So I was reading the Deseret News and I stumbled on an article about "The Book of Mormon" musical by Dallyn Vail Bayles, in which he admits that he has “never seen the musical” and has “no intention of seeing it.” But he did study the script, and he recounts the conclusions he reached from that study, all of which he arrived at without ever seeing a live performance.
Uh oh, I thought. You’re in trouble now.
In my own opinion column on the subject, I said, “To be fair, I haven’t seen the show. But I’ve heard the soundtrack in its entirety, and I’ve read the synopsis” and done additional research. As of this writing, that column has been viewed over 23,000 times and generated 118 online comments, many of which had a similar theme, as expressed by a commenter named SJGeer in Brockport, New York, who wrote:
“Why on earth would I pay attention to the ‘review’ of a person who never even saw the musical?”
Interesting that he put the word “review” in quotes, because it’s not a word I ever used in the column. This was not, in fact, the publication’s official review, which was published the following day. I’m not the Deseret News theater critic. But many felt I crossed a line between “commentary” and “review” that I didn’t know existed.
And then the outrage over my review/non-review spilled over from the comments section to real life.
In the middle of the night, my Twitter feed exploded with angry tweets from people I’ve never met repeatedly calling me “unethical” and a “fraud” and saying things like, “The Deseret News is now basing their reviews on prayer only.” Except an unethical fraud would have pretended to see the show when he hadn’t, and my commentary was based on solid research that I fully disclosed. I didn’t mention actor performances or audience reactions, because I didn’t have information about those things. I offered an informed opinion about what I knew about the musical itself — not the actual performance taking place in Salt Lake City.
I deceived no one, and I didn’t understand why what I did was such a crime. I still don’t.
The next morning, a local radio station started bashing me for “reviewing” the show, and I called in to defend myself. One of the hosts said he wouldn’t have had a problem if I’d only written “THIS IS NOT A REVIEW!” three times in bold, capital letters at the beginning of the piece. There is apparently something sacred in the word “review” that I had never before considered and still have yet to understand.
What’s striking to me, however, is that those outraged by my column made no attempt to actually engage with what I’d actually said. They wanted to disqualify me, not debate me. Yet they often still felt it necessary to pile on and berate me personally.
Why? If I’m just an idiot, and what I wrote was idle nonsense, then why did it provoke so many strong feelings?
I think the answer lies in the message more than the messenger. “The Book of Mormon” musical is incredibly divisive, especially in a state where religion creates so many lines in the sand — too many, in my opinion. The goal of my column was to step over some of those lines and point out that a show featuring a song that cheerfully shouts obscenities at God should be offensive to everybody, not just Mormons. That’s a valid point.
And review or no review, I’m not taking it back.
Jim Bennett is a recovering actor, theater producer and politico, and he writes about pop culture and politics at his blog, stallioncornell.com.