Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Paradigms of Mormon Art: Finding Our Place in the World

I recently got an email about the upcoming LDSTech Developers Conference, and while it's not really at all about cinema, it got me thinking about some of the different ways Mormons have approached technology, film making and other arts. One of the difficulties with trying to have a "gospel" perspective on anything is that the Gospel allows for so many different perspectives. In thinking this over, I identified several paradigms from which we might approach the world of cinema, and attempt to define our place in it. These also might represent stages of progression in which we could view ourselves, although I have no idea what, if any, order the stages would go in.

I've separated the paradigms into internal and external categories: the former being how we view our LDS film making community independently, and the latter being how we see our relationship with, intentions toward, and roles within the larger world of cinema. To better conceptualize this, I've assigned each paradigm a prophetic tag - the name of an ancient patriarch or Book of Mormon prophet. Interestingly, the Book of Mormon paradigms almost all appeared to me to be internal, while the Old Testament ones were mostly external. Perhaps that shouldn't be surprising, given the nature of the two books.

I also want to make it clear that I'm not endorsing or condemning any of these approaches. I just think they are phenomena that we've seen in various combinations that deserve discussion. Some of them might reach a bit far and many of them overlap, but I think there is evidence of all of them.

Following are my paradigms, categorized as Internal or External, but otherwise in no particular order.

External Paradigms:

Abraham - This can mean that we consider ourselves strangers in a strange land. Like Abraham in Egypt, we bring to a world of earnest imitators a higher form of knowledge (art). Our enhanced understanding and divine investiture of authority make us natural leaders. We believe that there is a special place for us - a land of our inheritance - that we will receive if we seek diligently, but we also seek to sojourn within the larger film making culture. We neither seek nor accept full assimilation into that culture, but we try to influence it nonetheless.

Noah - This paradigm is about using our films to warn a wicked world of impending destruction. We usually do this by trying to lay such wickedness bare or by putting all our efforts into constructing a way of creating films that will save us when the worldly system collapses. Then we try to recruit others to our way of doing things.

Joseph  - We see ourselves as having started from a lowly position (as Joseph when sold), but either think we have, or are trying to work our way up to respectability and even prominence. We might have a regression or two, like Joseph, but we think that if we are good enough at what we do and pure enough, the Lord will prosper us and we'll become the leaders that others can only dream of .

Jacob - This paradigm has us coming (again into Egypt) with honor on the coattails of the Josephs who came before us. We might be just as qualified, but we only have the respect we do because of others.

Moses - We have been in bondage to the worldly media of the past, and now we think the time has come for our deliverance. We try to free ourselves from the encumberments of the establishment and create new ways - even miraculous ways - of becoming our own people again.

Joshua - We've crossed over Jordan as a people (finally gotten good enough to make respectable films on our own) and now we're going to kick out the wicked Amorites and replace their Jerichos with Jerusalems.

Ammon - We're in the middle of a wicked industry, trying to love it and serve it into righteousness.

Mormon - We feel an obligation to the art, but are mostly without hope for the redemption of those who currently have the greatest influence. We also see ourselves as powerless to effect change.

Internal Paradigms:

Moses - Because we haven't been creating the right kinds of films (either for our faith or for the market) we're condemned to wander for a while before really coming into our own.

Lehi - In order to avoid destruction, we're going to forsake the world and seek our promised land. We try to focus on families and teaching Gospel principles with our films. We try to bring our group with us, and occasionally go back for others. This is different from the external Noah paradigm, which has us trying to convert the world while building the ark.

Nephi - We've arrived in a wilderness with vast resources (been given a medium with limitless possibilities), now we're trying to molten some ore, make some weapons, build some temples, and generally do great things without losing our principles.

Mosiah - The current system won't work forever, so we're trying to lay down some rules - establish measures and such - before turning it over to the people. This is particularly useful with the Internet, because this paradigm recognizes not only the shift from institutional films to independent films as the defining force behind Mormon cinema, but also the importance of every audience member's increased role in the films we make and ability to make films of their own.

Mormon - This is the same as the external Mormon, but instead we're looking at the LDS community instead of the mainstream cinema.

Moroni - We don't have a lot of confidence in the current state of things, and we're just trying to preserve something good to pass to future generations.

Enoch - We are trying to create the ideal LDS cinema through community building.

Adam - Film making is our Eden. It's a perfect place for us in every way. This paradigm can't help but carry with it the warning that we might suddenly find ourselves expelled if we choose to disobey certain key principles.

So there it is. You might notice the Christ paradigm missing. I wouldn't dare define that one.

As to the others, some of them might need combining, others eliminating. Still others might exist that I've overlooked.

What do you think? Is this even a useful framework? Can you see certain films that point to a particular paradigm being employed? Have we had some notable advocates of some of these viewpoints? What perspective(s) do you come from (remember that this is a non-judgmental forum)?


Th. said...


Just so you know, people are talking about your post on Twitter and other like places.

Adam K. K. Figueira said...

Thanks. As much as I wish they'd talk about it here, that's good to know. I've been meaning to get on Twitter. I have an account, but I'm not even very good at blogging, so...

Adam K. K. Figueira said...

I appreciate your always taking time to give me a few words, by the way, Th.

Sun Swing said...

Ha! Adam, I found this post to be both intelligent and entertaining at the same time. I mention that only because in like manner, shouldn't our film making be so endowed?

I'm finding myself to be somewhere between Nephi and Mormon, but increasingly, I feel myself leaning more towards Nephi. There seems to be few obstacles left in front of us, for someone willing to work.

Adam K. K. Figueira said...

Yes, and the communities required to give those willing individuals a chance are being built by those with an Enoch perspective.

I'm glad to hear you're leaning towards Nephi. It's important not to lose hope or stop believing in miracles. I should point out that miracles were a key element of Moroni's teachings, and he probably got that in part from his father, but still. Nephi's determination to reform his brothers sets a good example for us, I think.

Adam K. K. Figueira said...

Thanks for the compliment, Brent.

I'm wondering, are you talking about the Internal Mormon or the External Mormon? If the former, where do you see us externally?

Kathleen Dalton-Woodbury said...

Great post, Adam. I'd like to point people from the AML blog at it, if that's okay.

The latest AML blog post is by Sam Payne and considers subject of Art and what it will be if technology advances to the point that it can make our art for us.


Adam K. K. Figueira said...


Be my guest, and thanks for your kind words. I'll check that post out.

Esperanza said...

Interesting...It makes me think

Inna said...

Great post! I enjoyed reading it, especially because I studied cinema in college for some time. I find the framework useful, and I do hope that LDS cinema makes it out to the "masses", so to say, without becoming too mainstream and still upholding the standards. I hope that LDS films can be made for a wider audience too, although some are made by the Church to be that way. However, while watching some films when I first joined the Church, I did not quite understand some things in them, since so many references were strictly referring to Mormon culture that I still wasn't familiar with. So creating films that can be understood and appreciated by many would be a challenge, but I believe that it is possible.

Inna said...

Thank you for following my blog, by the way!