And Thus We Were Manipulated
Why Mormon Pop Music and CES Videos Bug Me
A while ago, on my way home from church, I was listening to a mix CD of Sunday music. When the song “His Hands” came on, I quickly pressed the next button, but unfortunately it was too late… the other person in my car had identified the tune. “I LOVE that song… why did you change it?” they said. So I was forced to go back and let them listen to it.
It took the rest of the trip home to try and explain the following:
Growing up, I listened to a lot of Mormon pop music. A lot. It mostly grew out of the fact that I often sang in church, so I tended to listen for new material, and to be part of that universe. I was practically an authority on all things Perry or Cope.
Mo-Pop exploded in the late 80’s and 90’s with a plethora of really, really sappy songs. “In the Hollow of thy Hand” comes to mind. These songs seemed to take the religion out of the music and put in all the emotional pop elements. They focused on love and human relations rather than God, Jesus, and our ability to transcend this existence through them. Many were created specifically with the EFY (especially for youth) program in mind, thinking they could more easily get a young person to feel something if they just put in some guitars and drums. Music in our services took a sharp turn for the worse during this time as people broke away from the rigid old standards and embraced this funky new pop music, while still trying to tame it for the old people’s ears.
Then I went to college and my world started opening up. I quickly learned how one dimensional my world view was, and how incomplete my understanding of human diversity was due to the level at which I had been saturated by Mormon Pop Media. What do I mean by this? When I would read something, I would pass a quick judgment based on my world view that was often very reductive. In other words, I didn’t really take into consideration all of the possibilities and nuances of the totality of the situation. I would just reduce it down to some nugget that my simple head could digest, and call it good. The problem was that all of my papers, performances, and classwork was coming off as notoriously one-dimensional with broad overuse of stereotypes and generalizations.
Eventually, higher education (especially humanities and literature classes) forced me to actually consider and digest people and situations that were outside of my world view. It took a while, but eventually I was no longer looking at the world through a rose-colored lens, and I started seeing things that were central to my own worldview in a whole new light.
I realized how manipulative my church music and videos were, and grew to violently resented art that manipulated me.
A little more history…
In the 1970’s, when my church was first learning to use film and media, they decided to make several films that were ‘morality plays’, vignettes which took a sympathetic protagonist and basically did something very awful to them or with them to teach a lesson.
For example, Cipher in the Snow was about a teenage boy who was overweight and ugly who everyone ignored. At the end of the movie we see him collapse in the snow in a moment of suicidal depression. Apparently, this movie was supposed to spur a discussion on how you can be a better friend and include others. Really it was just confusing, sad, and frankly disturbing.
My all time favorite was “I’ll Build you a Rainbow”, the story of a young boy who has the coolest mom in the world. She plays football with him and his friends, and life is just grand. She is his best friend. Then she dies of cancer. Everyone is all choked up as she is whisked away in the ambulance until the little boy comes over to his dad, tugs at his jacket and says, “It’s all right Dad, families can be together forever.” Music swells and chorus refrain sings… “I’ll build you a rainbow… way up high above!” Cue the audience sobbing.
So what makes something manipulative? It’s a fine, fine line. In my definition, manipulative media is such that is requires you to feel or react a certain way rather than asking you to. It forces you to cry. It begs you, “please please please cry at me.” It often violently swings between emotional extremes to push you over the edge.
Thankfully, the church media department has since seen the error of their ways, and since the late 80’s, we’ve been creating video that is much more honest. I think we reached a new high on this venture with the church’s recent ad campaign, which is one of the most honest, human things I’ve ever seen them produce:
I’ve really picked on my church here in this blog, mostly because they’re an easy target based on my long history with them. But these same principles apply to all media out there. As a society, we consume media too much like we consume fast food – without any care as to its actual contents.
I get sick of TV shows and films which require me to think or feel a certain way. The extremely didactic Michael Moore documentaries and a plethora of other TV media come to mind.
So my plea? Don’t be a blind consumer of media. Don’t just sit back and bottom feed on whatever sludge is thrown your way, no matter how much you trust the source. Become a fine media connoisseur, just as you might become a connoisseur of fine foods. Don’t settle for mere table scraps. Don’t allow yourself to be manipulated by something. Question it. Poke at it. Ask it if it’s being honest with you and the universe.
Chances are, it’s not.