HR Monday Musical – The Book of Mormon

The HRi has always enjoyed theatre, and can’t watch a stage play or movie without thinking about the HR issues presented. It’s a curse.

I had the good fortune of having a plan to attend a family wedding in New Jersey Friday evening. We decided that since we had our kids and their spouses together, we should make a weekend of it and see a show on Broadway. Several months ago, one of the kids had seen Trey Parker and Matt Stone – the creators of television’s South Park and the new Musical The Book of Mormon – on The Daily Show, and suggested we might like this show. Like my previous Monday Musical pieces, this is not a review, but some of my thoughts about the themes for an HR perspective.

First HR disclaimer: The show has vulgarity, frank references to female genitalia, and is potentially offensive to persons of any faith, not just Mormons. It was also one of the most entertaining things I have seen in a long time.

Culture, which I have written about before, is a major element. The storyline follows two young, idealistic Mormon missionaries, nineteen-year-old Elders Price and Cunningham, on their mission to Uganda. Both brought up in the Mormon tradition, they see this as a critical time in their lives. Price is entirely caught up with himself and his hopes to do something so awesome that it “blows God’s freakin’ mind”, and Cunningham is totally insecure yet excited to have Price as his mission brother. When their culture of sharing their message meets that of a small Ugandan village ruled by a cruel warlord, the result is a true culture clash – not in a sense of opposites, but in a sense of completely different cultures.

Price gives up, believing that this is not really where Heavenly Father wants him to be – he believes he was destined to do the work of the church in Orlando. Cunningham, who was never a scholar when it comes to the Book (“it’s boring”), finds that he can still relate the stories to the villagers by telling stories that are actually pulled from his deep knowledge of all things Star Wars, Lord of The Rings, and Star Trek. He learned to speak in ideas and stories that the people could understand, a critical element in culture interaction. He conveys the essence of what is important and leads the village to baptism.

Self-acceptance is also a theme, with the elders singing about repressing certain feelings, including homosexual feelings. I’ve had gay friends of other religions who deal with the challenge of finding a church home, in the faith they were raised, that will allow them to be fully out and equal members of the congregation. The musical missionaries suggest that you “Turn it off, like a light switch” and then everything will be better. That is exactly how some of my friends had been taught to manage this aspect of their lives.

The warlord controlling the village practices female castration, which is a real and serious issue in underdeveloped areas of Africa. It is dealt with seriously if not uncomfortably in this play, but the warlord is eventually overcome through the faith of the villagers.

The play also tells some history of the Mormon faith in clever and irreverent vignettes where Jesus speaks with a sort of soft, mellow southern US accent. And when the Mission leaders learn that the teachings to the villagers have not been according to the Book, they are shown as short-sighted leaders (managers?) who forgot the primary purpose of the endeavor, and declared the team a failure – in spite of their success. (No one in business environments has seen this behavior before, right?)

I was caught up in how much I enjoyed the satirical side of this play. Should I be embarrassed if any Mormon co-workers knew how much I laughed and enjoyed a play that they might consider disrespectful? Will they think that I see them as caricatures, as the young missionaries are portrayed? Is there something about diversity and inclusion that means I can’t see humor in a portrayal that enforces a stereotype of a culture?

I’d love to get your thoughts on this topic.


2 Responses to HR Monday Musical – The Book of Mormon

  1. Thanks to luck and a little planning, I was able to see Book of Mormon while on a business trip to NYC in April. I have been a theater fan for decades. Book of Mormon was painful. By that, I mean that I laughed so hard and for so long that I bruised internal organs. At least it felt that way. I was nervous because some of the reviews contained references to bits that I thought could be really offensive. It sounds strange to say so, but the potentially offensive moments in the show were done with grace and served to move along plot or character development. The authors were not pandering to the “Gross Me Out” crowd.

    Like you, I watch these shows and wonder about the HR view. Clearly, some of the things mentioned, sang about or otherwise depicted in Book of Mormon should never see the light of day in a U.S. workplace. That’s because the workplace is a different world than a theater, or cable station or living room. What is appropriate in one place may be taboo in another.

    The bottom line is that Book of Mormon is a hysterical show. Just don’t reproduce it at your next all employee gathering.

    • Thanks Jim, we all were smiling through our dinner afterward and into the evening. Once the “tough to hear” words were out there, it didn’t seem offensive. The idea that we were seeing the village culture as it was made it non-offensive from my viewpoint.

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