I grew up in the desert, the daughter of a fundamentalist religion. Our prophet was revered, and his memory considered sacred.
Our prophet was visited by an angel. He had many wives.
Probably few have made a connection between the two events, although people have long made a connection between the two religions, and the two prophets. Even Joseph Smith himself, the founder of that uniquely American religion of my childhood in the American west, Mormonism, called himself a modern Muhammed.
"I will be to this generation a second Mohammed, whose motto in treating for peace was 'the Alcoran (Koran) or the Sword.' So shall it eventually be with us."--Joseph Smith
The lines attributed to Joseph Smith reportedly delivered in the town square of Far West, Missouri, in the autumn of 1838, bear little modern-day resemblance to the religion parodied by South Park creators on television and Broadway. For at least a hundred years--or more--probably no one has gone to their bed at night afraid that they would perish for making fun of, or even representing in any form visually, the person considered to be a prophet by millions of followers, Joseph Smith. In fact, it has become something of a comedy staple.
An article on the premiere of The Book of Mormon in Hollywood has, to the right of the page, this headline: Anti-Islam movie made by California filmmaker.
Trey Parker and Matt Stone have not been known for playing it safe, for steering away from controversy. They included both prophets in their depiction of the "Super Best Friends," and have had extended episodes on Mormonism, including depicting a young Joseph Smith staring into a hat to translate the Golden Plates. But while the Joseph Smith references might have caused consternation among the faithful, they did not incite violence. Neither did their previous foray into Mormon characters in the film "Orgazmo." Their current success on Broadway, wildly popular, goes even further.
In February 2011, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints issued the following statement about The Book of Mormon musical premiering on Broadway: "The production may attempt to entertain audiences for an evening, but the Book of Mormon as a volume of scripture will change people's lives forever by bringing them closer to Christ."
If someone were to attempt to stream Episode 201 of South Park, they'd get the following message on their screen:
I've been to the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem. I've been to Nauvoo, and to Carthage Jail.
Security had to be stepped up at Comedy Central when Episode 201 aired. In response to the controversy and threats from extremists, several Pulitzered cartoonists signed a petition defending Parker and Stone:
"We, the undersigned, condemn the recent threats against the creators of South Park, Matt Stone and Trey Parker. . .Freedom of expression is a universal right and we reject any group that tries to silence people by violence or intimidation. In the United States we have a proud tradition of political satire and believe in the right to speak or draw freely without censorship."
It would be difficult to imagine a Broadway hit based on a prophet, or one doing unspeakable things with a reptile, set to catchy song-and-dance numbers. But it's the hottest ticket in town. And most people performing in it or associated with it, including those who are themselves Mormon, don't fear for their lives because of it. Some Mormons have even laughed along with it.
"It's the best. Mormons taking out the playbill ad. It's almost like, done. We should just shut down the show. The joke is complete. You know what I mean? It's just done." - Matt Stone
I grew up in the desert, the daughter of a fundamentalist religion, descended from polygamists and stories of angels and sacred texts. Our prophet was revered, and his memory considered sacred.
"It's tricky. You pick your battles. You have to judge how real the threat is against how funny the joke is. How much do I care about the joke?" - Seth McFarlane
"The United States deplores any intentional effort to denigrate the religious beliefs of others. Our commitment to religious tolerance goes back to the very beginning of our nation. But let me be clear: There is never any justification for violent acts of this kind." - Secretary Hillary Rodham Clinton