Tag Archives: Mormon

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.



“American Housewife:” Plus Size Beauty and a Big Heart

By Kayna Kemp Stout

161006-american-housewife-1American Housewife is a new sitcom with an old formula, but with a relevant commentary on body image from a plus size point of view. Mom Katie Otto, played by Katy Mixon, is a size 14 living in an upscale California community of size 2’s. She’s got three quirky kids and a seemingly supportive husband willing to indulge her crazy sounding schemes. American Housewife is a Kapital Entertainment–ABC Studios co-production set in Westport, Connecticut.

She’s the driving force of the three viewed episodes. I’ll continue to watch it on Tuesday evenings after The Middle, one of my all time faves. Similar to The Middle, the plot lines draw material from the sparring between siblings and parents engaged in the minutiae of family life. Unlike The Middle, Otto deals with her weight issues in each episode. That resonates with the 65 per cent of American women who are a plus size, but rarely represented in today’s media landscape, especially sitcoms. As with all sitcoms, success hinges on the writing. The concept is fresh and quirky enough to leave me anxious for next week’s episode.


Kudos to the high school teen daughter Taylor, middle school son Oliver, and elementary aged daughter Anna-Kat; the director coaches them to fine performances.



In “A Mother’s Reckoning,” Son Dylan Klebold and Columbine Tragedy Examined

by Danny Stout

A long-awaited news story, Diane Sawyer’s interview with Sue Klebold, mother of Dylan Klebold, one of the teen Columbine murderers yields inevitably new revelations. In 20/20’s “Silence Broken,” Sawyer’s journalism is thorough given the compressed medium of television. Does Klebold’s new book, “A Mother’s Reckoning” reveal after almost two decades how parents could overlook signs that their son was on the verge of one of the worst mass murders in U.S. history? Thirteen were killed and 24 wounded. From the journalism critic’s standpoint, Sawyer’s interview is artful, getting her subject to talk freely, but she also bypasses some key questions.

We see Klebold nervously pacing before the interview, “wondering,” as Sawyer says, “if she’s made a mistake by agreeing to disclose her story.” Klebold explains why she never left Colorado for a different identity somewhere she would be less known. “I can’t run from this,” she responds, “It is hard to live with the fact that your son has killed people and you have to own that.”

via ABC TV

Tearfully, she continues, “I am so sorry for what my son did. Never a day goes by that I don’t think about it.” Sawyer narrates between questions, giving her own interpretation intermittently. One example is when she inquires, “Why do you use the word ‘harm’ instead of ‘kill?” The reply is softly given: “I don’t know.” Then Klebold admits the softer term helps her cope. She is trapped in a contradiction, Sawyer observes, and “all the lessons of her regret are in the book,” which is a sneaky way of saying if I’ve missed something, it’s all in the book anyway.

Sawyer covers a lot of ground, thus a synopsis is difficult. The crux of the story goes like this: Sue Klebold considers herself a good parent; she was involved in Dylan’s life. After listening to recorded conversations between her son and Eric Harris, she admits that parents fool themselves into a sense of normalcy, that things are Okay. Parents must look harder for clues of teen distress. Dylan was clearly depressed, but Eric Harris had deeper psychological problems; he drew pictures of decapitations and swastikas. His personality disorder was a God complex, and perhaps he convinced Dylan to hate the world. “We have guns. I feel more Godlike,” Eric wrote in his journal. Sue Klebold doesn’t blame the Harrises, however, and occasionally converses with them.

She is far from healed. The Klebolds divorced due to differences about how to cope. Her book forced her to turn over every stone in a process of healing and understanding. “She’s gone over her life with a magnifying glass,” Sawyer observes. Klebold asserts, however, that some things cannot be entirely comprehended. Proceeds from the book will be donated to suicide prevention groups.

Sawyer’s historical and cultural context of the tragedy is thin yet provides a helpful, although brief timeline. The first comparable mass murder, according to the journalist, occurred at the University of Texas when Charles Whitman shot and killed 14 and wounded another 32 from a tower on the campus. Columbine, the next crime like it, came 30 years later. Since then, there have been 50 rampage shootings, and 79 foiled plots.

Sawyer relies on statistics related to violence in the media and gun access. Few question the salience of these factors, but she never gets to the heart of the matter which is clearly mental illness, despite the fact that her two expert guests identify this as the root of what happened. Sawyer doesn’t seem to want to talk about psychological issues.

Klebold’s claim that a teenager’s privacy must be protected by not searching their rooms could have been teased out more extensively. Both teens had guns, and explosives were in both homes.

Viewers will be compassionate for a mother’s humble attempt to cope with such sadness. Klebold remains perplexed by the the responsibility question.


Admitting on the one hand that she should have been a better listener, she denies that some clues were crystal clear. For example, Dylan wrote a paper for school describing someone looking like himself pulling out a gun and mowing down students. Many take this as a clear indication of something to come. “We didn’t take that paper seriously,” she defends. It’s common for kids to write stuff like that using their wild imaginations.” She hearkens back to her own wild creativity as an art student.  Her description of the Klebold household sounds like a million families across America.  The perception of normalcy with so much going on backstage is much more interesting than Sawyer’s statistics about media violence and gun ownership. Family communication, perhaps, is the subject Sawyer misses. For this reason, all parents should see the interview.

Finally, journalists get an average to poor grade in covering the event.  Dave Cullen’s 2009 book, Columbine argues that reporters did little to broaden knowledge about underlying motives for what happened. Covering the story for various news outlets, Cullen regrets the inaccuracies of the information Sue Klebold had to straighten out herself. For example, the two teens were not bullied to a large extent as was reported. They were not members of the “Trench Coat Mafia;” Dylan just liked the way the coats looked. They didn’t intend to kill jocks nor believers in God specifically as many reporters claimed. The highly circulated story of the victim that said “yes” when asked whether she believed in God, and then was promptly shot has now been discredited. It’s ironic that the most valuable insights about Columbine have just come out in a book by the mother of one of the perpetrators, when public discussion should have been more substantive. And, how can it be when news reporters are so off base?



Glenn Frey (1948-2016): Inspiration to Mormon Hippies Everywhere

by Danny Stout

frey 4Heartrending melodies that soothe the soul and replace angst with elation. This is the music of Glenn Lewis Frey. A poet of American folk-rock, his songs have a sing-along quality; his high energy rock tunes were also internationally recognized. He and Don Henley formed the Eagles, members of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and creators of two of the 20 best-selling albums of all time. In addition, “The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time” published by Rolling Stone magazine rates “Hotel California” 37th. Frey was 67, succumbing to pneumonia, rheumatoid arthritis, and complications of ulcerative colitis. He is survived by his wife, Cindy, and three children: Taylor, Deacon and Otis.

Frey had thousands of Mormon fans beginning in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s continuing to his recent passing. I was in the sold-out Salt Palace in 1976 during the Hotel California tour; thousands of LDS youth filled the seats, singing Eagles hits. They listened to the albums Eagles and Desperado over and over again. Frey 1Frey’s ballads resonated with young Mormons seeking release from tensions of the radical Sixties.  War, civil rights, women’s rights, changing sexual norms: LDS youth heard mixed signals. A core group sought a role in the peace movement without the wrath of parents. The Eagles were rarely political, providing a neutral zone between dissent and concerned bishops.  Singer Jesse Colin Young, said it in the song, “Get Together:” “C’mon people now, smile on your brother, everybody get together, try to love one another, right now.” In the recent documentary, “Eagles History,” Frey said, “We provided a break from all the bad stuff going on.”

Frey and the Eagles served up a palatable type of rock and roll that Church leaders didn’t seem to mind, or at the very least looked the other way. When I caught my mother singing Frey’s “Lyin Eyes,” in the car, I realized the Eagles were under the Mormon radar. Ezra Taft Benson had condemned the rock festival “Woodstock,” and Boyd K. Packer exhorted youth to sort through their record collection and remove the likes of “Black Sabbath,” “Deep Purple,” and “Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention.” An official letter prohibited Andrew Lloyd Weber’s Broadway soundtrack, “Jesus Christ Super Star” from Church meetings or functions. But, LDS teens saw redeeming value in The Eagles, and a bridge to honorable aspects of the youth movement outside the Church.

Many Eagles songs are “Secular Hymns,” a concept explored by Steve Thompsen and Quint Randle in a forthcoming issue of the Journal of Media and Religion. A secular hymn, they claim, “has religious or spiritual overtones (or has the potential to evoke those feelings within the listener) without being overtly religious.” “Take It Easy,” “Already Gone,” “Peaceful Easy Feeling,” and “Lyin’ Eyes,” are some of the finest folk rock songs ever written. At 15, I ripped the cellophane off the album, Eagles and played Peaceful Easy Feeling over and over:

‘Cause I got a peaceful easy feeling
And I know you won’t let me down
‘Cause I’m already standing on the ground

I made the connection, perhaps for the first time, that rock music was both deep feeling and attitude. The latter took more work than the former, and Frey’s American hyperrealism gave me a break from tension at home and my parents’ approaching divorce. It was therapeutic in a way that no medication nor therapy could remedy. Frey’s California drawl (he bore down on his r’s at the end of words) transported one to small desert towns, and the elation gleaned from simple moments:

Well, I’m standing on a corner
in Winslow, Arizona
and such a fine sight to see
It’s a girl, my Lord, in a flatbed
Ford slowin’ down to take a look at me

Through Glenn Frey, we discovered that communities transcend brick and mortar  churches. We have our ward communities, which are vital, but young people seek peers outside our realm that also embrace worthy values; we want to join their pursuits to improve the world.  My friend, Dave Ballard loved folk rock, but resented the anti-military sentiment by some bands. The Eagles enabled his participation in the youth culture, allowing him to bask in a great era for music without buying into radicalism.

The Sixties, which panicked our parents at the time, had many positive consequences, (i.e., civil rights, women’s rights, equal-pay-for-equal-work, postmodernism, etc.). Glenn Frey’s music allowed us to bridge two interpretive communities. According to mass communication theorist Thomas Lindlof, interpretive communities center on media not geography. Thanks to Glenn Frey, we sang holy hymns in our chapels, and secular hymns bridging Mormons to our friends in the larger community of popular culture.

Frey 5

Media Briefs: Tribute to Glenn Frey steals Grammy Awards Show!

LDS Eagles fans had to love the reunion of Don Henley, Bernie Leadon, Joe Walsh, and Timothy B. Schmidt as they paid tribute to beloved band member Glenn Frey that passed January 18. With song co-writer Jackson Browne, they performed “Take it Easy.” Frey’s family wanted something “simple and elegant,” with conventional lighting and a blank backdrop, thus emphasizing the music; a photo of a smiling Frey came up during the last seconds of the song. Eagles members sensed the significance of the moment, bowing heads and wiping tears from  crestfallen faces.


The rest of the show was a postmodern Ed Sullivan-style variety show on steroids: A Lady Gaga tribute to David Bowie was more Broadway than a redo of his jolting soulful style; it seemed more about Gaga than Bowie. Kendrick Lamar, the Bob Dylan of rap, did a stirring song about racism with musicians in chains and cages; it was artful and poetic. Justin Bieber threw his guitar down in Peter Townsend fashion, but his band comes nowhere near the Who. Something called “Hollywood Vampires” with Alice Cooper and Johnny Depp left jaws dropped, yet pleased their newly formed fan base in the auditorium. Twelve year old jazz pianist Joey Alexander, the youngest nominee, drew a standing ovation.

“Best rock performance” went to Alabama Shakes, with a humble lead singer Brittany Howard, accepting: “We started in high school and never thought we’d get an award like this.”

Album of the Year went to Taylor Swift for “1989,” the first woman to win Best Album twice. Bruno Mars’ “Uptown Funk” earned Record of the Year honors. The Best New Artist award was given to Meghan Trainor.

It was a difficult year for rock with the passing of Maurice White, Paul Kantner, Leslie Gore, Percy Sledge, David Bowie, BB King, Glenn Frey, and Natalie Cole. Gaga_Bowie_Edit-1Deservedly, the most moving productions were the tributes to Glenn Frey, BB King, Maurice White, and David Bowie. This year’s show is getting good reviews, and kudos for the producers for bringing an eclectic array of multifaceted and multi-generational rock artists together in a unified and delicious way.




Don Hertzfeldt’s “World of Tomorrow” a 2015 Sundance Short Film Claims that a Person’s Soul will Live Beyond Physical Death through Artificial Intelligence


According to this short documantary, your soul or consciousness can be uploaded as memory into new cloned bodies continuously after your birth body passes. If you can’t afford this, full digital consciousness transfer will enable your mind to be implanted in a robot so that you can still be part of a person’s life after physical death.  There will also be an “outernet” where everyone is connected to the same neural network. View screens allow robots to view all events in history. No where in the film does it explain how “consciousness” can be achieved in a non-living thing.

In the new TV series, “Lucifer,” the bad one is thinking more deeply and thoroughly about what it means to be human.


The adversary takes a vacation from hell to spend time in LA. His only power is to encourage people to fulfill their desires. And, of course, he focuses on the unsavory ones.  He owns a nightclub and is an extraordinary piano player.  Lucifer feels oddly fulfilled when questioning someone’s motives such as those of a murderer in one case. An angel is sent to retrieve him, but his interaction with humanity is intoxicating. His therapist says, “You’re changing.” The idea of the dark one developing the seeds of a conscience is an interesting plot line. The Jesus figure asks him to return to hell. “You’re time on earth is affecting you.” Unfortunately, the show is in the lowest common denominator genre trying to draw the largest audience possible. Which, of course, means lots of sexual innuendos and stilted dialogue. He’s no saint (duh), but it’s interesting the writers don’t mock religion or God. The issues raised are actually quite interesting.  Hopefully, as the series progresses, it doesn’t turn out to be a downer.



Colorado boldly legalized recreational marijuana over two years ago. The documentary series, High Profits, tells the story of Brian Rogers and Caitlin McGuire owners of the first “weed” store, the Breckenridge Cannabis Club. The community, especially downtown retailers are mostly opposed to the “shop of highs.” Within weeks, they are making $5,000 a day and trending upward; soon it’s more than $40,000. Customers line up outside the doors for the store to open. One customer travels from Mexico City.   Pot paraphernalia stores are popping up on side streets, and citizens are worried that their tidy pristine tourist town will soon be the East Village of Manhattan.

But, the owners have done their homework, (e.g., securing all permits, a dependable supply chain, and marketing plan). The store has the same faux Swiss-style Disneyland architecture as the other businesses; they blend in for the most part. There are problems, though. Taxes are 24%. “Our town is being destroyed!” a resident voices. Another agrees: “They’re parasites!” The City Council votes that the store has to move from Main Street to a less prominent location within a year.

High Profits is an eight-episode ethnographic film treating us to the first glimpse of a controversial industry unfolding. Perhaps most compelling is what it reveals about the weed culture before legalization. On the street outside the Club, young and old mingle, sharing “smoking stories” uncovering more about a vast culture once hidden. It also raises the potentially deleterious impacts on immature local teens as they grow up with this new element in their local community.










Book Review: John Irving’s “Avenue of Mysteries”

by Danny Stout

Religion is difficult to pin down in the work of John Irving. He treats it for the complex phenomenon it is, and is dubious of overly pious institutions. In “Avenue of Mysteries,” he loathes the Catholic Church, and like “A Prayer for Owen Meany” and “The World According to Garp,” individuals have a greater proclivity for moral judgments than blindly following institutions. Religion fades in and out of the story, or should I say, stories plural. As a mature but  traditional-style novelist there are subplots galore; Irving’s mastery lies in vibrancy and relevancy of his scenes and characters. Many face moral dilemmas, and this is where he interjects theories about transcendence and spirituality. In Avenue, this has to do with the nature of the past and how it sustains us. Sensitivity warning: Irving has much to say about morality, but doesn’t shy away from sexual imagery. This may be an issue for some readers.

Protagonist Juan Diego Guerrero and his sister Lupe were “pepenedores” (scavengers) in 1960’s Mexican garbage dumps as kids. In the rubble, young Juan finds books and learns to read. Eventually, he becomes a novelist of notoriety in Iowa, the same place author John Irving got his training (i.e., The Iowa Writers Workshop).

While Irving points out the flaws of organized religion, he forces both his characters and readers to face moral dilemmas, and particularly, who they are in this confusing world. “In every life, I think there’s always a moment when you must decide where you belong.” Juan doesn’t think of himself as Mexican, Mexican-American, nor American.  As for past, present, or future, he prefers nostalgia, delighting in his dreams and thoughts. Mulling days-gone-by works well until he takes blood pressure medication that stunts  the dream-generating area of the brain. Thus he complains to the doctor that his dreams have been stolen. The past is no diversion without dreams.

Irving’s fiction is known for its whimsy and esoteric characters. A surprise on every page is a mild exaggeration. Remember the scene in The World According to Garp when an airplane crashes into a house as Garp and a real estate agent look on.  “I’ll take it,” he says. “It’s accident proof.” A similarly diabolical scene in Avenue occurs when Diego, fascinated by the circus, wants to write about it. Lupe is abruptly killed by a circus lion. Another example is an American draft dodger Diego meets in Mexico as a boy. The man has a torn American flag tattoo on his backside, and insists that Diego visit the grave of his father in the Phillippines who was killed in World War II. Diego commits to do so, and fulfills the promise later in life.  There is a lesson in his affinity for the absurd.  Perhaps his message is that there’s value in everyone, despite their circumstances. Such individuals are relegated to the fringes of society, but in Irving’s novels they’re heroes in breaking the myth of the homogeneous individual. When we expect conformity to the point of overlooking the uniqueness of each soul, what kind of life is it?

It’s difficult to abstract the novel in a few words due to unrelenting surprises.  Diego discovers Lupe is clairvoyant and, unlike his own affinity for the past, she can predict the future as well. Like the boy in Irving’s A Prayer for Owen Meany, life is about finding your true mission. Owen is more successful than Diego due to addiction to memory.

I recall a line in Irving’s Cider House Rules when Dr. Larch says to his assistant at the hospital, “It surprises me you have such a high expectation about people.” For Diego, that expectation has to do with making memories. Once they’re created, he can survive on his past and dreams. Avenue is about survival through memory, and the importance of acquiring meaningful experiences early enough in life so they can carry us through. This way, he doesn’t live in the past without participating in the present; he simply prioritizes them. In Mormon theology, past, present, and future are of equal importance in the plan of salvation. Diego’s story, and therefore Irving’s novel can be interpreted as inconsistent with the three pillars of the LDS faith. The book, however, can be viewed as an invitation to examine the significance of the past more closely. The pejorative phrase, “Living in the past,” makes strong reliance on memories taboo. Perhaps Irving’s book will be a fulcrum for deeper examination of the possibilities of memory.

Reading the book, the chorus of Jethro Tull’s song Living in the Past kept playing in my head:

Oh, we won’t give in,
We’ll keep living in the past.
Oh, we won’t give in,
Let’s go living in the past.

Carly Simon’s New Memoir

by Danny Stout

Living in Princeton, New Jersey, we got all the New York TV stations, and thus concerts live from Central Park. One summer night I was watching a broadcast with my friends. Art Garfunkel had just performed, so had George Harrison. My teenage buddies were getting restless. Then, a tall woman strolled out in a ravishing red velvet dress, taking her seat at the piano, her shoulder-length chestnut hair shimmering in the spotlight. “Who is that?” one of my friends inquired. She looked more like a Broadway star than the other hippyish performers. “I’m going to sing a song I heard on Jones Beach today, it’s kind of a weird song about marriage.” Seeming timid and almost embarrassed, she slumped a little, managing the biggest smile I’d ever beheld.  Yet the grin did not match the melancholy she filled the park with:

          My father sits at night with no lights on

          His cigarette glows in the dark

          I walk past the living room, no remarks

          I tiptoe past the master bedroom door

         My mother reads her magazines

          I hear her call “sweet dreams,” but I forget how to dream

The song, “That’s the Way I Always Heard it Should Be” was the saddest tune I’d heard to that point; it was a lament to a broken marriage and a couple’s painful routine. Not until I read Carly Simon’s new memoir, “Boys in the Trees,” did I realize it was autobiographical. Since that concert, I followed her career, relishing the ballads, “You Belong to Me,” “Anticipation,” “Haven’t Got Time for the Pain,” and, perhaps her most famous, “You’re so Vain.” (Ending decades of speculation, she recently disclosed that the first verse refers to actor Warren Beatty). Most intriguing were the up-tempo melodies you catch yourself singing, failing to grasp their sadness or at the very least incongruously moody lyrics. simon 2Years have passed, but in this book, she’s eager to self disclose. The backstory of her repertoire is teased out, enhancing the listening experience and enjoyment. She carries a backpack of sadness since the James Taylor days, but is a bright figure. How much is a facade. James Taylor hasn’t spoken to her since 1983. “That’s the Way I Always Heard it Should Be” is ever more relevant in her life than her parents, it seems. “Boys in the Trees” is an ocean of disclosure.  Taylor was not faithful in their marriage. Then, she returned the favor for spite. You’re invited backstage almost to the point of uneasiness. If I had written this volume, I would have frantically called my editor crying, “Is it too late to take some things out?” The book is an ocean of disclosure, and a well of comfort to those feeling alone in their worriment.

Transparency is a gift, and the author is commended for getting beyond the superficiality of several recent rock memoirs by Graham Nash, Eric Clapton, and I hate to say it since I’m such a fan, Neil Young, who admitted “Waging Heavy Peace” was financially motivated. Simon dissects the myths of her personal life as well as assumptions regarding wealth and fame, which is enigmatic. The book’s dedication reads: “Dedicated to the first Orpheus, Richard L. Simon, my father, my beloved hero, understood too late for our peace to come during our lifetime.” Personally, I know that one can love an absent parent deeply. The refrain, “we would if we could,” keeps love alive. Independence is both blessing and woe. This paradox is a dominant theme of the book with Simon thoughtful on the subject.

There’s an interplay between maturity and loneliness. Time with dad was fleeting, so she filled in the cracks with ambition, assured that he adored her in his mind, and through kind knowing smiles. Her mother carried on an affair with her children’s babysitter for nine years, and, needless to say, resentment was deep and communication superficial. Richard Simon was partner and owner of Simon & Schuster, one of the largest publishing houses in the world. simon 3Wealth was her world: Manhattan apartments and homes in Connecticut and Martha’s Vineyard. She had splendid opportunities, close friends, and interacted with impressive people. Simon attended Sarah Lawrence, and performed with sister Lucy from an early age. Lucy Simon, unknown to many, wrote the score to the Broadway musical, “The Secret Garden.” They were a folk duet in Grenwich Village as teens.

I simplify too much, but two lines of thought should interest LDS readers. First, Simon developed a life theme through music despite affluence and adversity. Life themes imply more than skills. She was after a life of import. Music provided feedback she didn’t get elsewhere. Perhaps we steer children away from special paths wanting them to conform. Not everyone is drawn to Boy Scouts, some want to master the violin instead. Music could move others and this fulfillment was highly sustaining.

The weakness of the book is that as much as she tries, fame remains important.  She relates countless affairs with celebrities (many are named in detailed stories), and although she’s clearly moved on with a strong bond with her children, the story of former husband and singer James Taylor crosses the disclosure limit in my view. It’s as if this will matter to her readers fifteen minutes after finishing the book. Time is better spent talking about her craft, which she does with less depth than the rock enthusiast would hope.

I most enjoyed the parts about her children, and the great role model and teacher she is. In a way, she finds the elusive family tie she missed early on. That is a story worth telling.

Documentary Chronicles Keith Richard’s Legacy and Gift to America

by Danny Stout

Keith Richards lived a hard-drinking, drug-abusing life, yielding unequaled rock and roll, blending American blues, jazz, and even country. With the The Rolling Stones, he shaped the character and direction of rock music. When mainstream bands emulated the Beatles, the Stones were edgier and nonconformist; they refused to wear coats and ties. Neil Young says, “There’s two kinds of rock and roll: Beatles and Rolling Stones.” The beat and rhythm of classic rock are there, but with angst and artistic depth folded in. “Under the Influence,” the new documentary on Richards is as easy going as his autobiography, Life published last year, “Second only to the Bible,” he says with a raspy chuckle, the residual of lifelong-chain-smoking. Richards wore out his life for a purpose; this film elucidates that cause.

Richards 1

The hard-living and self abuse is past; Richards is committed to family and reconciled a 20-year estrangement with his father; they have grown close. In the film, producer Steve Jordan chastises him for uttering the word, “retirement,” because like most 72 year-olds, Keith’s energy is waning. But, he fights it off, “You’re never grown up until you’re six feet under. You’re never grown.” His proclivity to music is inherited, he argues, music in the Richards household was something you just did. “Music is the language of the centuries; it’s indefinable.” His insights on the evolutionary role of music makes the film worth watching.

This is a legacy film. Richards aches to have his contribution known. “I’m steeped in American jazz and blues; that’s what America has given to the world, much better than H-bombs.” Richards claims the Rolling Stones introduced Muddy Waters, Lead Belly, Howlin’ Wolf and Buddy Guy not only to British audiences, but “we turned America back on to its own music” making American kids aware of it. In a poignant anecdote, Buddy Guy tells the story of Howlin’ Wolf being rejected by the TV show “Shindig,” but Keith Richards made it happen. Observing this performance is a moving moment in the documentary.

Once the Stones had the blues, it diffused into their rock songs in an astonishing style. “American music derived from Celtic roots so when I hear Lead Belly I felt echoes of my past. It was easy to build a bridge to my ancestry” he said. Like a cab driver, Tom Waits, says, “Keith has all the knowledge.” He learned Spanish guitar as a boy, sought out the blues makers in the American south, and studied reggae in later years.

Richards did something great for America, and the world for that matter. One gets the feeling he’s panicked he’ll be remembered for “Satisfaction” or “Under my Thumb.” He tells his story convincingly, however, earning him a deserved bravado in populist music history. The Rolling Stones is the best of rock and roll, and Richards, as anthropologist, synthesized blues, jazz, and country.

richards 3

Considering our realm of heroes within the LDS faith community, perhaps “Under the Influence” will implore us to cast a wider net. Keith Richards may or may not regret certain periods of his life. That’s his business. Yet none of us go through life unscathed, and it will be tragic to dismiss this artist as a mere drug user as I’ve heard him characterized in LDS circles. A deep and thorough examination of Keith Richard’s life uncovers greatness where it counts. Hopefully, his legacy will endure in the way he articulates it in this documentary.

Link: Star Wars Needs a Crisis of Faith

In a post at Patheos.com, LDS writer and pop culture critic Cody Ray Shafer argues and explains how the original Star Wars trilogy included a lot of literal and metaphorical lessons about faith — which were mostly lost in the almost pathetic, shoot-em-up sequels. He hopes J.J. Abrams and the new movies will pick up where the original trilogy left off.

The Force is always rewarded; with telekinesis, visions, laser swords, and sometimes actual lightning. Real life spiritual battles are far less spectacular, but that’s why it works as a metaphor. We often claim that faith can move mountains, and in Star Wars it actually does.

A fun read.

Founded in 2008, Patheos.com is an online destination to engage in the global dialogue about religion and spirituality and to explore and experience the world’s beliefs.


The Real Beauty and the Beast: Documentary Uncovers Disney’s Uneven Legacy

By Dan Stout

No childhood memories are as magical as classic Disney films. At the Saturday matinee with my friends, the barn scene in 101 Dalmatians offered pleasant escape and brief security during troubled times at home. Similarly, the spaghetti scene in Lady and the Tramp was a first hint at the excitation of romance on the horizon. As for Mary Poppins, I recall preteens crying as they filed out of the theater; they didn’t want it to end. Despite Disney’s international reputation for quality child entertainment, it has drawn sharp criticism. The Smithsonian’s recent documentary, The Real Beauty and the Beast” uncovers the dark side of Disney in its meticulously researched origins of the child classic. Unfortunately, the animated movie and subsequent Broadway musical cheats us, muting the moral impacts of the fable. With nearly automatic praise of Disney products by Mormons, it may be time to revisit the Disney legacy that is being called into question by literary and film critics.

beauty-and-the-beast-disneyThe ending of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast has always baffled me. If inner beauty trumps outer appearance, why is the beast turned back into a handsome prince at the end? Earlier versions contain no such transformation; we love the complete person, and grasp the virtue of character over charisma. In a time when bullying is prevalent in schools, the story remains relevant. The tale chides the superficialities of fashion, glamour, and possessions, challenging us to stress character over cosmetics. However, Beauty falls victim to the sanitation tendency of many fairy tale versions. Sanitized Disney films are abundant.

Cinderella supports this argument as well. In the Grimm fairy tale, she is neither delicate nor beautiful, but in Disney films, most heroines are glamorous, implying that beauty defines success. In the Grimm tale, the stepsisters are punished for their behavior: not in the Disney versions, however. In search of large audiences, nuance is stripped from the narrative, either diluting or eliminating some moral messages all together. Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid is another victim of Disney’s sanitation, primarily unwillingness to depict consequences of abandoning moral principle. In both Disney and ancient versions of Mermaid, she makes a deal with the witch by forfeiting her female voice. But, Disney returns her voice while the latter keeps the punishment in tact, leaving us to ponder the price of yielding one’s right to free expression.

The moral-message flattening of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast is hard to top, however. The Smithsonian documentary fills in rich details, resulting in a thought-provoking work that, while speaking to all ages, provides a fuller narrative that parents can pass on to children during story time.

The beauty-and-the-beast fable exists in some form on all continents. Smithsonian historians trace the popularized Disney version to a painting of a wolfman-like hairy man, Petra Gonzalez, found in a castle in the Austrian alps in 1547. Born with hypertrychosis, a disease of excessive hair growth throughout the body, Petra is shunned initially, and thrown into French dungeons. To the surprise of medical experts, he’s intelligent, a good learner–and kind. Subsequently, a place in the King’s court is eventually earned, and Petra’s marriage lasts 40 years. Little information about his death exists nor has his grave been located.

In an era when the physically-challenged endured inhumane treatment if not extermination, Petra is afforded dignity despite his deformity. The painting itself, an artifact reserved for royalty and officials of prestige, supports this claim. And, unlike Disney’s version, there’s no transformation into a handsome prince, an eradication of the moral; Petra is loved for character, inspiring us at a level that the diluted Disney narrative never fully attains.

The Smithsonian film doesn’t stop there; it relates the beauty-and-the-beast story of Larry Gomez, an actor living in Los Angeles with comparable adversities. One of 50 victims of hyoertrychosis in the world, he abandons a life in freak shows and circuses. Determined, he cultivates a life theme of celebrating uniqueness maintaining a positive outlook, despite derision, divorce, and an unwanted estrangement from his son. Again, no “handsome prince” conversion; only the weathered joy of a life fought optimistically, and a circle of friends drawn to his heart of gold.

Unfortunately, Disney’s glossed-over history, and historical inaccuracy extends to other movies. The Middle Ages depicted in Aladdin is an adventure-oriented distortion. Islam is presented unclearly if at all; specific beliefs are not evident, leaving an uncivilized picture of Middle Easterners. Britain’s evolution is more civilized and advanced in Disney works, despite precious gifts of art, science, and medicine by historical Egypt and other Middle Eastern regions.

In all fairness to Walt Disney, good feelings and enchantment elicited by artful animation and good writing are unequaled contributions. Children, he believed, deserve magic moments; they shouldn’t be frightened out of their wits, nor should cartoons be expected to substitute for history classes. The art of animation was his gift. To his credit, moral messages are conveyed, if not didactically.

3899_4Dumbo and Bambi are two examples. Regrettably, the protectionist approach yields sanitized fables bereft of key elements of the world’s cherished tales. Unlike the Grimm’s version of Little Red Riding Hood, for example, where the red-cloaked girl learns of the dangers of entering the forest, (perhaps the point of the story), she and her grandmother are rescued with no problems, narrowing the range of interpretation much like a Rockwell painting where life is good and happiness easily restored to any situation.

No doubt Disney will continue to find safe haven in the Mormon milieu of child entertainment, and deservedly so. From a media literacy perspective, how do we teach children critical skills to view such movies? Such skills are helpful in comparisons of Disney, Dr. Seuss, and Veggie Tales, among others.

Disney also makes movies for adults. How prepared are we to elucidate their moral messages? It depends on our knowledge structure regarding fairy tales and fables. Perhaps in the Disney Age, we’ve forgotten the power of these stories to help us think through moral dilemmas.