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Problems of the Age: 28: The Theater

By: Ardis E. Parshall - December 30, 2010

For links to other parts of this series, see this chart.

For a statement on the unofficial nature (i.e., personal interpretation for discussion purposes, not necessarily representative of church doctrine) of these lessons, see this notice.

PROBLEMS OF THE AGE

Dealing with Religious, Social and Economic Questions and Their Solution.
A Study for the Quorums and Classes of the Melchizedek Priesthood. 1917-1918.

By Dr. Joseph M. Tanner

XXVIII. – The Theater

License of the Stage. – The theater is both a symptom and a cause. It reveals social influences and the trend of modern life in a manner that is not depicted and would not be tolerated elsewhere. Characters upon the stage are permitted to say things and do things that society would not tolerate in any other place. The very fact that the revelations of immoral conduct are permitted on the stage accounts, in large part, for the vast numbers of its devotees. The stage is therefore symbolic – a symbolism of indulgence, freedom from restraint, that are rapidly increasing, if we are compelled to believe as authors assert, that the stage is taking on license beyond all belief. It not only suggests and encourages immorality by the license it takes, but it is often the covert foe to religion and social moderation. It indulges in ridicule which is dangerous to sobriety by its cunning attacks on many of our soundest and sanest social institutions. It is particularly severe upon marriage; it destroys courtship, and often ridicules religion. Society has become indifferent to the stage, whose excesses are explained away if taken any notice of, by the statement that “we must take no notice of it,” because it is the stage. Its devotees are made up of all classes – the rich and the poor, the high and the low, churchmen and laymen; and from all there comes the same hilarious laughter at indecent ridicule and immoral suggestion.

The stage is also a cause: it excites feelings that would better remain dormant. It offers plausible excuses for the most tragic failures of life, and has its saving clauses in a philosophy that is as fatal to the welfare of society as it is to the promotion of happiness. It has become a part of our present-day world life. It is reflected more in our social intercourse than is the Church; and as an educator of public sentiment, it has perhaps no superior.

Present Conditions. – Is the war making us serious-minded? Does the presence of eternity on the battlefield incline men to a spirit of sacredness and devotion? War is a human institution, and carries men along in the trend of their past experiences. It emphasizes human life wherever it touches it: by it the religious may be made more religious, the indifferent more indifferent, the scoffer more scornful. The war in France had not been long under way until amusements, chiefly the recreation of the theater, was considered necessary for the encouragement and good cheer of the soldiers. The theater was therefore transferred from the large cities to the front. I copy from the New York Sun of October 28, 1917:

The critics point out that while in the beginning things were different, in the last few months salaciousness has increased tremendously, in these theatrical productions. This is not surprising. In Paris, when the theaters were first reopened after the beginning of the war, the plays were all on a high plane. It seemed as if only the classic repertory was to be played and the preference was for Corneille, and in Corneille’s own theater they gave “Horace,” where patriotic sentiment is so admirably expressed.

But when the war went on longer than the managers dreamed it would – longer than they wanted to prolong this truce of heroism and chastity, to which they were willing to devote months, even a whole season –t heir patience came to an end.

They began to revert to plays of the ante-war type. In a brief time Paris had the same theater as existed before the war; the same theater where the revues and many of the plays are filled with innuendo and vulgarity. It is likely that the theater at the front has in some wise followed the example of the Paris stage.

M. Beaunier, commenting on these conditions, writes:

‘I know the answer many people will make to this: that art beautifies everything it touches. But this is not true in any respect, and often art is spilled by what it touches. A cleverer argument is: “It amuses them. Their life is not happy in the trenches and in the camps. Are you going to quibble about their pleasure?” But it doesn’t amuse them – if I can believe my correspondents. You misjudge them when you attribute so little delicacy to them. * * *

‘This confusing of pornography and gaiety is one of the most foolish errors of our day. It has done much to hurt the good reputation of France. Besides the strangers who came to Paris sought for it with an unhealthy curiosity and then despised us when they returned home. This hypocrisy is well known. Real gaiety is never nasty; it is a sign of health; while pornography is a disease of the mind.

‘We thought that the war had put an end to all these turpitudes. We expected a change in the public mind, and in its habits, in its frivolities – a tonifying of its imagination. There is still hope.

Fallacy of Art. – The trouble with the theater, as with all other sorts of amusements, is that it is almost wholly dissociated from religious life. When Brigham Young built the great theater in Salt Lake City (it was great indeed at the time it was constructed) he intended that it should be under the censorship of the Church. Dances and other forms of amusement were provided under a directorship intended to shut out the evils and abuses to which all kinds of amusements are so easily subjected. Today our Church organizations devote much of their working programs to the betterment of our social life through safe and sane amusements. In the larger cities, where a cosmopolitan spirit prevails, it is more difficult to blend the pleasures and religious influences of life. To separate them is to increase the dangers of one at the expense of the other.

We are now met by the flagrant demand that things must be accepted and approved, whatever immorality they may suggest, because they represent art, as though art stood apart from human feelings, suggestions, inclinations, and temptations. It is contended that the separation of real art, nude and other immoral art, from the moral, wholesome influences of life, is simple and easy to those who are strong-minded and have high powers of discrimination; that it is only the weak and the unworthy that debase real true art by any thought of vulgarity. Such advocates of art, like the advocates of platonic love, are guilty of shams and false pretense: there is no direct and precise cleavage in the thought, feelings, emotions, and temptations of human life. They are so interwoven that a violence to any one of them touches all of them.

Excesses. – “Yea, all things which come of the earth, in the season thereof, are made for the benefit and the use of man, both to please the eye and gladden the heart; yea, for food and for raiment, for taste and for smell, to strengthen the body and to enliven the soul.

“And it pleaseth God that he hath given these things unto man; for unto this end they were made to be used with judgment, not to excess, neither by extortion.”

Revelation to Joseph Smith, 1831, Doc. and Cov. 59:18-20.



1 Comment »

  1. Wow. Such an indictment. What was playing in Salt Lake that stirred up this rebuke?

    It is intriguing to me that he nods to Brother Brigham’s having established the theatre in Salt Lake on the grounds that it would come under the censorship of the church but ignores Brigham’s reason for encouraging the theatre. Brigham had opined that a value of theatre was the vicarious realization of the consequences of evil choices. If there were no evil in the theatre then it would have been difficult to demonstrate.

    Not that I am defending inuendo and vulgarity. And certainly we have our own counsel against those today. I suppose it’s fortunate that not ALL entertainment today falls under that umbrella.

    Comment by Paul — December 30, 2010 @ 3:28 pm

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