible.” He later added, “I had a serious issue with the flow of the movie. 6084779ce2255704f927c668d4fbe3e8d7fa0b3bIt lagged on forever and when it was time to morph and get the action rolling the movie came up short. I expected the action to be like the superhero movies but it didn’t live up to the hype.” Much of what the students said about the movie had to do with the pace. Power Rangers had the expectation of living up to the hype of so many of the superhero movies that are currently in production. When BYU-Hawaii students were asked how it compared to the Marvel and DC comic movies the overall consensus was, “NOT EVEN CLOSE!”

Although the college students weren’t fans of the movie they did add that the movie may appeal to younger children and is a family movie. BYU-Hawaii students however are not fans and hope that if there is another movie in production they learn from the mistakes of this film and try to pattern the sequel to something similar to Avengers or the Christian Bale batman movies.

Logan Slashes, but that’s OK

By Myck Miller

MPAA ratings have always been what has limited the X-Men characters from reaching the legitimacy of their characters as presented in the comic books. Hugh Jackman over the course of 17 years has starred in eight movies prior to the release of what is expected to be his last role of Wolverine in ‘Logan.’ With the R rating is there concern to go out and watch this film? The answer is undoubtedly, YES!

This film differs from old X-Men films in the sense that the action is more intense and less fictional as presented in other Marvel films. Let’s be real, Wolverine has razor sharp metal claws. backgrounds_logan_outerDo you really expect him to shave people’s mustaches and not kill people… With Deadpool’s immense financial success, Fox gave director James Mangold the green light to go all in on the R ratings. Don’t worry there isn’t anything too awful that would make you reconsider who you are as a person. However, if you don’t like violence this may not be the movie for you. In this film Logan openly comes out and attacks as a Wolverine is expected to do. Scenes of him bisecting heads and punching through skulls was the main reason for the film getting the rating that it did. There are some scenes of small strays of female toplessness which only adds to the R rating. Profanity also was a factor in the film receiving its rating as the F word was used definitely more than once throughout the film.

The film is set in the year 2029 with the implication that the mutants and X-Men are no longer in society. There seems to have been no mutants born in the last 25 years which begs the question, are they going extinct? Some subtle clues are dropped as to the reason for the Wolverine-collage-1X-Men no longer being a factor. Some of those reasons were the rise in villains and their destruction of the former super team. Logan is now an old man working as a limo driver to try and support himself and Professor X. Both are getting old and no longer have the power they once had and as a matter of fact their powers are the reason for their suffering in old age. Out of all the X-Men movies this is full of pain and sorrow. It is definitely the most depressing of all the movies and the characters are sad throughout the whole film. This is what makes it unique as it goes against the standard for Superhero narratives. We see the flaws and the weaknesses of superheroes even though we place them on a higher level than anyone else. This realness gives the movie a separation from others and is the reason why it is so great.

LeFou Pas: Outrage sparks over gay character in Disney’s ‘Beauty in the Beast’

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The debate over LGBTQ+ tolerance escalated when Disney’s Beauty and the Beast included a gay subplot for a supporting character, LeFou, played by Josh Gad. Petitions were shared online in order to boycott the movie. In response, the LGBTQ+ community sounded off against the petitions creating a social media stir.

Before the highly-anticipated live-action remake of the 1991 story tale classic even hit theaters, with a total of $170 million on opening weekend, controversy circulated on social media about Disney’s choice to have the first openly gay character debut on the film.

According to an interview with British gay lifestyle publication, Attitude Magazine, the film’s director, Bill Condon, says LeFou is “somebody who on one day wants to be Gaston and on another day, wants to kiss Gaston.” LeFou is a companion of story antagonist, Gaston, the latter tries to court Belle, the film’s protagonist, while the former tries to subtly do the same to Gaston.

LeFou has short one-liners that reveal his homosexual orientation to the audience, such as a song he sings “No one’s quick as Gaston, no one’s slick as Gaston / No one’s neck is incredibly thick as Gaston / For there’s no man in town half as manly / Perfect, a pure paragon / You can ask any Tom, Dick or Stanley / And they’ll tell you whose team they prefer to be on! / Who plays darts like Gaston? Who breaks hearts like Gaston? / Who’s much more the sum of his parts like Gaston? My, what a guy, that Gaston!” The film shows moments of comedic relief where LeFou hints towards his pent-up feelings toward Gaston.

The “exclusively gay moment” Condon says is sending out a message that “[homosexuality] is normal and natural – and this is a message that will be heard in every county of the world, even countries where it’s still socially unacceptable or even illegal to be gay.” The gay subplot didn’t sit well with those who held traditional views of marriage, taking to the internet to express their disfavor of the character.

Petitions were setup online in opposition to Disney’s green light on LeFou’s sexual orientation in Beauty and the Beast which was consequently shared on Facebook and other social media channels. One such petition title read “Tell Disney ‘No’ to LGBT agenda in Beauty and the Beast: Sign the Boycott Pledge Here”. Enflamed comments from both sides of the debate questioned the reasoning of signing an anti-gay petition while the movie itself is has a theme of bestiality. Roughly 134,000 people have signed the Life Petitions Boycott on ‘Beauty and the Beast’.

Facebook user, Wendi Deal commented on such a post by saying, “This is hilarious that people are upset over this. Marrying off teenagers is okay, having people trying to poison and kill people is okay, giving up your whole life and future for someone you don’t really know is okay, but god forbid you have a ‘gay moment.’ Also, gay people do not have an agenda, they are people, they have people agenda, they want to be treated like people. So, weird, but that is really all they want.”

Rachel Bernardin echoed the same sentiments by commenting, “[LeFou] dances and makes a flirtatious joke- literally- that’s it- 20 seconds of the movie – and your kids won’t be any worse for the wear. Plus, unless they’re homeschooled and confined to your house, they’re going to be exposed at some point, wouldn’t this be a teaching moment for you? If you want to teach them why it’s wrong- don’t you have to teach them that it exists? That’s all this movie does- is show it exists by having two guys dance together- which other movies have done it just wasn’t seen as gay- and have him make a flirtatious joke at another guy.”

“I do not believe we need to hide or cover our children’s eyes if we don’t believe in same sex relationships. What we need is open dialogues about why we do not agree with it and open discussion on the subject is healthy. Pretending it doesn’t exist is going to cause them to be intolerant, unkind people,” Tanasha Anderson, a Latter-day Saint, said. “Use [this film] as a tool to create dialogue with your kids on what you believe is right and then leave it at that. Don’t pretend it doesn’t exist that doesn’t work with the sex talk either you aren’t doing them any favors by censoring the world and acting like it isn’t happening.”

According to Vox.com, a drive-in movie theater in Henagar, Alabama refused to show the film because of the openly gay character. In a Facebook post, that has since been removed, the Henagar Drive-In stated, “When companies [like Disney] continually force their views on us, we need to take a stand. We all make choices and I am making mine. If I can’t sit through a movie with God or Jesus sitting by me, then we have no business showing it. I know there will be some that do not agree with this decision. That’s fine. We are first and foremost Christians. We will not compromise on what the Bible teaches.”

The Henagar Drive-In wasn’t the only place to boycott the movie; the Russian government is considering a boycott if they determine there is “gay propaganda” in a prescreening of the film, according to Russian Culture Minister, Vladimir Medinsky, they will decide against showing it in the country. As well as a film censorship board in Malaysia has requested that Disney edit out the gay scenes, which Disney refused. The national talk over LGBTQ+ tolerance has been circulating ever since.

Despite the flak that Condon has taken over the past month, he told USA Today, “My message is: This is a movie for everyone. I’m sad about [the Henagar Drive-In], but there are 4,000 theaters showing the movie. I hope everybody moves past that and just goes to take pleasure in what we made.”

Beauty and the Beast has surpassed box office records by becoming the seventh largest opening weekend ever.

LDS Students Size Up Power Rangers

By Myck Miller

For many the TV show Power Rangers was one that dominated the children of the 90s. These same children, now adults were ecstatic to hear of the production of the newest Rita-Repulsa-EW-e1461076145709addition to the Power Rangers family. The excitement was there, the technology was available, and yet many of BYU-Hawaii’s students were not happy with the result of the movie. Was it the anticipation? Could it be that the past can’t be replicated in the present? Whatever the answer is the BYU-Hawaii student body was not happy with the movie and voiced their opinions about where the movie went wrong.

Landin Hayter, a senior majoring in Political Science said, “my hope was that this movie was going to take me back to my childhood and give me the satisfaction that I once had as a kid. The problem is that the expectations that I placed on the film were too high and it ended up coming up short.” Landin later explained that much of what he loved as a kid now is no longer a form of entertainment. Many can remember those Halloween nights with one of the most popular costumes being Power Rangers.

When asked about what went wrong with the movie, Dave Johnson, a junior majoring in accounting said, “the plot wasn’t clear and the acting was terrible.” 6084779ce2255704f927c668d4fbe3e8d7fa0b3bHe later added, “I had a serious issue with the flow of the movie. It lagged on forever and when it was time to morph and get the action rolling the movie came up short. I expected the action to be like the superhero movies but it didn’t live up to the hype.” Much of what the students said about the movie had to do with the pace. Power Rangers had the expectation of living up to the hype of so many of the superhero movies that are currently in production. When BYU-Hawaii students were asked how it compared to the Marvel and DC comic movies the overall consensus was, “NOT EVEN CLOSE!”

Although the college students weren’t fans of the movie they did add that the movie may appeal to younger children and is a family movie. BYU-Hawaii students however are not fans and hope that if there is another movie in production they learn from the mistakes of this film and try to pattern the sequel to something similar to Avengers or the Christian Bale batman movies.

New Sitcom on Heaven, “The Good Place” But, what if you’re there by mistake?

By Kayna Kemp Stout

NBC’s The Good Place is a new sitcom starring Kristen Bell and Ted Danson about what happens in the afterlife. Mormon viewers will chuckle, squirm, and nod their heads in unison at the portrayal of the grand beyond. For starters, we believe the afterlife is a busy

The Good Place - Season 1
THE GOOD PLACE — “Tahani Al-Jamil” Episode 103 — Pictured: (l-r) Ted Danson as Michael, D’Arcy Carden as Janet, William Jackson Harper as Chidi — (Photo by: Justin Lubin/NBC)

place with comings and goings as we know it now, which is how The Good Place portrays it. We LDS adherents, also believe we will be with like minded souls who have a similar goodness quotient. This also is a commonality with the show. However, there’s a twist; mistakes have been made in the admissions process. Unworthy clandestine members of the righteous neighborhood have inadvertently been admitted. This creates havoc in an otherwise perfectly functioning afterlife. Can heaven or kingdoms as we Mormons say have flaws in them? After viewing three episodes, there are six main characters orchestrating the shenanigans in the holy neighborhood.

Ted Danson is the architect of the community, and has a human looking robotic assistant who knows everything and can procure whatever he needs instantly. A modern day version of Bewitched’s Samantha without the nose twitching. Add the two interlopers who are paired with a benevolent member of the community, and you abundant scripts about honesty, authenticity, and consequences. One amusing consequence is their inability to swear in the good place. Substitute words like “fork”  are involuntary spoken instead of unsavory four-letter words.

Lectures on ethical philosophy gush  from the  college professor in the earthly life. He  tutors the misfits in the neighborhood instead so they won’t selfishly care about themselves full time as it was on earth. Plenty here for Sunday School discussions. Will any of us get there by mistake?

“Grand Tour:” Crazy New Car Show on Amazon Prime

By Alex Maldonado

In the automotive world, few names hold as much power as Jeremy Clarkson, James May, and Richard Hammond. The trio has been in the public eye for over a decade now; most notably for their roles hosting the British car show, Top Gear. After building up a massive global fan base over the span of twelve years, mixing car news and reviews with slapstick humor and witty banter, the show met an unfortunate end in early 2015. In March of 2015, Clarkson, the lead host, physically attacked one of the show’s producers over an argument about a cold steak. The producer chose not to press charges, but the show’s parent company, the BBC, decided it couldn’t allow Clarkson to get away with is actions.

amazon-1-655340Clarkson’s contract was terminated and his loyal cohosts left with him. After a several-month-long break, the team was picked up by Amazon Prime to star in an all new car show called “The Grand Tour.” The show is set in a collapsible tent that will be transported from continent to continent, highlighting glimpses of the local car culture and completing Top Gear-esque challenges along the way.

The first episode -set in the California desert during a concert reminiscent to Burning Man- had a record setting opening, bringing in three times as many viewers as the opening for Amazon Prime’s previous leading show, The Man in the High Castle, according to Digital Spy. The debut episode revealed vcover20f-2-webseveral recycled and renamed segments from their previous show, including a news segment which, due to legal reasons with the BBC, is called “Conversation Street.” Another Top Gear throwback includes testing every new car they get their hands on a private race track with a professional racing driver. The new track is much smaller and simpler than the Top Gear equivalent, though the crew claims it to be significantly more dangerous. The danger doesn’t come from sharp turns, tight hairpins, or steep elevation changes; but from a climate causing regular moisture, uneven and bumpy sections in the tarmac, and even the occasional animal crossing. The Grand Tour also hints at the possibility of doing a celebrity feature segment, similar to Top Gear’s “big star in a reasonably priced car.” However, each time a celebrity is set to be featured on the show, they suffer an inexplicably sudden death, like a parachute not deploying while skydiving into the audience, or being mauled by a lion while walking up to the tent. According to news outlet The Sun, the BBC has threatened the Grand Tour with legal action if the show presents a celebrity interview segment even remotely resembling the recurring Top Gear bit.

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Another segment the Grand Tour team is struggling to revive in a non-plagiaristic way is their new car track time test. Previously, the team would turn the keys over to their silent, robotic, “tamed racing driver” called The Stig. The Stig was a fan favorite, never seen without his white racing suit and smoked visor. The Stig was something of a mystery to fans, regularly playing obscure music or sounds as he drove around the test track, and treating things as ordinary as a cellphone as something completely alien. Now, Clarkson and co. are enlisting an almost universally unpopular former NASCAR driver to test the cars. Wesley Wren of Autoweek critiqued the show’s new driver, saying, “[Last week’s] review gets even worse with not-so-tamed racing driver Mike Skinner behind the wheel. In the last episode, we saw the talented driver act like a stereotypical boneheaded American, which even felt stale in a small dose. The writers at “The Grand Tour” must have thought that people simply didn’t get the joke, because they doubled down with the American-isms for Skinner’s segment.”

The Grand Tour isn’t all bad though. Many diehard fans were happy just to see the gang back together, roaring million-dollar hyper cars around a racetrack again. As the show is still in its infancy, it’s clear the crew is still trying to discover what they want to be; what they want to do with their show, and where to go from here. The Grand Tour is something of a second chance for Clarkson, Hammond, and May; and they are still in the process of determining what works and what doesn’t. New episodes premiere every Friday, exclusively on Amazon prime.

Mormons and Las Vegas Media

by Danny Stout

Las Vegas has always been enigmatic for Mormons. When Brigham Young dispatched Hosea Stout (a very distant cousin) to settle the area, the project failed for lack of water and prospects for farming. The abandoned Mormon fort stands as a state monument and tourist attraction. Ironic, some say, that Mormons were the original settlers of the area known as the entertainment capitol of the world. The Mormon-Vegas paradox has evolved through time, with many iterations. The Donnie and Marie Show on one side of the Strip with Gentleman strip clubs on the other, exemplifies these conflicts of values. In the 1940’s, Las Vegas was a crass gambling town; in the mob-era sixties, it was a fount of organized crime and prostitution. The LDS population grew nevertheless, many working in casinos and other businesses. When Las Vegas mogul Howard Hughes wrestled gambling away from the mafia, giving it lawful legitimacy, LDS executives (i.e., “The Mormon Mafia”) arranged for loans from Utah’s First Security Bank.

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A study published by this author in the journal, Mass Media and Society, describes a growing and devout Mormon population; a temple was dedicated in 1989. About five per cent (105,000) of Las Vegas is LDS. The city, while not the coarse off-color place it was in the sixties, retains its culture of excess, something-for-nothing mindset, and promiscuous flare for the erotic. The Cirque de Solei show “Zumanity” and “Absinthe” at Caesar’s Palace are examples. Yet some of the first-rate Broadway shows, fine art museums, and aquariums blend the commendable with the deleterious. Today, Mormon tourists visit the city annually by the hundreds of thousands. It’s a vacation destination for Utahns. When BYU sports teams compete in the city, Latter-day Saints check in to casino resorts. Like the city itself, which built the elegant Smith Center for the Performing Arts in 2009, and boasts an expanding art district exceeding many cities in the west, media attractive to LDS audiences have sprouted.

 Using the term, “religion” in the same sentence as “Las Vegas” is disquieting for a myriad of Mormons. Yet it’s a city of simulacra, an idea developed by the French philosopher Jean Beaudrillard. A simulacrum is something artificial that displaces the real. When the Belagio Hotel serves the same purpose as an Italian five-star resort, and the replication of the Eifel Tower in the Paris resort feels real, the experience has legitimacy. Simulacra is ubiquitous, making Las Vegas the quintessential postmodern city. The “real” and the “articicial” have blended. So has the old and new, traditional and nontraditional as well as the sacred and the secular.

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Music is a prime example. Every Sunday morning in the Mandalay Casino the “Gospel Brunch” is held. When I attended, the house lights came up and a singer, announced, “I know you’re here in Las Vegas to win money, but now it’s time to praise the Lord! Stand up and clap your hands in praise of Jesus!” The event was more like an Evangelical church than a casino. The gospel music was both spiritual and astoundingly performed. There is also the best of Broadway from “Phantom of the Opera” to “Jersey Boys” to “The Blue Man Group.” Fine art museums are abundant featuring the world’s great paintings and sculpture in the Bellagio Gallery as well that in the Winn Resort. Experimental, classical, impressionism, and abstract expressionism works are ubiquitous on the Strip.

Despite plenty of kitsch, the Strip has architectural works of note including the Renaissance Armillary Sphere, a creation of gold and marble eliciting awe and wonder. The oval stained glass piece in the Tropicana is one of the largest in the world, creating unique filters of light rays. Similarly, the Chihuli glass flower blossoms in the Belaggio lobby has 2,000 hand-blown glass blossoms created at a cost of $10 million. The gold shrine combining Hindu and Buddhist elements attracts thousands each day becoming a regular place for prayer.

While LDS visitors are not likely to attend, the wedding chapels at the mega-resorts have fine crafted wood features and appear much like Protestant churches without religious iconography. The MGM chapel has stone statuary simulating a European cathedral entrance. Unlike the tacky wedding chapels on Fremont Street, these facilities allow parties to bring in their own clergy, thus transporting congregations into the Las Vegas Strip.

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The complex interplay between Mormon and Las Vegas cultures is difficult to assess. Cities are not static, and the values of their visitors and citizens advance in multiple directions. Increasing popularity of Las Vegas among Mormons implies that cities are not homogenous, that visitors select various sites and reject others. For this reason, some hotels have kosher floors for Jewish guests. Las Vegas and America have blurred. The Luxor Resort has Egyptian exhibits for local school children, as does the Aquarium at the Mandalay Bay. Virtually all movie theaters and bowling alleys are now in casinos. Neighborhood casinos are primarily for locals, and are the community centers of the past. The question is whether Las Vegas is becoming more like the rest of the U.S., or if other cities are beginning to resemble Sin City. One thing that is relatively certain, Las Vegas and its media are no longer easily categorized in the black-white, either-or fashion of the past. The city has many greys.

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Audiences React to “Moana”

by Ho Lam Leung

Disney’s “Moana” received abundant pre-release attention – not surprising given the Disney brand.  It’s stirring debate about insensitivity and culture appropriation regarding Pacific Islanders. What do actual viewers think of the film?  It earned $2.6 million at the box office among preview audiences, according to <forbes.com>, doubling that of Disney’s “Frozen”which earned $1.2 million in 2012.

We turned to social media for audience reaction.  Dominant themes were gleaned from 57 interviews at a theater in Laie, Hawaii.  More than half of the opinions came from  Native Hawaiians and other Pacific Islander (53.6%). The rest are from Caucasians (21.4%), Asians (16.1%), and (8.9%) from other groups.

The majority of statements (91.3%) hqdefaultexpressed overall satisfaction toward the movie, praising “spectacular” animation and “vibrant color.” Audience members liked the “innovative” story. Others expressed pride in Polynesian traditions: “Well, I figured out why the ocean didn’t just get the heart over to Te Fiti (the goddess of islands)? The answer to that is simple … it was necessary for both Moana and Maui to grow from the journey. Life is about growth. Our ancestors and the elements know this too.” A “personal growth” message was grasped by several audience members.

The character, Maui, was depicted as a “buffoon“, “selfish idiot“, “scared“, “arrogant” and “hideous,” according to several interviewees. The Real People Audience: Group Diverse Watching Movie Theater Comedymajority, however, liked Disney’s depiction, arguing his accomplishments were conveyed. The “lighthearted portray” fit well with Maui’s trickster role. In fact, several Islanders agreed that a “built” and “big” appearance was an appropriate description of Maui. One said, “Maui has multiple descriptions throughout Polynesia and even within a Polynesian group. History was maintained orally and has not preserved a single detailed Maui description.” Few said Disney fabricated the Maui story. Musker and Celements depict a combination of South Pacific cultures in “Moana”, instead of just one (as seen in “Lilo and Stitch”).  Fijian, Samoan, Tahitian, and other Oceanic cultures are synthesized. How do the audiences thought about such mingling of cultures in the movie?

In order to understand the Pacific spirit, the directors and production team made  visits to the Pacific, engaging an Oceanic consulting team. Did their efforts pay off? Several seem to think so: “I felt that it was portrayed pretty accurately as I felt like I could relate to a number of characters as they reminded me of people I know or knew in my life.” Citing the moment Moana fights through the reef with her canoe said, “(it) brought lots of memories.

The integration of different island cultures was both praised and criticized.  On one side, Real People Audience: Group Diverse Watching Movie Theater ComedyDisney’s inclusion of “all the islands” was lauded. A Pacific Islander said, “It’s difficult to tell the different cultures,” while several participants found the mixing “all too jumbled,” making it hard to follow the story. Several were surprised to find a “strong Samoan influence.”  Perhaps this is because Samoa is one of the few islands allowing women to have the chiefly title. One viewer recognized the “twist of legends and customs” compared to their own island versions. Knowing the Moana role in her island, one responded, “Women don’t take the responsibility of providing and protecting in Polynesia, but maybe Moana is based on some Tahitian myth or legend.” Some sensed favoritism in the choice of culture. “I don’t like how (the movie) was only Samoan and Tahitian-based. Maui is a Polynesian demigod, but the movie only displayed him as only a few.

At another level, music and dance played a big role.  The song, “We Know The Way,” was sung in Tokelauan. One participant said, “It was like being back on the island.” However, several noted a lack of Polynesian sound: Some songs “didn’t really fit.” Some argued that the soundtracks are more “Polynesian-inspired” than “authentic.

In summary, the audience clearly enjoyed the film, yet were assertive in their cultural critique. Those unfamiliar with Island cultures are likely to miss the nuances, but feel entertained nevertheless.   But to Oceanic peoples, we are speaking of heroes and Gods.  They live in the heart of those that preserve their heritage. They make Pacific Islanders unique from other nations of the world. Did Disney introduce these traditions to the world in Moana? Perhaps not, but new interest may be kindled.