Ride the white horse

>> Friday, June 01, 2012

So I see the words "White Horse Prophecy", and I think of two things. First, I think that that is one hell of a band name. I know, I know, there are lots of those, phrases like that and everybody says, "I know what the name of my next band will be" or something like that. But I'd probably go see White Horse Prophecy, especially if they were opening for someone I really liked. Wouldn't you.

Especially since I would have assumed--up until a few minutes ago--that the band's name was a reference to Grace Zabriskie losing her shit on Twin Peaks that time:

Loved that show. I was a senior in high school when it aired, and if me and my best friend at the time, Scott, happened to be out on a night a new Twin Peaks episode was airing, we'd find a pay phone and call our parents and make 'em tape it for us. First season, that show was total appointment TV, uncanny and fucked-up and brilliant and beautiful. Then I think Mark Frost and David Lynch kinda got bored with the day-to-day dogpiling that's a major part of putting together a season of TV and went on to other projects--understandable, you know--and left the showrunning to lackeys and regents and the show pretty much went to hell second season. (I don't know this of course) but I think you ended up with a bunch of people sitting around trying to think, "Well what would David do if he was here?" and trying to come up with the weirdest possible garbage they could come up with, not grokking that an integral part of David Lynch's weirdness is he thinks he's normal and everyone else sees the world exactly the way he does. ("Someone found a severed ear in the middle of a field? I reckon they'd put it in a paper bag and carry it down to the police station and they'd confirm it was an ear, alright.")

Lots of people have gone and tried to explain the show's failure in other ways. They couldn't keep the Laura Palmer mystery going, the show got bumped to a night college kids go party, it was too weird, etc., etc. I think what happened was the show just got dumb the second season. It wasn't so much that it was too weird as it was the weirdness got to be for weirdness' sake and you could tell it wasn't coming from a coherent place. Even David Lynch's worst movies tend to at least be kind of interesting and you can see there's some kind of mentality animating the whole thing even if you can't quite get your head around it or you can but the thing just isn't coming off anyway. Second season Peaks wasn't even all that interesting and by the time Lynch came back to shoot the series finale, everyone I know had quit watching (though most of us came back for that final night).

I think it's worth keeping a candle lit for the show, though, because Peaks was one of the most important television shows of all time. Sure, that sounds like hyperbole. But you have to remember that this was the era in which the only form of longform television where a consistent storyline was developed over many episodes and even seasons was the soap opera (daytime or primetime), and the soaps didn't aim for the level of artiness Peaks strove for (admittedly aiming in a kind of campy, ironic, knowing way). The conventional wisdom pretty much said you couldn't do a show like Peaks and shouldn't even try: for one thing, audiences would be too stupid and inconsistent in their viewing habits, so everything had to be reset between episodes (in the quasi-exception to that rule, the soaps, any changes had to occur at glacial paces and were preferably cyclical--i.e. if characters divorced, say, they would have to remain involved somehow and probably get back together and break up several times, maybe even remarrying and re-divorcing some of them); for another thing, the real profit was selling stories in syndication and it was assumed regional programmers would be happier shuffling episodes around if they wanted. Peaks had radical, irrevocable changes happening episode to episode so if you missed one, you really missed one; a total no-no. Except now, thanks largely to cable, just about every non-reality show and non-sitcom is kinda like Twin Peaks: longform serial and arty, with character development and novelistic plot twists over the course of a season.

Indeed, one might say the biggest reason for Peaks' failure was really that it had the misfortune of airing on ABC in 1990 instead of HBO in 2000.

But none of that is the White Horse Prophecy! No, you may know this but until just now, I didn't: the White Horse Prophecy is neither a rock band nor a bad trip on a surrealist primetime soap; rather, the White Horse Prophecy is a vision Joseph Smith may or may not have had, possibly in 1843, that a Mormon would become President and save the universe. You may be saying, "Well, duh, I thought everybody knew about that one"; if I did, I'd forgotten about it.

It comes up, naturally, because Mitt Romney is running for President and happens to be a Mormon. Digby mentioned it yesterday and I didn't see it until today. For the record, in 2007 Romney apparently told a Utah newspaper that he didn't buy into the prophecy, didn't know his name had been attached to it, and it wasn't official church doctrine (this is apparently true; in fact, there's debate over whether Joseph Smith really had or wrote down the WHP at all). I don't really want to make too much of it, actually: even if Romney wholeheartedly embraced the White Horse Prophecy, he'd hardly be the first Presidential candidate thinking he was chosen by God or to have some kind of messianic complex or whatever you'd like to call it.

The other thing about this is that, assuming for the sake of conversation the Prophecy is authentic, it's hardly the craziest thing any religious leader ever said or even the craziest thing Joseph Smith in particular had to say. In 1843, Smith said the Constitution was hanging by a thread; well, it pretty much was. Some would say Revelations are about their own time and not the future at all (the Beast of John's Apocalypse was almost certainly the emperor Nero): a decade later, the western American territories would be in arms, fighting the bloody preludes to the gory schism of 1861. The presidential election of 1844 would be particularly contentious, with candidates disputing western annexation and the expansion of slavery into the new territories. Smith, conveniently enough, would attempt an outsider bid at the Presidency only to get himself shot down by an angry mob before anything could come of it; if he thought to tell his followers he was the White Horse, or perhaps its rider if the horse were the Church Of Latter Day Saints, so much for prophecy. (Observing that Smith's "martyrdom" would actually help the LDS cohere, I can't resist saying the White Horse was made into glue.)

One of the things I find remarkable and ironic about the Church Of Latter Day Saints is that they actually do address one of the problems I have with Judeo-Christian religion generally: that it seems more than a little odd that we go from Biblical eras where God is speaking to his prophets on a regular basis, showing up in burning foliage and whatnot, and then suddenly is silent for millennia and thereafter only finds the time to talk invisibly or inaudibly and/or only to mentally ill people. Far be it for me to criticize the ways of a deity I don't actually believe in in the first place, it just seems to me that those folks who are religious might find it strange we don't have pillars of fire marching up Main Street anymore and nobody's seen anything like that since, what, sometime around the First Century C.E. Or the Seventh Century, if you want to expand the radius to the Abrahamic religions and include Islam. Except the Mormons, that is: the Mormons say God spoke to Joseph Smith and then an angel personally appeared to Joseph Smith and led him to religious relics including that infamous set of golden plates containing the lost book of The Bible. If I were a believer, I'd be tempted to say that Smith's story is more plausible than the idea God's been silent for oh-so-long, but for the fact Smith's story--with translating magic rocks out of a magic hat and everything else--seems even more ludicrous than a man heading up to the top of a mountain by himself for a month and a half and then happening to come down with a coupla stone tablets he didn't carve, that's God's chiseling right there (assuming there's any truth to that old story at all).

I guess what I'm trying to say is, if you can get past the parts of the Angel Moroni story that sound like a half-assed con job (which, I have to confess, is nearly all of it), the rest of it almost makes a kind of sense. If God does exist, why would he stop with the dramatic revelations and prophecies and personal appearances and inarguable miracles? Why would those great and mighty works of wonder seem to taper off in occurrence at the same times humans just happened to get increasingly rigorous and formal and critical in their observation, their thinking, and their recording of events? Why wouldn't God send Joseph Smith an angel?

Assuming He existed, you know? I mean, I have my explanation for why God's awfully quiet lately, but I'm an untrustworthy minority who is ineligible for public office in a number of states and all that.

What I'd really like to see happen, I'll admit, is some puckish journalist ask Mitt Romney how he feels about the white horse, and when Romney starts talking about his faith, interrupt him to say, "No, Mr. Romney, I mean heroin, duh! Do you 'ride the white horse', do you 'chase the dragon', duuuuude?" Not because I think Mitt Romney does drugs--I'm given to understand that, like a lot of Mormons, he doesn't even consume alcohol or caffeine--but because I think it would be really, really funny.


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