Eight Cows?

I love Johnny Lingo, I admit sheepishly (cowishly?).  As a feminist, shouldn’t  I  be bothered by a movie in which a handsome prince rescues an ugly woman practically against her will and turns her into a pretty princess? Also, the aforementioned woman has hardly any lines in the movie! But it is just so fun: the music, the palm trees, the culturally appropriate costumes from a simpler time in Mormon filmmaking before we started pretending that everyone everywhere wears sleeves all the time. The way Johnny works within the rules of his patriarchal culture, while subtly subverting the system, reminds me of my own life as a Mormon feminist. Although, of course, if I had been subverting the system, I certainly would have involved Mahana in my scheme, too. Never mind. I still like it. I really can’t help it. How about you?


April Young Bennett

April Young Bennett is the author of the Ask a Suffragist book series and host of the Religious Feminism Podcast. Learn more about April at aprilyoungb.com.

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23 Responses

    • Em says:

      Okay reading this I”m seeing why it is so awful (which I could already see). So yes. Not even a hoof and a tail, but I’ll always be nostalgic about it from seeing it so often growing up.

    • April says:

      I don’t let anyone tell me what I “should” think about anything. I’m a feminist.

      That said, I completely agree with the linked article about the problematic themes in the movie.

      • Holly says:

        You should realize that being a feminist doesn’t grant you an ideology impervious to error or improvement.

      • Holly says:

        And I was just answering the question you pose in the OP: “As a feminist, shouldn’t I be bothered by a movie in which a handsome prince rescues an ugly woman practically against her will and turns her into a pretty princess? ” Was it not a question you actually wanted answered?

    • Rachel says:

      I was assigned this particular article of yours last year for my “Gendering Mormonism” class. I will never be able to watch that movie the same way again. I particularly liked your usage of Proverbs 31, rubies, and ‘limitless valuation of women.’

  1. Em says:

    Oh I love this movie. That is why my internet alter ego name has always been Mhana (which according to my parents’ Celestial pursuit game is how it is actually spelled. And yes there is a board game called celestial pursuit).

    I think I love it most for the fine lines it offers us. “She has a face like a stone” “Mahanayouugly! Come down from the tree!” Or do I love the bad toupees most? So hard to decide.

    I think it shines particularly in contrast to all the other movies from that era that we used to watch before the church started making a whole bunch of new ones. For example The Mailbox (Grandma died because you finally wrote to her) Cypher in the Snow (Boy dies and his math teacher should have reached out more. Mom can’t go to the morgue because step-dad needs dinner. Point?) and Pioneers in Petticoats (Your rickrack is driving men insane with lust! Off with the frills and furbelows!)

    • Brem says:

      I enjoy Johnny Lingo almost as much as I enjoy “The Phone Call.” And Cypher in the Snow is terrible — so is that one about “priming the pump” and the guy dies in the desert.

  2. BethSmash says:

    I’d go with Anita Sarkeesian with this one. You can like something AND know there’s something wrong with it. The two are not mutually exclusive.

  3. Deja says:

    Just watched it again with my husband, who is Catholic. He was … disturbed. I for one love it. I mean, it’s terrible. But I love it. And it’s terrible. But I love it. You know?

  4. liz johnson says:

    I feel like a scrooge, but I hate it. I realize it’s fun and campy and stupid, but it’s also perpetuating stereotypes that I think can be harmful. I remember the young men in my ward rating the young women according to the cow system, and it was plain hurtful to a lot of us. Just not cool. I wouldn’t mind if that movie disappeared from Mormon culture.

  5. liz johnson says:

    This also reminds me of Nat Kelly’s post over at fMh – about how feminism ruins everything. 🙂


  6. spunky says:

    I love it, just brings back good memories– I even remember watching it waiting to do temple work in St. George years ago– kinda funny to even think of all those bare shoulders being shown in the temple!

    I was home sick a couple of years ago, and channel surfing (we don’t have cable and I rarely download stuff), I came across a remake of the movie. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0367960/ It was bad. Consider this a warning.

  7. Emily U says:

    Do people really still show Johnny Lingo at church? I have seen it in ages and would probably hate it if I saw it now. But I remember liking it well enough when I first saw it. It’s memorable, if nothing else.

  8. TopHat says:

    When I was a teenager and we didn’t have a teacher for Sunday School, our class would check Johnny Lingo out from the church library and we’d watch it because of how campy it is. We would sometimes mute the volume and make up our own dialogue. “You stole my pikachu!” “I did NOT steal your pikachu!”

  9. Heather Sather says:

    I’m 65, so I first saw Johnny Lingo when I was a young woman. Hated it then and still do. Sorry. But we all have a right to like what we like.

  10. EmilyCC says:

    I’m not a fan, but I suspect it’s because I didn’t grow up with it. (I haven’t read the Dialogue article because I probably don’t need to add fuel to that fire.)

    There are plenty of other shows/movies I’ve watched as a grown-up that I think, “Yikes!,” but haven’t quite talked myself out of enjoying. (Anyone watched Disney’s Peter Pan lately? “What Makes the Red Man Red.” Oy!)

  11. anon says:

    I remember being embarrassed by how bad this movie was when I first saw it in seminary and disgusted that our teacher wanted us to like it. But at least he was old and weird so I didn’t find it so strange that he liked the movie. I don’t know what to think of all these non-old, non-weird people liking it. Personally I think you need another vote on the poll: “plain old cow manure.”

  12. Heather says:

    April I’m with you! It’s such a chunk of my childhood (along with Saturday’s Warrior & My Turn on Earth). My sister and I were SO proud when my mom told us she actually went on a date with the guy who played Johnny Lingo while at BYU. We just knew we had an 8 cow mother!

  13. Suzette says:

    There are some things that we will love and hate that we love them. I love diamond rings and hate that I love them. I love Toby Keith and hate that I love him.

  14. Pie says:

    The woman who played Mahana is a dear family friend, she runs an incredible piano studio and I took lessons from her from age 5-18. Of course I always knew she “starred” in Johnny Lingo but I didn’t see it until junior high, it was played as the “in flight movie” for that mutual activity where everyone is on on airplane then dies and goes to the chapel where the stake president is dressed in white and talks about the afterlife. Anyway, I was completely surprised by the movie, the message I got from it was just so awful and I couldn’t understand why it was such an iconic mormon movie! I got that Johnny was bending the system to teach a lesson on self esteem or whatever, but the only parts of the movie I ever hear quoted are “Mahanayouugly!” and “eight cow wife”…such sumptuous fodder for all the chauvinistic young men to laugh about how women have no value other than looks, but even the best looking woman is only worth a few cows. It is so repugnant to me, but then, I didn’t grow up with it so it doesn’t hold that sweet spot in my heart… Seven Brides for Seven Brothers on the other hand still ranks in my top 5 favorite movies of all time, so I completely understand how Johnny Lingo can be a bit of a feminist guilty pleasure for nostalgic reasons.

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