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May 01, 2007



I was also impressed with how Helen and Jane (coauthor) did, conflicting demands of target audiences notwithstanding. I feel that it was well-balanced overall, even though it clearly included critical voices and thus would not fully represent how modern Mormons view themselves. I liked the polygamy segment and felt MMM did well and was delighted to hear Elder Oaks apologize for the MMM (though admittedly the historic public relations issues have been difficult).

Ben H

Nice comments, Jana. I did notice that while Helen was listed for producer and about four other major jobs in the creation of this thing, someone else was listed as the editor. Would you say, then, that in large measure she is not responsible for the final product?

Kevin Barney

I enjoyed your comments, Jana. (Funny, I had the same thought that it is a good thing Sally is a gorgeous, because that was a tough camera angle for most of us mere mortals to have to endure...)


As I watched the first part of the documentary last night, my key question was, "Where's Jana?", and now I know: behind the scenes. Given your expertise and winsome eloquence, it's a loss to the documentary that you didn't appear in front of the camera.
I also saw the doc as balanced. It acknowledged the usual bafflement people have regarding Mormonism while also portraying Mormons as just as human and complicated as non-Mormons are. That's a PR coup for the church, I think. My husband and I--who wouldn't give 15 seconds to Mormons knocking on our door--opened our minds as wide as we could and gave LDS four hours of our sustained attention.
While we shed some of our misconceptions (Margaret Toscano's story helped with that), it is also true that the documentary left us even more bewildered than we used to be regarding the appeal of what seems to be a preposterously controlling religion. It is possible though that our issue is not with Mormonism itself but its abuses. Why can't all Mormons be like you Jana?



I watched most of the 4 hours. I thought it was well done overall, and I appreciated the range of voices - for once, a documentary full of talking heads almost all of whom had something interesting to say! The history of the church is fascinating, and I also like the respect accorded to people speaking about their beliefs. Some of the personal stories were touching, such as the man who teared up while talking about his conversion experience while on his mission (the guy who had been raised Mormon but it was at a moment on mission that he suddenly "knew"). The one thing I wished for was more about LDS theology. Unless I missed it, I don't think they ever said anything about what, exactly, Mormons believe. Except for talking some about the historical claims of the Book of Mormon re.the Israelites, Lamanites and Nephites. The tenets of the faith are part of the faq on the PBS website but I think it would have been helpful, and interesting, to have some of the experts explain on camera. I realize these are complex issues, but its really the core of an overview of any religion, I think.


Jeepers, Agnieszka, you're the cool and smart one. Why can't all evangelicals be like you? And Kelly, you're right, though I hadn't noticed the relative absence of theology until you mentioned it. Maybe it's because theology isn't very inherently cinematic. :-) It's easier to focus on things that Mormons do, maybe, than just what they say.

I wound up watching most of last night's as well. (Not bad considering it was up against Veronica Mars!) Very balanced and fair, I thought. It struck a good balance between some pretty undisputed positives (Hurricane Katrina relief efforts, strong families) and some trickier issues, like excommunications and how the church has dealt with homosexuality. The best moment was the African-American convert who wanted to know what the missionaries were "on" when they started teaching her our preposterous religion. I howled.

Agnieszka and Kelly, it is quite marvelous that you both spent 4 hours learning about a religion not your own. Thanks for your efforts to understand my faith.


> Oh I forgot her! LOVED her story. Her testimony was very moving. I loved when she said "they told me the most preposterous story about a white boy, an angel and some golden plates" (that's from memory so may not be verbatim).

You're right, theology isn't inherently cinematic. But with all those talking heads, surely there was one who could give a concise and compelling overview.

It aired after Veronica Mars in Chicago, so I was able to watch both. But that was one hamhanded and lame episode of Mars. I was disappointed. I'll watch for your review :-)

Suzanne A.


Your insights on the PBS documentary are much appreciated. I encourage you to blog on the second half. It may explain Helen's "devastation" by PBS's final cut -- or not. C'mon girl! You can't just do something halfway and leave us hanging like that.

David Keller


I am also a big fan of your writing. I am glad the film took it easy on the Church on the coverup of the MMM, given that Brooks's opinion on the matter had become somewhat of a consensus.

I think however, that the question has to be re-asked about how much Brigham Young knew and when he knew it and what sources of information he trusted. While I am confident that there was a local cover-up of the Massacre, I think Lee and Haight were lying to Brigham Young and the members of the Twelve that he sent to conduct five investigations of the Massacre. The rank and file participants were sworn to secrecy by Massacre's leaders and there was some propaganda being generated by them to center blame elsewhere. We also know now that Brigham Young offered to help the feds prosecute, but he was rejected.

So how much the Church hierarchy knowingly participated in the cover-up (as opposed to being unwitting dupes) is a rather complex issue. Further information is available in my report of a lecture by Thomas Alexander. See http://www.millennialstar.org/index.php/2006/09/23/p1797 . This issue is going to be more fully laid out in a second volume put forth by Turley, Walker, and Leonard.


Jana, you're awesome. And of course you like Veronica Mars, since you have such impeccable taste.

I've heard lots of negative comments about the show this week from regular Mo types, and lots of folks seem heartily disappointed. I think they were somehow expecting something more uniformly positive. Of course, when I got around to watching the first part myself, I was scratching my head as to what they had found so offensive. I was able to talk to someone at church today and learned that she had thought great parts of the Joseph Smith section, especially the treasure-hunting and hat/peepstone parts, were anti-Mormon bunk. It seems that Helen's tactic of leaving off religious affiliation so Mormons wouldn't discount non-Mormon opinions has backfired, and Mormons are discounting the opinions of anyone who doesn't stick to the seminary line (Peterson) or who doesn't sound Mormon (Flake), even though they're active members!

Meg Stout

Hi Jana,

Here's me to represent all the lurkers out there. I appreciated your comments on the show. I have been writing a book about three generations of my polygamous female ancestors (spanning from Elvira Cowles, a wife of Joseph Smith, to Eliza R. Welling, first post-manifesto wife of eventually excommunicated apostle John W. Taylor). So my main complaint was that I didn't see anything beyond surface scratching (although most folks aren't aware of the basic extant surface stuff).

Regarding Mountain Meadows (I guess I'm convolving this with what you had in 'Mormonism for Dummies' about MMM), I am surprised that almost no one seems to see the connection between what happened September 11, 1857, at MMM and what happened Sept 10-12, 1846, in Nauvoo. I know Haun's Mill was more horrific in some ways, but having 1000 men with 2 cannon attack and drive the final feeble few out of Nauvoo by force (and there were deaths) seems more correlated with both the date and with what MMM-era Mormons were anticipating (an army in the 1000's with artillery come to agress). Extrapolating from the 2-3% Mormon men killed in one day during the Battle of Nauvoo, the potentially anticipated mortality of an occupying force could have been anticipated to be in the hundreds or even thousands. As it turns out, that didn't happen, of course.

Jim Thio

Why not let the women decide? What about if some wome prefer to share one alpha male than being the only one for a loser?

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