Thursday, July 26, 2007

"Big and hung, that's Brigham Young."

Tuesday, July 24, was a holiday in my home state of Utah. It's called Pioneer Day, 24th of July, a couple other names, too, especially among visitors to Utah who find that state liquor stores are closed on that day.

Pioneer Day commemorates the arrival of Mormon pioneers to Salt Lake Valley in 1847. Mormon leader Brigham Young, reportedly sick and lying down in his wagon, sat up and said, "This is the right place. Drive on." He was so sick I think he meant, "This is not the right place. Drive on to San Diego," but the faithful took it to mean "stop here." And they did.

The modern day LDS (Mormon) Church likes to distance itself from its past. They love stories like the arrival of pioneers, less so the stories of polygamy. They'd like all of us to forget that little part of their past, but of course no one can. They'd like us not to think of Brother Brigham as being husband to 27 wives, but we do. The HBO show, Big Love, embarrasses them because it reminds them of their past.

When the 1940 movie, Brigham Young, was made with Dean Jagger and Tyrone Power--and Vincent Price as Joseph Smith!--the LDS Church gave its approval, as long as the polygamy stuff was left out. Revisionist history is not new for any group, so the Mormons aren't the only ones who have a past they'd like to edit.

Brigham Young himself was a powerful guy, who took over for another powerful guy. The early Mormons had the charismatic Joseph Smith as prophet. Usually in this sort of religious organization, when the leader dies so goes the church, but the Mormons were lucky when Smith was killed. They had Brigham Young, equally charismatic, to take over. He and the organization thrived to the point where the Latter-day Saints are one of the fastest growing religious groups in the world.

Brigham affected different looks during his lifetime, according to fashion. You had the young, Beatles-bobbed Brigham (immediately below), the Bad-Hair Day Brigham (above), and the Bushy-Beard Brigham (below). I think those 27 wives had something to do with making sure he met the fashion standards of the day.
He looks pretty rakish in this picture, doesn't he? Strong jaw, handsome face, strong-looking body. The hair just sort of adds to the whole picture of a young guy with mucho sex mojo.

Here are some stories I bet you haven't heard:

The LDS Church-owned Brigham Young University has a prohibition against beards on men. As the old local saying goes, "Brigham Young couldn't attend the school named after him."

Some years ago there was a local telethon with imported talent, Gary "Radar" Burghof, who was in the TV series M*A*S*H. Gary must've had a couple of belts while off-camera because when he accepted a donation check on air from Brigham Young University he said, "Oh, that reminds me of the old joke: Brigham Young said, 'I don't care how you bring 'em, just bring 'em young.'" The man handing over the check reared back. The expression on his face was of someone who just smelled a fart. The words out of his mouth were, "Yessssssss, well…" and then his voice trailed off into embarrassed silence. Radar apparently wasn't using his political correctness radar that day.

Here's a Brigham Young story that is as old as Brigham Young. My dad told me this joke when I was a kid and I didn't forget it, because at the time I didn't get it! Brigham Young is walking down the street in Salt Lake City and encounters a young African-American boy. Brother Brigham says, "My, you're a handsome young man! A fine-looking boy! Whose boy are you?"

The young black boy looks at him and says, "I'm Brigham Young's boy!"

Ciao for now.

1 comment:

LifeOnaPlate said...

Because the Church no longer practices plural marriage, and doesn't want to be mistaken for practicing it, or give credence to those who break the law to do so, the Church has been explicit in disavowing the practice. However, the Church has never denied practicing plural marriage, or tried to convince people that such was the case; which, if they were truly trying to change the past as you suggest, they might have tried to do.

Many Mormons today can have a little laugh over a lot of the polygamy jokes, as well. Let not ethnocentrism cloud the issue.