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Wine, sex and Mormons: an inquiry


As everyone knows, I try my best to steer clear of controversy on this blog. But these are times that try the soul. Here’s something that just makes me want to scream!

Rough play? References to wine, sex prompt BYU to cancel U of U production of Greek play

That’s the headline in one media outlet reporting how Brigham Young University, the Salt Lake City school owned by the Church of Latter-day Saints (Mormons), canceled a performance of Euripides’ Greek tragedy, The Bakkhai, just hours before it was scheduled to be shown.

Let’s break it down. The Bakkhai (sometimes Bacchae) premiered in Athens in 405 B.C. It is a morality tale, relating a fierce confrontation between Dionysus, the Greek God of wine, and the temporal King of Thebes, Pentheus. Dionysus calls upon the people to celebrate his annual Festival in the usual way, with wine-drinking, dancing and sex. Pentheus, a rather conservative sort who was the ancient Greek equivalent of the Family Research Council (or perhaps Mike Huckabee is a better example), doesn’t believe it’s right for the people to so indulge, and orders Dionysus’s arrest. However, the table is turned on Pentheus, proving that it’s a terrible idea to challenge a God, particularly one so popular with the people. Pentheus is torn apart by his own mother, who exhibits his head as a trophy. The Bakkhai has been called “the most horrific, powerful and theatrical of all Greek tragedies.”

The production, staged by the University of Utah’s Department of Theatre and Media Arts, had been scheduled as part of its 39th annual Classical Greek Theatre Festival, and was to have been shown at BYU. You can imagine the dismay of the 350 BYU students who purchased tickets when they were abruptly refunded their money and told the play wasn’t happening.

What prompted BYU to muzzle it? University officials knuckled down on the Univ. of Utah, and who knows what local political and religious pressures they brought to bear. The play’s producer, James Svendsen, offered this lame excuse: the production “does not really fit the BYU proscenium arch theater nor their audience.” If you believe that, I have a Tabernacle Choir to sell you. Is it really credible that the producer would have discovered his play didn’t fit onto BYU’s stage hours before it was to open? And in what way did the play not “fit” BYU”s audience? Isn’t that a judgment that the 350 people who bought tickets should have made, rather than had imposed upon them?

What really freaked BYU out was the “gender-bending in the casting” and “abundance of phallic symbols and cleavage” in the play (this, according to Svendsen). In the straight, white, male-dominated Mormon culture, any artistic expression, no matter how rooted in history, that doesn’t accord with their idea of correctness must be quashed, censored, driven underground. (And don’t forget, the Mormons were behind last year’s Proposition 8 campaign in California.)

The Mormons were also clearly obsessed with the focus on wine, notwithstanding its place in the Bible of both the Hebrews and Jesus. Wine is evil, because it lets people relax and be themselves instead of following some imposed mania, and so it must be resisted!!

Look, we’re not talking about some weird performance artist covering herself in chocolate and licking it off, or about the head of Jesus Christ in a jar of urine. I can understand why people would find those objectionable. No, we’re talking about an ancient Greek play by one of their greatest tragedians. The Bakkhai deals with a perfectly reasonable and important topic: the relationship between God and man. The Bible, Shakespeare, even modern playwrites like Kafka have asked precisely the same questions: Who is man to give his devotions to? What are the consequences of the clash between spiritual and civil authority? Jesus wisely recommended rendering unto Caesar, etc., and our own U.S. Constitution took the same route, famously prohibiting, in the First Amendment, the establishment of a State-sponsored religion.

But obviously, some reactionary religious groups never have been comfortable with the separation of Church and State. They would prefer to see governance and theology tightly intertwined, even in the halls of academia, where freedom of inquiry and expression ought to be celebrated, not despised. Why is that? And why is it that such people so often hate wine and the spirit of freedom it inspires?

Well, at least the Salt Lake Tribune gave The Bakkhai a glowing review, advising playgoers to get there early to catch dramaturg Jim Svendsen’s informative introduction.” Too bad BYU crushed it.


Dionysus won’t be playing in Salt Lake. Maybe San Fran?

  1. When ever I hear something like this the first thing that runs through my mind is, “If ever someone needed a drink and to get laid….”

  2. You just figured out that LDS is freaky ultra conservative on matters of sexuality and alcohol? Anyway, what a weird post. I can understand criticizing a religion when it tries to dictate its belief system to the wider culture. But what happens on their campus (which, by the way, is in Provo, not Salt Lake City) is their business.

  3. Do most Marriot Hotels sell wine? Oh, I’m sorry, that’s not an on-campus censorship issue–that’s free enterprise, which definitely is in the Mormon creed. You can do anything you want for money, but don’t corrupt the narrow thinking that we inculcate on campus.

  4. Years ago, I read a report that said: Utah is the state where the most Jello is consumed annually.

    While it makes perfect sense, someone’s still got to spike the jello, me thinks!

    Some Mormons still take on more than one wife, so it’s not that they don’t “like” sex… it’s just that it needs to be under the cover of night… “Can’t look, oh no!”

    We’re all so amusing… Aren’t we?

    I know that these things drive you crazy, Steve, so I’m not saying how funny we are lightly. It’s just an observation of life. I know the average Mormon thinks I’m going to hell in a hand basket, which would be very amusing to see in its literal form…

    Jo Diaz’s musings… I can’t help myself.

  5. Jo, I should probably take a deep breath and count to ten when I hear stuff like this. Better for my health. But exposing it in print is good for my soul!

  6. I understand, which is why I said, “I’m not saying how funny we are lightly.” I too, am outraged by small mindedness, then I remind myself that this is earth school, and some of us are still in kindergarten…. Nothing wrong with kindergarten, I lived through it, and came away from it with a passing grade. Not everybody gets advanced at the same time. This is what makes chuckling an option. I remember when my first daughter had her first ice cream cone. What a mess she made, and I still have that image in my mind of how messy life is without napkins.

  7. Oh, and while I think about it… I had my kindergarten teacher for a babysitter one night. This was after she had advanced me, and I had gone on to St. Patrick’s School for the first grade. So, after my catholic indoctrination, I asked this woman, whom I knew was a saint, if she was catholic. She said, “No,” to which I replied, “Then you’re going to hell!” She smiled and said, “Oh, am I?” And – of course – I said, “Yes, you are.” I think we both went off and had some jello.

    Is that dogma still part of me… Not since Father Burns burned me in confession by yelling at me, “You young girls, what am I going to do with you young girls today.” That’s when I regretted not killing someone (like him), because killing someone was the greatest sin that he would have enjoyed keeping a secret. Now, if you search on Father Burns, you’ll learn what a pedophile he was. I survive him, because he like young boys…

    None of us are immune, so it’s back to the jello…

  8. I consider this part of the great American midwest, which I prefer to experience primarily from a height of 30K feet on a plane ride from the East to West coasts.

  9. I have read that Provo, where BYU is located, has the highest per a capital use of Valium in the country…

  10. Steve–

    This is your blog. You put it out on the Internet at no cost to anybody. I have not seen any ads on this site. To my knowledge, you do not use it to sell books, other people’s wine, or for any other commercial purpose. I suppose someone will say that the blog enhances your standing as a wine journalist and that has commercial value to you.

    But, as far as I can see, this is a personal place–as are many blogs of all stripes. If that is so and I have not misstated anything, then what you publish here is your business and those of us who come here are your guests.

    If you decide, as you have in the past, to bring your political and behavioral viewpoints to this blog, that is your business. I personally find it a bit jarring. Not because I disagree with you, but because I come here to talk about wine, to hear about wine, to learn from others and to share my opinions about wine.

    If I find a topic that I don’t particularly like or do not want to mix into, then I have an easy way to deal with that. I can move on to the next place and look for my daily dose of fun and learning there.

    I respect your right to follow your own muse here–as I do to all who comment whether in blogs or newspapers or in any other medium. If I don’t like it, I won’t listen. Somehow I am still here, and I presume that the next time that something of deep personal concern crosses your path, you will take a deep breath, count to ten and then follow your muse again.

    In other words, don’t sweat the small stuff.

  11. Charlie, when I started this blog, I wrote that it will be mostly about wine, but that I reserve the right to occasionally sound off on other topics. I have very passionate political beliefs, and if I can’t use my own personal blog (i.e., not Wine Enthusiast) to sound off, then why have a blog? I try not to do it too often, but every once in a while I just have to. Like Ricky Nelson sang, sometimes you can’t please everyone, so you might as well please yourself!

  12. Mmmm, jello!

  13. Steve, don’t sweat it…this subject is about wine; it’s about how narrow-minded religiosity has been instrumental in America’s alcohol legislation and how insidious such influence as these people and institutions have on American culture and as a result, on wine commerce.

  14. Not sure if this topic has run its course, but perhaps I can keep it alive one more day with this true story.

    Yesterday I was having a conversation about websites with some folks. We were speaking by telephone and also had a computer hookup via Go To Meeting which allows us to see the same screen at the same time.

    The subject was wine-oriented web sites and how to use blogs within them. These good folks happen to reside in Salt Lake City.

    At one point in the conversation, I suggested that they should look at the blog called STEVE HEIMOFF, and they duly found the blog and put it up on the screen. Up pops the blog, and then I realize to my chagrin that the topic of yesterday’s blog is Mormons and Sex.

    So, of course, I act as if I had not seen the blog earlier in the day, which of course, I had, but I had forgotten. Now, I don’t know how religious these folks are, but there waa a certain stunned silence before we moved on to another site.

    I always knew that reading this blog was going to get me in trouble sooner or later. I just did not know when or how.

  15. Dear Steve,

    I have lived in and out of Utah for many years within the wine industry and you write of a particular experience that is, in fact, repeated every day in the minutia of Utah life. This is not a weird “one off.” This is the overbearing mind/life contol of the Church of Latter Day Saints – a massive, rich, modern day cult of mind/behavior control. It is not something to be understood, because, like an Octopus, its tendrils of control wrap tright, deep, and knarled. How could you understand an affiliation with a track record of sanctioned rape, incest, and the killing of fellow Americans under the guise of piety?

  16. What might have been…. After joining the posse of California Rangers that brought back the head of Jaoquin Murrieta in 1853 and then laying out the town of Stockton, my great great grandfather Patrick Edward Connor was appointed to head up the Third California Infantry with instructions to guard and secure the overland mail route across the West. In October 1862 Col. Connor moved his command to Salt Lake City, where he founded Camp Douglas (named after Stephen A. Douglas by Pres. Lincoln) and “at once engaged in an acrimonious and bitter cold war with Brigham Young and the Mormon people, whom he accused of being disloyal and immoral.” He published the “Vedette” newspaper to counter the influence of the Mormon controlled Deseret News. He encouraged his men to search for silver and gold in the surrounding mountains, reasoning that were there to be a strike on the order of the one in Virginia City, “gentiles” would pour into the Great Salt Lake Valley, diluting the numbers of LDS members. Alas, such a strike never occured.

  17. Carlos Toledo says:

    I highly recommend you all watch a south park episode about the mormons. It’s one of the best episodes of the show, ever.

    The 3rd country where i live sucks billions in so many ways, but i don’t miss the American puritanism and its hypocritical douche bags at all…. Too bad the good stuff from America can’t be seen here…..where’s PBS on my cable?

  18. The South Park episode may be funny, but has a ton of inaccuracies in it. Check out to see what I mean.

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