Saturday’s What Now? A brief Introduction to an LDS Phenomenon

By By Rachael Sawyer

By Rachael Sawyer

The remark that “irony is now dead” has often been thrown around recently. It seems to be alive and kicking here in Utah, however, irony is in fact one of this state’s largest exports. Last week I found myself trying to explain the premise of “Saturday’s Voyeur 2002” to a friend living out of state. Even before I finished telling her about Virgin, Utah’s mandatory gun ownership law and anti-United Nations ordinance, she was laughing heartily.

“That sounds like a really funny play,” she said.

“That’s not the plot,” I clarified, “those are the actual events the satire is based on.”

And so I found myself wading knee-deep in the irony that “Saturday’s Voyeur” writers Nancy Borgenicht and Allen Nevins slosh about in every day; here in Utah it’s difficult to come up with a satire even more off the wall than the events it parodies.

The Salt Lake Acting Company, home of the overwhelmingly popular “Saturday’s Voyeur” for 24 seasons now, takes on an immensely daunting task in creating a parody of the Latter-Day Saint cult film “Saturday’s Warrior.”

I mean, exactly how does one go about poking fun at a production in which the antagonists are a bunch of “bad kids” (we know they are bad because they wear tank tops, chew gum and lean against a car lackadaisically) singing and dancing in support of zero-population growth?

(Editor’s Note: It has been pointed out to me that that very tune is actually the music to the Nintendo game MegaMan XI, in which MegaMan battles the evil Contracept-O-Man.)

Do we really need to point out how silly a pre-mortal life dance number aided heavily by a fog machine is? The answer is a resounding yes. In another twist of irony, mocking what we share as a Utah community brings us even closer together.

“Saturday’s Voyeur” has become a local institution, one that will make you laugh whether or not you can whistle “Feelings of Forever” from childhood memory, and whether or not you are embarrassed about it.

While no Salt Lake summer is complete without the inoculation against self-righteousness that is SLAC’s “Saturday’s Voyeur,” I think the production becomes even more enjoyable if “Saturday’s Warrior” is itself understood as the fascinating, though painfully hokey, cultural artifact that it is.

Either putting things into perspective or wildly skewing all sense of perspective completely, (depending on your point of view), to quote the Web site “The British epic poem Beowulf. The Babylonian. The Epic of Gilgamesh. The early Japanese novel Tale of Genji. The Indian Ramayana. Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. Dante’s Divine Comedy. Like these, “Saturday’s Warrior” is undeniably important and influential to the culture that produced it.”

Orson Scott Card has highlighted Douglas Stewart, author of “Saturday’s Warrior,” as a “Mormon Shakespeare.”

“Saturday’s Warrior” was a pivotal expression of LDS culture because it was the first film to deal explicitly with LDS theology that was produced independent of Brigham Young University. Eric Eliason, assistant professor of English at Brigham Young University, comments that the “plot structure of following intertwined individual life-stories of moral development and self-discovery through the Pre-Earth Life to Mortal Probation to glorious after-life” makes films like Saturday’s Warrior “seminal pop culture landmarks.”

In my own opinion, however, “Saturday’s Warrior” became popular not because of its handling of Mormon theology, which is just as heavy-handed as any official church teaching materials, but rather because it introduced LDS Church members to the possibility that expressions of their faith might someday be incorporated into mainstream pop culture. This push toward the mainstream is now being attempted through films like “God’s Army” and “Singles Ward.”

“Saturday’s Warrior” is about a teenage crisis in faith, as a boy doubts his parents’ decision to follow the church’s teachings and bring yet another child into the world, (not to mention the already huge household), after hearing overpopulation concerns. He regains his faith through the death of one sister and conception of another.

Both sisters dance together in a scene of theologically inaccurate reunion, since one is already dead and the other not yet born, which would, according to LDS theology, place them in totally separate spheres. But the point is obviously a comment about eternal family togetherness, and this is the sentiment that evokes strong emotional ties to the film in many members.

“Saturday’s Warrior” was originally produced as a play, premiering in California in 1973. In 1989, the original video version was produced and directed by Bob Williams, based on a screen adaptation written by himself and Barbara Williams. With music by Douglas Stewart and Lex de Azevedo, no LDS musical has come close to achieving the popularity this score has.

The title “Saturday’s Warrior” refers to the LDS belief that the world is now in its last days, the Saturday at the end of the week, and temptation stronger than ever before, calling for the efforts of righteous “warriors.”

“Saturday’s Warrior 2000” is now available on DVD, complete with bloopers, the “Making Of” featuring Marie Osmond and a karaoke-style soundtrack.

Because of the immense cultural significance of “Saturday’s Warrior,” its parody inevitably arouses resentment by some Latter-Day Saints. Other saints, however, attend the production annually and still others actually star in it. A “Voyeur” audience is a mix of mormons, non-mormons, jack-mormons and ex-mormons, and even those who have no idea what all these terms mean will be able to enjoy the show.

“Saturday’s Voyeur” preserves the camp ambience of “Warrior” as well as much of its plot devices. And it may actually be the only Utah stage production that has a chance at surpassing the popularity of “Saturday’s Warrior.” Far from a mean-spirited jibe at “Mormondom’s” eccentricities, “Voyeur” has turned out to be a celebration of Utah’s uniqueness. Sort of ironic, isn’t it?

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