I think Sunstone Symposiums produce some quality scholarly works that do not always have a place in conferences at BYU or FAIR. It may be the only venue where you can learn about things that aren’t generally spoken of. But sometimes, or perhaps more often than not, it becomes a place to grind an axe.
You know when you are at work or with friends/family and you are both upset about a co-worker or family member. And what happens is that you are both so upset that you keep going on about things that annoy you even though you start to realize that you are getting to the point where you are embellishing, but you both continue to do it anyways? I see this happen at work a lot when people complain about a boss where I start thinking, “Ok, I agree somewhat, but you are overdoing it now.”
Enter writer Holly Welker at Sunstone’s Symposium. I refer to her presentation on Johnny Lingo, entitled, “A Price Far Above Rubies Vs. Eight Cows: What’s a Virtuous Woman Worth?”. The always objective Salt Lake Tribune gives a report here. In full disclosure, I have never seen the movie but am familiar with the plot. It seems a little hokey but there is a good underlying moral. It is, essentially, that people should value intrinsic worth and beauty.
This does not please Welker. As the Tribune reports:
Welker said the film often is cited "as a wise, compassionate story of male sensitivity to female identity, a positive demonstration of how to foster female self-worth." But Welker argues it instead is about male identity and power, the power to assess and determine female worth, the power to claim or create a desirable mate, the power to see what others do not, the power to manipulate less insightful people around you, and the power to acquire what one truly desires."
Really? Hold on, let me say that again. Really? Maybe it’s just me, but this strikes me as looking beyond the mark. Is Ms. Welker incapable of reading anything hyperbolic into a story which millions of teenagers are capable of doing? Does holding a doctorate in English from the University of Iowa absolve a person from using common sense?
The report continues:
Mahana has no say in the marriage. She cannot refuse the husband who has bought her, even if she doesn't like him or believes that his price is too low. The bridal bargain is a contest of wills between two men: Mahana's father and her future husband. "Johnny Lingo" is about its active and powerful hero, not the passive heroine.
Indeed, Mahana's transformation is "not because someone loves her, or because she loves someone, or because she is treated with respect and kindness, but because she knows she is the most expensive commodity on the island," said Welker, who earned a doctorate in English at the University of Iowa. "The fact that women are bought and sold in this culture, their thorough objectification, is not open to scrutiny, only the damaging effects of being sold cheaply.
I agree that these are problems in society and perhaps LDS culture, but are you really seeing all these issues in Johnny Lingo? Isn’t it possible that it’s a 24-minute film set in a Polynesian culture where the moral is more important than some of the details? Do young LDS women come away from that movie really thinking that they have no say in marriage and that their church is telling them that they shouldn’t? Or do they come away thinking that even though some people don’t value them very much based on their looks, men and women should value their internal beauty.
Is the objectionable part the use of cows as chattel? Or is it objectionable that the man is the instigator (astonishing for a film form 1965, isn’t it!). I personally would not buy a spouse with cows, maybe chickens…no, probably not those either, but that doesn’t mean that I can’t see the moral of (or SHOCK, enjoy!) the story where this does happen. This strikes me as stretching for something to complain about at the perfect place to grind an axe. J. Stapley touched on this as well a few days ago in his critique of Sunstone Symposiums and their drift from actual religious scholarship.
I expect Ms. Welker to provide a hard hitting critique of how Curious George is really an example of racist undertones in children’s media. Or how Clifford is an evil portrayal of Ginger kids. As a fellow blogger here at The Seer Stone would say, it seems a little “Hoity Toity”.
And from Sunstone, I expect next year a critical look at the shameful portrayal of alcoholic Step Fathers in next year’s Symposium: “A Critical Look at the Cipher in the Snow, the Untold Story of That Step Father Who Was Kind of Mean To That Kid Who Asked to Get Off The Bus to Fall Into The Snow And Died, At Least That’s What I Think Happened Because I Didn’t Really Pay Attention To The Movie When I Was 14 In Sunday School”.