Mormon Fray
The Archive of Incidental Mormon References in Pop Culture...

Word of Wisdom

You Kill Me (2007)

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2007, Dir. John Dahl

Context: Ben Kingsley plays Frank Falenczyk, a hitman for the Polish mafia, and an alcoholic. His alcoholism starts to get in the way of murdering people for money, so the Family sends him to dry out in San Francisco. Dave (Bill Pullman), was hired to make sure Frank cleans up his act, and arranges for his apartment, a job in a mortuary, and attendance at Alcoholics Anonymous. One night, Frank comes home to his apartment, but it's not empty...

You Kill Me

Exegesis: I don't know about balling up socks or flossing, but not hiding booze is certainly Mormonesque. Again, this is a reference to the Mormon law of health, otherwise known as the Word of Wisdom. There are many parts of this law, but the ones that seem to get the most press are the proscriptions against alcohol, tobacco, tea, and coffee. These are likely the stand-outs, simply because one or more of these things are probably staples in the lives of most non-Mormons. The Word of Wisdom is particularly interesting, I think, insofar as it was revealed to the Prophet Joseph Smith in 1833, well before the global scientific community had reached a consensus regarding the injurious effects of some of the substances proscribed by the Word of Wisdom.

Bill Pullman talking about flossing and balling socks isn't exclusively Mormon per se, but coupled with the lack of alcohol, these traits fall in line with the prevailing Mormon stereotype of being neat, tidy, responsible, and generally strait-laced. For the purposes of many films and television shows, Mormons are essentially interchangeable squares and/or rubes. (For another example of this tendency to portray Mormons as honest, friendly and embarrassingly naïve, check out this clip from Frasier.)
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Friends (2001)

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Season 8, Episode 5
"The One With Rachel's Date"

Context: Rachel is pregnant and Ross is the father, or "Baby Daddy", if you prefer. Those two are in the "off-again" phase of their relationship, and so Rachel is on the prowl for a man. Joey introduces her to one of his Days of Our Lives co-stars, Kash (Johnny Messner), and he asks her out. Rachel, who isn't obviously pregnant yet, is concerned that mentioning her pregnancy might sabotage her relationship with Kash before it has a chance to get off the ground, so she asks Joey for help finding a reasonable alternate to the truth as to why she won't be consuming alcohol on their date.

Friends

Exegesis: Hey Mormons don't drink! We don't drink alcohol, coffee or tea. We don't smoke either. It's all part of that wonderful law of health, the Word of Wisdom. Like any behaviour that deviates substantially from otherwise accepted social norms, (like total abstention form alcohol), Mormons' adherence to the Word of Wisdom has given us a reputation for clean living, and it's one of the nicer things to be known for.

There's not a lot to say bout this reference, really – Mormons are admittedly a peculiar people in the eyes of the world, and our healthy living habits are one of the more "tangible" things we are known for. Our understanding of Christ's infinite atonement is less easily grasped and articulated, but "they don't drink" is pretty easy to remember, and tends to stand out in this day and age. When I have declined offers of alcohol in the past, it's not unusual to hear the follow-up question: "Are you Mormon?" About half the time, the person has clearly asked the question as a joke, expecting the answer no, and are a little embarrassed when I answer in the affirmative. It is the joke in that sense that the writers for Friends were going for.
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S.W.A.T. (2003)

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2003 - Dir. Clark Johnson

Context: Based on the 1970's television series of the same name, this film is about an elite Special Weapons and Tactics team in Los Angeles. Jim Street (Colin Farrell) has just been kicked off the S.W.A.T. team following a hostage situation in which he and his partner disobeyed direct orders. His demotion has him working in the "gun cage" with Gus (James DuMont), who apparently really likes Dr. Pepper and McDonald's, but seems a little confused about the tenets of his religion, and the actual dietary restrictions contained in the Word of Wisdom...

S.W.A.T.

Exegesis: This video contains clips from two scenes in the film. In the first scene, Gus is drinking a Dr. Pepper, and confesses to Jim that he really shouldn't, since he converted to Mormonism when he got married. Fair enough – many Mormons avoid caffeinated drinks, despite their not being specifically proscribed by the Word of Wisdom. (Note: The Word of Wisdom is what the Mormon law of health is called, and is the reason why Mormons don't smoke or drink alcohol, tea, or coffee among other things.) So that's all fine. Getting into a discussion of whether caffeinated soft drinks are against the Word of Wisdom (or the spirit of the Word of Wisdom) is likely to be fruitless, since the Church hasn't ever made an official statement on the subject. Furious debates on this subject can be found elsewhere on the Internet, and a treatment of it here would be beyond the scope of this exegesis. Suffice it to say, many Mormons avoid it, and this scene rings more or less true. (For the record, I am one of those Mormons who doesn't drink caffeinated soft drinks, which is maybe why I let this scene slide.)

The second scene, however, is completely bizarre. I understand that McDonald's food is unhealthy, but to suggest that it is typical of Mormons to avoid it is strange indeed. Avoiding fast food may be a good idea, but it's certainly not a tenet of the Mormon faith. Weird.

It's difficult to understand why these scenes are included, except as some misguided attempt at comic relief. In the first scene, it's so that Colin Ferrell's character can make the remark about treating his body "like an amusement park," and in the second scene, so that Colin Farrell's character can tell Gus he's "cheating on [his] wife with fast food," something that sounds absurd, but in the context of the scene and  Gus' bizarro Hollywood version of Mormonism, makes sense. Because he's Mormon, the movie seems to suggest, the worst sin he can commit is cheating on his wife by eating McDonald's. Instead of smelling like another woman's perfume, or even cigarette smoke, he will smell of french fries, a tell-tale sign of "infidelity" that Gus has already found a solution for: mouthwash. The joke appears to be: Look at these clean living Mormons - they're so peculiar, and the Mormon corollary to real-world problems/transgressions are trivial and silly! It is the quintessential "Mormons as 'other'" paradigm. It would help if the example (McDonald's) made any sense at all in the context of Mormonism, but whatever. Incidentally, I'd love to see what would happen if the Church outlawed fast food. Yikes.

There are other characters in other movies who happen to be Mormon for reasons that don't further the narrative, and sometimes don't even prop up weak humour, as in this example. I think there are simply screenwriters out there who either knew a Mormon once, or just have a book called: "The Writer's Bucket O' Quirks for Well-rounded Secondary Characters." Giving a minor or otherwise poorly-sketched character some random religious quirks is a quick way to flesh that character out without doing much heavy-lifting screenwriting-wise.
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