Chris Hicks: TV portrayal of Mormons mean, callous

Published: Friday, May 6 2005 12:00 a.m. MDT

Most TV shows that portray religious people as nutjobs tend to show them as generic.

The characters usually belong to some unnamed Christian faith. Or pains are taken to identify them as, say, "non-practicing" Catholics or Baptists or whatever.

So why does it always seem to be open season on the LDS Church?

Characters identified as Mormons in episodic TV shows are rare. Programs that joke about Mormons in some fashion are common, but LDS characters more often pop up in TV movies than TV shows.

But last Sunday's episode of the CBS series "Cold Case" was something new for a mainstream TV series — the most mean-spirited attack I can remember seeing.

If you haven't watched "Cold Case," it's sort of "CSI" meets "American Dreams" — a contemporary police procedural with period flashbacks to unsolved murders.

Last Sunday's show flashed back to 1977 and was played out with broad, cartoonish strokes, an apparent attempt at campy comedy.

The main story in this episode revolved around a serial killer being released early and openly declaring he will kill again because that's what God tells him to do. His name is Roy Brigham Anthony, and he's referred to early on as a "Mormon kid."

Turns out Roy was a repressed — and I mean super-repressed — 21-year-old from Provo when his rigid military father took him to Philadelphia in 1977 to live with his equally rigid spinster aunt.

Roy finally cracks when a young woman takes him to "The Rocky Horror Picture Show," undressing herself and then him on the stage.

After this incident, his aunt tells Roy to listen to the voice of God in his head. "I thought the voice meant I was crazy," Roy says.

The aunt replies, "Joseph Smith heard an avenging voice, so did Brigham Young, your namesake."

Roy says, "And they weren't crazy." But the implication is clear.

Of course, nowhere is there any distinction between average LDS people and the wackos being portrayed. At one point, someone says that Roy is "from Utah, kind of an oddball," as if that explains it.

Later, Roy offers this weird comment out of the blue: "Our god is from another planet, near the star Cola" (which is probably supposed to be "Kolob"). That too is explained away in the next breath by his companion: "Roy's a Mormon."

On the show, the killer's equally nutty father and aunt are the only other Mormons depicted.

To be fair, there is a printed precede to the episode: "The following story is fictional and does not depict any actual person or event."

A more accurate version might have said: "The following story is loopy and ridiculous and does not depict actual Mormons or, for that matter, actual real-life humans."

The most offensive element for LDS audiences, however, is the callous treatment by the show of a delicate, sacred symbol of the LDS religion — the temple garments worn by faithful members.

Early in the show, during a flashback, 21-year-old Roy is told by his father to always wear his garments. (What? Did Roy go on a mission?)

Roy promises he will, referring to them as "garmies." His aunt also refers to the garments as "garmies" — an extremely flippant reference and not at all in keeping with the characters as they are laid out.

Worst of all is the scene where Roy is undressed on the movie-theater stage — without any resistance on his part, by the way — and we clearly see his garments.

Why would a mainstream TV show openly ridicule a sacred symbol of any religion? Would they do this with a sacred Jewish symbol? With a sacred Muslim symbol?

Of course, it's probably supposed to be funny, in keeping with the cartoon style of the performances (and some of the camera angles) in an apparent homage to "Rocky Horror," which is a purposely campy movie.

But it's not funny.

Instead, it's just one more piece of evidence regarding Hollywood's lack of respect for sacred beliefs.


E-mail: hicks@desnews.com

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