15
Apr
2012
It's Been Real
8: The Mormon Proposition
Jordan
It's Been Real sets out to examine and analyze the documentary in all of its forms, looking at differing forms of expression, variant approaches to subject matter, and at our unending tendency to dramatize true events as a way of understanding our engagement with them.

"You are a mighty army. Let us be strong in defending our position."-Elder M. Russell Ballard

I don't see an argument against gay marriage that isn't rooted in ignorance or bigotry. On most political issues (though I admittedly find myself pretty far to the left) I can at least see how there is a reasonable disagreement and how intelligent people with all the facts might logically reach different conclusions. When it comes to gay marriage, though, I have never found an argument against it that I can even remotely respect. Opposing gay marriage means championing bigotry in my book; it means trying to keep someone from gaining civil rights simply because they are different from you. I see no difference between limiting gay marriage and limiting interracial marriage, and I think future generations will look back on our country's actions to slow the tide of progress with shame.

There is a scene in 8: The Mormon Proposition in which a Mormon produced commercial is shown. In it, a little girl excitedly runs up to her mother, exclaiming that today she learned in school that if she wants, she can marry a princess. The mother looks deeply concerned at this, and the commercial ends with the little girl asking the camera to think about how gay marriage will affect her. This is problematic for two reasons right off the bat: first off, the legalization of gay marriage doesn't mean that gay marriage will be "taught in schools" (how many classes on heterosexual marriage did you ever sit through in public school?), but more importantly, why is that mother concerned? If that little girl wants to marry a princess, why should that disturb her mother? First off, she's a kid and probably hasn't thought that through, but even if she had, it isn't like reading about two princesses getting married taught that kid she was attracted to other girls. You can't teach "the gay," folks, and educating only on "traditional" marriage isn't going to keep gay kids from being gay; its just going to further ostracize children already living difficult lives.



If you agree with my screed over the last two paragraphs, you'll probably agree with everything in 8:The Mormon Proposition. You'll probably be shocked by the encouragement of bigotry, by the violent and dangerous anti-gay teachings the church condones, and by the way the church ruins families in pursuit of its own agenda. But you probably won't learn a whole lot you didn't already know about the Mormon Church's involvement in the fight to ban gay marriage in California. I was born and raised in California, am still registered to vote there, and was deeply upset by my home state's ban of gay marriage. Clearly so was director Reed Cowan, who makes a passionate argument throughout the film that demonizing a group is not likely to make the world a better place.

What Cowan doesn't accomplish is even a vague sheen of impartiality. The film is biased from start to finish, and the simple fact that I agree with that bias doesn't make it sit any better with me. I have said before in this space that I hope for documentaries to endeavor to provide an objective account of events, but that I understand every documentary carries with it the inherent bias of a subjective opinion (being made by one person who, even in the best of cases, probably has a story or an angle in mind going into the editing process). If 8 had worked a little harder to gain impartiality, its arguments would have felt grounded in facts as opposed to propped up by beliefs. Cowan does attempt to contact the Mormon Church near the film's end, but it never seems like he's interested in anything but forcing them to answer for their bigotry. He isn't wrong, but he certainly isn't impartial.



Bias alone is not enough to sink a documentary, though, especially if that documentary is up front about its bias, as 8 is from the start. Yet the film does little to make an argument for why it should be seen as anything other than an anti-Mormon screed, albeit one whose heart (and, more often than not, cold hard facts) are in the right place. 8 is at its best in the interview segments with gay couples, their parents, and former members of the Mormon Church, all of whom tell moving stories of the struggle for acceptance and their ability to overcome great adversity to simply continue being who they are.

When one former member of the church tells of his "reparative therapy" that involved forcing him to vomit at the site of gay pornography and attaching electrodes to his temples, chest, and testicles to shock him whenever he became aroused by homosexual thoughts, it is hard not to be shocked and angered. And it is equally difficult not to be moved by the tears of those who have watched their own civil rights (or those of their loved ones) taken away due to the machinations of a church that would be unaffected by their attaining those rights.

Yet much of the rest of the film comes across as too low budget and at times, too cheesy to effectively communicate Cowan's message. I agree with the point 8 is making about the Mormon Church's improper involvement in politics, and about the inherent justice of granting all people the right to marry, regardless of gender or sexual orientation. I just wish a better movie had been made to champion the cause.

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Coming up on It's Been Real:

4/29: The King of Kong

5/13: Helvetica

5/27: The Times of Harvey Milk

6/10: Bowling for Columbine
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