October 29, 2008
The following ties into two posts at A Motley Vision, "The Tragic Tell of Mormon Morality" by Tyler Chadwick and "LDS fiction, Mormon fiction" by William Morris. Specifically, supplementing Karl Keller's reasons for "Mormonism's lack or denial of a serious literary heritage": the lack of a uniquely identifiable culture.
As previously noted, my favorite television program right now is the NHK serial drama, Dan Dan. It's an extended (to cover a season's worth of plot) Japanese version of The Parent Trap, about twins separated at birth who discover each other on their eighteenth birthday.
Watching Dan Dan prompts me to think about how culture can accentuate "the same only different." I think a major selling point of anime and manga, for example, is experiencing familiar stories couched in unfamiliar settings that bring out unexpected, undiscovered aspects of the narrative.
The "big C" culture aspects in Dan Dan are obvious. One sister (Nozomi) is a maiko (apprentice geisha), living in Kyoto's Gion district. The dialect spoken by the Gion geisha is such that when playing Nozomi, Megumi has to stick to "Yes," "No," and "Thank you" to avoid giving herself away.
Japanese concepts of family duty and honor are leveraged to an extent that would still surprise American viewers. Screenwriters can have grandparents living with their children as a matter of course, and when Japanese apologize for really screwing up, they will kowtow. The visceral impact of this gesture cannot be underestimated.
Legal differences. When Megumi first suspects that her mother might be her stepmother, she only has to pay a small fee and get a copy of her koseki birth certificate (which records maternity and paternity) at the local government office. Plot developments delayed in the American version are brought immediately to the fore.
Comparing the 1998 Disney version (which I quite like) with Dan Dan also brings to mind the differences between The Seven Samurai and The Magnificent Seven. The latter is not just a "remake" of the former, but an entire reimagining within the mythos of the American West.
Ditto Yojimbo and A Fistful of Dollars. But the Bruce Willis remake (Last Man Standing) is little more than a pale copy with the actors and sets changed. All Last Man Standing inspires in you is an appreciation for what Leone and Eastwood did with A Fistful of Dollars.
The point I'm getting at is summed up in a Bruce Jorgensen quote William Morris links to: "Maybe Mormonism itself has no 'essence' but only a story." I would clarify that it has no cultural essence. Namely, I'm hard pressed to imagine how an explicitly "Mormon" context would introduce that much of a difference here.
Ironically (because the church now disavows it), rich possibilities could be found in a polygamous setting. Otherwise, the dramatic "essence" contributed by a Mormon setting would be too subtle to detect. Are the unique cultural elements of Big Love (for example) the only kind recognized as such by non-Mormons?