Big Love’s Public Intimacy

So I don’t have HBO, but I do have access to YouTube, where I found the most controversial bits of the Big Love episode that depicts pieces of the Mormon temple ceremony.

Watching it was quite an unnerving experience, more so than I had anticipated when I wrote about this earlier.

I just don’t know the appropriate way to discuss this. I take what happens in the temple very seriously, and, like most members of the church, I am not willing to discuss much of it outside the temple. So I’m left with trying to address something intensely personal and sacred to me after it’s been ripped from its context and thrown out into the wide world.

I really don’t know how to describe my reaction in a way that will make any sense to anyone outside my faith.

The word that keeps coming back to me is “intimate.”

It’s not perfect, but it will have to do. The problem is that “intimate” is often used as a euphemism for “sexual,” and what happens in the temple is in no way erotic. Yet there’s an analogy in that word that has some merit to it. Imagine, for instance, if what happened in the intimate moments of your marriage were to be broadcast on national television. It’s not that you’re ashamed or embarrassed by what happens then; it’s that intimate things are not for public consumption. And if the producer of the show kept telling you that what they were showing would be depicted “tastefully” and “with respect,” would that make you feel any better? And even if the depiction were, indeed, “tasteful,” would you feel any less violated?

Maybe that helps.

For the record, I do think it could have been a lot, lot worse. The ceremony was, indeed, depicted as a sacred moment for the characters involved, and there seemed to be very little attempt to amp up the weirdness quotient. I don’t really know if what they showed was weird enough on its own terms, as I have been inured by a lifetime of Mormonism to be able to objectively gauge the perceptions of outsiders. Perhaps I’m being Pollyanna-ish, but I suspect that many looking for Xenu-esque goofery would come away disappointed. I remember when I first went through the temple that I was expecting to learn big, kooky mysteries, like the location of the lost tribes of Israel or the intergalactic coordinates to Kolob. I recall that one of my first reactions was, “This is it? What’s the big deal?” If I were a betting man, I’d think that most people who watched this episode probably had a similar reaction. Maybe that’s just me.

What was very odd to me was how clumsy the show was with things that would have been very easy to get right. For instance, the polygamist lady refers to her upcoming “Love Court,” where she anticipates being excommunicated. She uses the term as if it’s common Mormon jargon, when, to my knowledge, no Mormon has ever used that phrase in any context. It’s also very silly when the matron in the temple comes up to the woman and her family and shoos them out of the temple because their “fifteen minutes are up.” What, do you take a number? Is there somebody sitting in the back of the room with a stopwatch? In real life, you can sit in the temple for hours if you want to. What was the point of that, other than to make Mormons look rude and insensitive?

This is a tempest in a teapot. This, too, shall pass. But I’d be lying if I didn’t say it was somewhat unsettling.

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