The Book of Mormon: The Musical and White Privilege

I should start by saying that I really enjoy South Park. I have never taken issue with their brand of humour, and tend to find their satire, while rarely nuanced, very funny. So I went into the musical with fairly high expectations.

The thing with satire is that not everyone will get it, and maybe it was just too subtle to for me. Some people are complaining about the religious jokes, but obviously that’s not what bugged me.

As I watched it, I thought of Joss Wheadon. Joss claims to be a feminist, which would be completely fine, if he didn’t consistently create female characters that fall into the same tired on stereotypes. When he created Buffy, he said he wanted to subvert the “hot blonde dies first” trope by turning the high school cheerleader into a superwoman endowed with supernatural powers.


Joss’ Buffy did not have any of her own power, intelligence, or skills. Practically speaking, she did not develop any of these either. She was a conduit for plot.

The same could be said for Cabin in the Woods, another attempt at satire which does more to reinforce the status quo than subvert it. Having yet another role for a beautiful woman where she takes all her clothes off and has little else of value to contribute does not make for satire, it’s just the same old story.

But enough about Joss, because I could rant about that guy all day. We are here to talk about Book of Mormon. The thing about the Book of Mormon, is that it is yet another white story told with black people as set pieces. To be satire, you must be subversive. This was a story of a group of crazy people (Mormons are such an easy target!) going over to the mud huts of a terrorized village in Africa to convert people to a religion that explicitly casts black people as evil.

I really think that a South Park episode like this would probably be hilarious, but this wasn’t a 25 minute episode where Cartman goes to yet another place and pisses off the locals. This was about two grown men who get to have a story about friendship and growing up while black people and women just sort of happen around them.

I’d be far more inclined to say “well that’s just the whole joke!” if there were more meaningful roles there for women and people of colour, but there are so very few. I’d be more inclined to laugh along if this wasn’t the only representation of Africa that we see. If they showed a bit more self awareness. Perhaps a few less jokes about how “lol these damn barbarians don’t know what texting looks like and literally everyone except the one hot chick has AIDS”.

Jokes about poor, savage Africans who need the guidance of a white guy, literally ANY white guy (and boy was the standard set low) to lead them are a dime a dozen. The reviews I’ve read haven’t really highlighted anything that convinced me otherwise and the predominantly white audience did nothing to assuage my concerns.

Has anyone else seen it? What do you think? Am I way off base? I really want to be wrong about this.


2 thoughts on “The Book of Mormon: The Musical and White Privilege

  1. Thank goodness for your post. Saw it last night and had the same response. As the show progressed, I felt sicker and sicker for exactly the reasons you list. And then to make it worse, to deepen the heartache was the sea of white faces making up the audience and laughing.

    1. Thank you for your comment. Indeed, most of the people I know (who are, notably, white) took no issue with the humour. Especially now that we have musicals like Hamilton creating such a stark contrast in how people of colour are portrayed, it is all the more sickening, though unfortunately unsurprising, that this is still what passes for humour in 2017.

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