The Book of Mormon and South Park: TV for Mothers and Daughters?

My husband and I were in NYC a couple of weeks ago on a vacation and watched The Book of Mormon on Broadway. As South Park fans for over a decade we just couldn’t resist getting tickets to Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s Tony award-winning play.  OMG it was the best, funniest, catchiest musical I have ever seen (Yes, I enjoyed it more than Wicked, based on a scientific ratio calculation of combined # of laughs & catchy tunes/minutes of show). If $ were no object, I would see it again in a heartbeat. To be sure, it is not a play for everyone. It is vulgar, coarse and blasphemous, thus it may offend some sensibilities. But if you are a fan of South Park and love traditional musicals, this play is worth a look.

The Book of Mormon is a religious satire that pokes fun at Mormonism and fundamental dogma. The story is intelligent and extremely well crafted,  rarities in musical theatre. If you are familiar with the current run of successful jukebox musicals (Mama Mia, We Will Rock You, Rock of Ages ), story-telling frequently seems like an after-thought.  The original songs in The Book of Mormon have me singing and humming, despite (or perhaps because of) the profane lyrics. Not only is this play a satire of religion, The Book of Mormon sends up traditional musical, theatrical and lyrical styles (Fish out of water tale, The Lion King’s Hakuna Matata). It pokes fun, but it is never mean. I can’t wipe the grin off my face after one of the many catchy tunes continues to resurface in my head, many days afterward.

I have subsequently downloaded the original cast recording and have played it through several times. I enjoy it so much, it brings tears to my eyes. My favorite song is “Turn it Off”

My eldest daughter enjoyed listening to the whole album, despite not having seen the play. But then again, she too is a South Park fan.

Yes, my secret is out. I have introduced my daughters to South Park. It has been a show that my husband and I have enjoyed since its inception. We follow it in a delayed fashion on DVD. It has been a nostalgic, albeit extremely outrageously exaggerated, depiction of my childhood. I have been revisiting earlier seasons with my daughters (first time for them) and find that at times I must explain some of it. Some of it, I just let fly over my younger daughter’s head and sometimes I skip the most vulgar/disturbing episodes. On occasion, my daughters self-censor by saying “Mom, we really do not want to see that.”

My daughters have keen senses of humor and an appreciation of satire. We find most episodes outrageously hilarious. Sharing laughter makes something twice as funny. We often have a debrief session afterward, discussing the true life parallels that are being skewered onscreen by Kyle, Stan, Cartman and Kenny. The episode that had the kids of South Park do a musical version of The Miracle Worker introduced my youngest daughter to Helen Keller. We followed that episode by watching The Miracle Worker (1962) on DVD, so I can make an argument for South Park‘s broader cultural merit ;).

Initially, I wondered if my kids were too young for this show. I took the plunge after my eldest daughter told me about the time she was shown a condom on the ground of the school yard (she was 7 years old), not knowing what it was. She was soon educated by a school mate and totally grossed out. Considering all the other misinformation that she has learned via her schoolmates, on even the most banal subjects (often resulting in hilarious dinner conversation), I shuddered at what the future would bring. This incident occurred shortly after she told us of a new insult she heard, namely “douche-bag”. She was clearly not aware of how vulgar the term was when she decided to use it on her sister. Without anger we explained EXACTLY (I believe my husband might have even drawn a diagram) what the word meant. We told her that it was pretty rude in the context she used it and that we didn’t use it in conversation in the house. So I quickly realized that the innocence I was trying to protect was an illusion. Hence, my daughters have enjoyed learning the kooky reality of the world via South Park.

South Park, together we can laugh about it, talk about it and then never say those new vocabulary words in polite (or any) company.  And I tell them not to tell their friends that we watch it; it is our secret. But they know they can always crack me up with their pitch-perfect Eric Cartman “But Mom” or “Sweet” impersonations.

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