Bloggernacle Performance Art
I wrote a post at Mormon Matters tentatively addressing the 5 Year Anniversary dealie concerning the Banner of Heaven project. So I don’t have to repost it all here, please read my article above (and maybe even some of the links I linked from there.)
I am fascinated with this endeavor, the work that went into it, the ethical questions it raises, the reactions it triggered (and continues to trigger). I was not on the Bloggernacle scene five years ago (and, for all intents and purposes, am not really in it now), so I can’t really understand things from a first-person perspective. I have the feeling that this is a good thing. Since I take the internets as very srs bsns, I bet that if I had been engaged with the project while it was going, I would probably feel very betrayed myself.
But that is exactly the thing.
This is a bit taboo, and I doubt any of the original writers would agree with this (namely because they would probably say the analogy fails from the beginning). I find it interesting that the objectives of the project were to tell a story about the Bloggernacle, but also Mormon stories. Beyond the actual stories of the Banner of heaven project, I can’t help but feel that everything about the project contributes to the story itself.
It is as one of the writers for the project wrote:
John, I can’t speak for everyone, but I think the fact people consistently, and from very early on, suspected a hoax or a fraud wasn’t perceived as a failure. Nor did it stand in the way of telling stories.
It’s not crystal clear from the founding document, but I always felt that if we could just get people to pay attention or care long enough to be entertained then whether it was fictitious or not would become secondary to whether it was compelling.
To a certain degree whenever someone said it was fake, I felt relief. Each suspicious comment was like a disclaimer, a warning sign, saying enter at your own risk. In this way, the suspicions made me feel less ethical responsibility, and as if it the blog was more of an open secret than a lie.
As was pointed out on the other thread, when Sep felt like he might have been abducted many people felt the illusion was ruined. One commenter said, “Now Septimus is trying to pen his first work of lame fiction one blog entry at a time.” That stung because it was true basically. However, the truth is I could have been more subtle. The post was out there. On the other hand, being boring is always believable.
When people say, as is often the case regarding BoH, “I knew right away,” I only feel like a failure if they say they stopped reading. A lot of people didn’t. In fact, and I know people might feel I am gloating, but I don’t care because I think there’s some insight into storytelling here, the blog and at least some of the readers fell into a sweet spot between knowing and not-knowing. The best things life has to offer us: religion, stories, pursuing love, and many other pleasures balance on this crux of knowing or not knowing the truth, or how it’s all going to turn out.
This sweet spot between question and answer, fake and real, true or false is where some of the best modern storytelling is taking place. Lost is one great recent example. One of many. (Tom is right. I think those writers are geniuses. They were on a tightrope for six years.)
Emphasis added. (Intriguing connection to LOST — there was a post on Mormon Matters that made a similar connection).
The analogy that I’ve been thinking about is…throughout the project — and even in the aftermath, you can see so many reactions. Some people feel betrayed. The community was not what they thought it was. They were deceived. They felt lied to. People who had (varying levels of) real stories were revealed to be figments of imagination. And even worse, the writers had conspired from the beginning to do this. For lulz.
Even in the aftermath, some people (many of the writers who went through with the project) seem not to feel as if there was any wrongdoing. If anything, “mistakes were made” (but not by anyone in particular.) In fact, the sense seems to be that the project was a great success, great fun, and that’s what matters. It had a definite impact on the culture and history of the Bloggernacle, and should be preserved. Perhaps even explored more in depth.
It seems like to even try to talk about the church itself in this way will automatically compromise you. I mean, the Banner of Heaven was a known fiction from the beginning by its authors. To take such a position with the church is apostate, ex-, or anti-. However, if we can think about the project while it was still going (with some people suspicious, but no one ever knowing for sure what was real and what was not), it’s somewhat easier to compare and contrast with the church.
I am thoroughly impressed. I haven’t even scratched the surface, so I guess I’ll just have to stick to Scott B’s expose into the driving motivations for the project. Whatever the case is, I think that Mormon art really can shine if it can continue to capture, invoke, and investigate these kinds of tensions.
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