Wednesday, April 24, 2013

The Movie Subtitle Game

Back in our college days we occassionally played a simple game (more a running gag, really), which I have retroactively dubbed the Movie Subtitle Game. The rules are simple:
1. Combine two movie or television titles in a clever manner.
2. Laugh at the results.
College maybe be over now, but we've decided to revive the game in blog format, so enjoy.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Playing Lamanite and Saving Whiteness: Embodied Disruptions of Post-Racial Rhetoric

The concluding entry for my series on the Mormon Miracle Pageant. If you have not read the Introduction, Part 2, or Part 3. You should do so before enjoying this epic finale.

The Mormon Miracle Pageant is not the only pageant that operates with recognition from the institutional LDS Church. In addition to Manti, there are five official pageants featured on the LDS Church’s website: two in Utah, one in Arizona, one in Illinois, and one in New York. Each expresses a different focus of church and sacred history. To examine how the bodies in Manti’s pageant disrupt the LDS Church’s post-1978/post-racial rhetoric, I am primarily interested in highlighting the difference between Manti and Palmyra’s Hill Cumorah Pageant.

Both pageants address the racial projects embedded in the religion’s foundational sacred text; however, the Hill Cumorah Pageant tries to refrain from representing racial distinctions. Palmyra employs costume designs to signify some relationship between Native Americans and The Book of Mormon civilizations, but they avoid the make-up. I point to the distinction not to commend Palmyra’s performance as a more ethical consideration of racial identities, but rather to assert that brownfaced bodies of Manti’s pageant challenge the post-race rhetoric the Hill Cumorah Pageant strives to assert.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Playing Lamanite and Saving Whiteness: Progressive Pageantry and Embodied (White) Morality

This is the third installment of my paper on the repertoire of Mormon racial projects in the Manti pageant. If you have not read the Introduction or Part II, you will want to do so before continuing. Enjoy: 

Pageants, as a medium, have their own historical and cultural context informed by a particular preoccupation with white bodies. Pageants were large, outdoor theatrical spectacles, primarily popular in America between 1905 and 1925. They responded to social and cultural shifts of the era. When modernization, urbanization, and immigration threatened a perceived cohesion of American identity, pageantry offered a salve through playful engagement with history and democratic principles. Progressive social reformers argued that the pluralistic society that played together would work together. According to historian David Glassberg, professionals of various backgrounds and often contradictory philosophies found common ground in pageants because they believed that “history could be made into a dramatic public ritual through which the residents of a town, by acting out the right version of their past, could bring about some kind of future social and political transformation.” History, physical education, democracy, community—all were proposed antidotes to a (fear about the) dissolution of American morality. While physical exercise was touted as a way to discipline the moral behavior of individuals and communities, the morality they trained was white. Contemporary Mormonism does not ascribe to all aspects of the Progressive era, but the utilization of pageants has continued to function on convictions regarding the necessity of disciplining the (white) morality of bodies.

The Pageant of the North-West at Grand Forks on the campus of the University of North Dakota. May 24, 1914. Over 200 performers represented more than 300 characters. And a river flowing through campus separated the stage from the audience. They floated actors down it on canoes pictured here.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Playing Lamanite and Saving Whiteness: Early Republican Content and the Whiteness of Lamanites

This is the second installment of my paper on the repertoire of Mormon racial projects in the Manti pageant. If you have not read the introduction, you will want to do so before continuing. Enjoy:

During the early years of the American Republic, white men, as Philip Deloria explained, utilized “noble” Indian identities to explore new American identities. They needed to articulate themselves as separate from Europe. Putting on costumes styled after Indian tribes and enacting their version of Indian rituals facilitated cultural engagement with new economic markets and political parties forming the nation. Donning the costumes and performing the rites allowed the white Americans to suggest that “in their dying moments, Indian figures offered up their lands, their blessings, their traditions, and their republican history.” [1] Many of these narratives course through the national and racial projects of The Book of Mormon as a text of the 1830s. 

The Book of Mormon primarily gives the account of two civilizations that lived on the “American continent” between 600 B.C. and 400 A.D. The Nephites and the Lamanites, initially related, came from Semitic families exiled from Jerusalem. God led the families to America and revealed to them tenants of Christianity centuries before Christ’s birth. The account is a record of the Nephites; however, they die out by the end, leaving the Lamanites to live on to become the primary ancestors of the Native Americans. The narrative of The Book of Mormon effectively hands the baton of stewardship from the white Nephites to the white European settlers. 

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Playing Lamanite and Saving Whiteness: Embodying Racial Projects in the Mormon Miracle Pageant

Over the next few days or week, I will be sharing parts of my paper that I have recently submitted for an academic theatre pre-conference. The American Theatre and Drama Society (ATDS) will host a two day event in Orlando before the Association for Theatre in Higher Education (ATHE) conference officially begins. This paper was part of my application and if selected, I'll get to do some networking with other scholars interested in American theatre and performance as well as receive feedback from them regarding my ideas. By I figure why wait until then; people of the Internet (who follow our blog or are stumbling across it now), share with me your responses as I unfold my ideas. This first part is my introduction. There are three more parts to come. Enjoy:

In June 2011, I received a text from Brett. It read, “Blackface might not be socially acceptable; but in Manti, brownface is alive and well.” He attached a photograph of a young, white man dressed in some sort of eclectic, Pan-American Indian costume, equipped with a wig of long, black braided hair. He also wore make-up, browning up his skin. Brett sent the text while sitting in the audience of the Mormon Miracle Pageant in Manti, a town in the dead center of Utah. Every year, in a matter of hours on each weekend night at the end of June, the pageant manages to chronicle the foundation of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (LDS Church), the contents of the five hundred page Book of Mormon, and the exile of the Mormon pioneers from the United States to the Utah territory. The subject of my friend’s photograph—and ridicule—was a member of the nine hundred person cast. Specifically, he was a Lamanite: a Semitic ancestor of the Native Americans discussed in the Book of Mormon. 

The kind face that launched a thousand ideas about what to write about this event.