kis·met \ˈkiz-ˌmet, -mət\ - noun; often capitalized
1. fate.
"We die. That may be the meaning of life. But we do language.
That may be the measure of our lives." - Toni Morrison

"Growing up Southern is a privilege, really. It's more than where you're born; it's an idea and state of mind that seems imparted at birth. It's more than loving fried chicken, sweet tea, football, and country music. It’s being hospitable, devoted to front porches, magnolias, moon pies, coca-cola... and each other. We don't become Southern - we're born that way." - Unknown

05 March 2010

thoughts on thoughts

Last week, me, along with my Modern Drama classmates got our professor to change the syllabus. We got on the subject of the play Angels in America by Tony Kushner. My professor mentioned the play in comparison to another work that we were discussing. Someone then asked why Angels in America wasn't on the syllabus. The answer? BYU won't allow professors to assign that play. So, naturally, the class said, "Down with authority! We're reading this play."

The reason BYU doesn't allow this play is because it deals with very controversial themes specific to the Church. However, I believe that hiding these themes from people does more harm than good. They are real issues that we need to be able to confront, not push away and pretend as though they aren't happening. Because herein lies the truth: they are happening around us whether we are aware of it or not. How can we be aware enough to help people and provide rehabilitation for those individuals who seek it, if we aren't even aware of the problems and issues to begin with? I think that BYU should be encouraging us to read things that bring such issues to our attention.

Those are just my (and my class + professor's) thoughts.
What do you think?


Mrs. Davis @ The Carolina Housewife said...

I think that I cannot imagine any college banning any piece of literature for any reason at all. College is a place to question everything not be protected from the truth.

Kels said...

I was lent a copy of this play by a gay friend of mine two summers ago. I ended up not knowing quite what I thought about it.

Although I totally agree with you about needing to address the issue of homosexuality more directly (especially when our beliefs so clearly condemn homosexual behavior),I wasn't sure that the homosexual themes in the play are the only issue. Granted, Kushner talks very frankly and explicitly about things that I would be ridiculously uncomfortable discussing at BYU. However, Kushner also specifically trivializes and harshly criticizes Mormon doctrine and beliefs that deal not only with homosexuality but with prophets, revelation, the role of women, etc.

Personally, I'm not sure I would use Kushner as my source to "shed light" on controversial issues. He, and his play, are too controversial themselves to adequately present some sort of middle ground. And that's why I don't have a problem with the fact that Angels in America is not a required text. I mean the whole mission statement of BYU revolves around strengthening our beliefs, and Angels in America definitely shook me up a bit.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that I don't feel that BYU should necessarily encourage us to read these kinds of texts. However, if we want to find,read,and discuss them individually we do have that choice. Heck, that's what I did.

Alyssa said...

Mrs. Davis - I agree with you. I'm quite anti-censorship. If you don't want to be exposed to something, then you have the choice to not participate. (which my professor did give us. If we felt uncomfortable reading the play, there is an alternate text).

Kelsey - I agree with you that the themes and ideas are quite explicit at times and can be taken in a very offensive way. Though I'm not using Kushner as my only source of shedding light on controversial issues. This just so happens to be the text that's on my mind. I also get what you're saying about BYU - they have the right to do whatever they want to. Perhaps what I was getting at is that while this particular play might not be the best thing for everyone to read, texts dealing with similar issues in a less "in your face" manner might be good for people to read and think about.

lotusgirl said...

I can see your point, but I can also understand BYU's stance about not using a book in a syllabus of required reading that is inflammatory in the way this one appears to be. (I haven't read it so I don't know what it contains, but that won't stop me from pontificating at length about it.)

A lot of students go to BYU so they can get a good education without having to be assigned things that lambast or compromise their religion. It is one of the perks of BYU. That can be a good thing. I'm not saying it's for everyone. I'm not saying that learning about things that go on in the world is bad. In fact, I think it's good for us to know what the world is saying and what the world's values are, especially since we have to live in it. I'm just saying that I don't think everyone has to be "plugged in" in order to get a good education. Everyone is different.

Plus, BYU doesn't tell you that you can't read it. It's not censorship. You are free to read it on your own and discuss it to your heart's content.

Alyssa said...

Aunt Lois - I definitely see your point about the perks of attending a school where such reading isn't required, though most institutions will provide an alternative if something assigned makes someone uncomfortable. I also completely understand why BYU does not allow professors to assign this particular text, though I'm merely arguing that the issues dealt with in the play need to be more out in the open. People need to feel more comfortable discussing them because they're real and happening around us. In my opinion, it seems like the issues are kind of pushed away, and that's the opposite of what needs to happen.

Karen said...

I am certainly not familiar with this work, but I agree with Kels. While we need to be in the world, we don't have to bring the world so close to home. Like mentioned above, part of the BYU experience is attending a college that helps strenthen your values. I would question a BYU Professor that would choose this literature over a number of other choices simply due to the fact that there is anti mormonism within its text. Sound like a perfect tool for the adversary.

Mrs. Davis @ The Carolina Housewife said...

Another view from me since I appear to be the the only non-religious person commenting.

I am slightly confused at the comments regarding attending BYU to "strengthen" their values, not challenge them. For instance, should I only eat vanilla ice cream and never try chocolate because it might threaten my love of vanilla? I feel that if you really believe something, it's the exposure to everything else that can reinforce your belief in it. If you're only exposing yourself to things the church regards to be true and moral, how would you ever know how everyone else feels? Nothing is ever true in the absence of contrast.

I haven't read that particular play but I encourage every young college student to read anything and everything--every subject, every faith (atheism included), every viewpoint. It'll strengthen or change your views and neither of those things are bad :-)

Sterling said...

From the peanut gallery.

I have many gay friends and acquaintences. We respect each other as people and get along quite well even though we may disagree strongly on this issue. Life is too short to get hung up on one aspect of someone elses life.

Mrs. Davis' comments about vanilla and chocolate ice cream are true but to a point only. Ones commitment level to a favorite ice cream is not the same as being married and then saying, " I think I'll go out and try a little on the side for a change." I think the dynamics and the drama that follow would be more intense.

When we read we expand our ideas by seeing the world through someone elses eyes. Being able to have a vicarious experience is a powerful thing. Reading is good but not all written text is worthwhile reading. For instance, you don't have to eat the entire pie to know if it's good or not. Or, "Does it pass the 'Smell Test'?" If faith/belief is a compass then it can be used with agency. I feel it is important to first know where one stands firm and then have an open mind. If one is unsure of ones position then one becomes a pawn, a chameleon, a slave of the author whoever it may be.

lotusgirl said...

Wow. What a great discussion! It would be good to have more open discussions of topics and not have people feel like they shouldn't ask questions or discuss those things.

The whole thing with alt reading choices is that the discussion in class would still be about the "required" assignment. Even though at Camden High and at Carolina I had alt. reading choices from the assigned book, I always read the assigned book. It's interesting that I never had alt. reading choices at BYU. Probably because the readings were not controversial (except in my Latin classes--that no one outside of our class could read).

On a different issue, I've been reading Massacre at Mountain Meadows and it has been incredibly enlightening. It's a scholarly impartial treatment of that atrocity. The church opened all its resources to the historians who wrote it. I think that full disclosure shows the willingness for openness and honesty. Amazingly, a huge part of why that massacre took place (or at least was as bad as it was) was for a cover-up.

Alyssa said...

Mrs. Davis - Many people come to school here so as not to be bombarded with things that go against our values because those type of things offend them. While I'm not one to be easily offended at all, and believe that people should read anything and everything they can get their hands on about every religion/issue/etc, I also agree with Sterling that if you aren't already set in what you believe, you could easily become that chameleon even if you don't want to be. That being said, I still think that we should be able to read about and openly discuss these controversial issues in class. I am a big advocate for learning and challenging what you know. For me personally, when I challenge the things I know, what I believe becomes stronger, though for some people the opposite probably happens.

Aunt Lois - You're right. This has been such a great discussion. I just might have to share this discussion with my class on Tuesday when we discuss the play.

Mom - I think the play would only be a tool for bad if you allowed it to be. It was definitely an interesting read. And while I wouldn't go around recommending it to people, I'm glad that I read it and could see that viewpoint that addresses those issues. I'm also excited for our discussion in class on Tuesday. Also, going along with what Dad said, if you're strong in your beliefs, it shouldn't change what you believe.

Dad - Well put.