Television writers are increasingly using thinly disguised versions of Scientology as a kind of shorthand for ‘abusive cult with extremely bizarre beliefs’. It’s significant that this is seen in popular programmes, implying that the general population now understand these references.
The Church of Scientology, which would once have sued and harassed everyone involved in such effrontery, no longer even seem to notice. This is likely because today they are handicapped by increasing public awareness, a significant number of outstanding court cases and declining membership – they no longer have the resources to attack every critic and have to pick their fights more carefully.
As a change of pace, this post links to examples in episodes of two very different television series. The first is an episode of an updated US version of Sherlock Holmes (which works surprisingly well) entitled, “Elementary”. Holmes now lives in New York City, and Watson is a not only a woman but also a formidable detective in her own right. This episode emphasises the ‘abusive cult’ aspect of Scientology.
The second, is an episode of “The IT Crowd” – a broad UK comedy about IT support workers which emphasises Scientology’s bizarre beliefs for comic effect. Continue reading
2015| Discovery ID | Dangerous Persuasions: A Scientologist’s Escape
View Online | Download as .mp4 | View in video window after the break
This programme is the second in the “Dangerous Persuasions” series which deals with Scientology. The first was, “My Eternal Contract“. Broadcast in 2013, this was a dramatisation of Nancy Many’s 2009 memoir “My Billion-Year Contract“, a book in which she describes her 27-year involvement with the Church of Scientology.
This programme treats the experience of Mark “Marty” Rathburn in very much the same style – it begins with his recruitment (which he presents as motivated by a desire to learn how to help his mentally ill brother). It then covers his rise to the position of right-hand man to the present ‘leader’ of the Church, David Miscavige – and his fall from grace (he is attacked by Miscavige, and then effectively imprisoned in a Scientology compound) . Finally it presents his dramatic escape on a motorcycle, by accelerating through a security gate as it is closed after a car.
Subsequently, Rathburn has been the subject of extraordinary persecution by members of the Church of Scientology. One of the more blatant episodes is documented in the programme “Scientologists at War“which was broadcast in 2013. This persecution is presently the subject of a court case, in which Church of Scientology has argued that this behaviour is an expression of religious belief protected by the first amendment to the US constitution.
2015 | Going Clear:Scientology and the Prison of Belief | Alex Gibney | HBO
View Online| Download as .mp4
The long wait is over, “Going Clear” was broadcast in the US on the 29th of March 2015.
This film has been so keenly anticipated by activists because it promises to bring the story of the Church of Scientology into the mainstream, and could prove to be a game-changer.
Please, buy a copy when the film becomes available for download, or on DVD. The people who made this need our support.
A review will follow (after I’ve seen the film myself).
Important news about the availability of “Going Clear” in the UK follows after the break.
2012 | The Master | Paul Thomas Anderson (Director and Writer)
Watch Online | Download as .mp4 (1.06Gb)
When Paul Anderson’s film, “The Master” was announced many critics were (understandably) hoping that it would be explicitly anti-Scientology, and follow historical events as closely as the studio’s lawyers would permit. However, an interview with Anderson for Newsweek suggested that this was not the case:
“[…] I didn’t want it to be a biography. It’s not the L. Ron Hubbard story,” Anderson says. He was inspired by a quote he read that the period after wars was a particularly fertile time for spiritual movements to start. “That was a hook you could hang your hat on.”
Having said this, viewers who are familiar with Scientology will recognise the ‘Master’ of the title (a cult leader called Lancaster Dodd) and his organisation ‘The Cause’. Also, many of the characters, relationships and events in the film parallel Dianetics and Scientology, not to mention crucial elements of the cult’s doctrines.
However, this is an ‘alternative universe’ version of Scientology which is used to explore a wide range of themes – e.g. family, misplaced loyalty, the trauma inflicted by war – and the film is all the better for this.
Paradoxically, “The Master” enables the viewer to understand Scientology by approaching it not through rigorous scholarship and detailed time-lines, but via an imaginative transformation which brings out its historical context. Scientology critics should not be disappointed that this was not a narrow docudrama condemning Scientology – they should embrace it for what it was – a masterpiece of imaginative cinematography which shows all modern gurus in a very bad light.
View the film in a video window after the break. Continue reading
2003 | The Exclusive Brethren | Everyman (BBC2 TV)
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This documentary film is an examination of an extreme Christian sect which separated from The Plymouth Brethren . When it was made, these people were known as “The Exclusive Brethren“.
Their core belief is that worldly things are of the devil and that, to be redeemed, they have to withdraw from the world and adhere to very strict rules (and discipline).
The windows in the building in the image above have been bricked up. It is an Exclusive Brethren Church, and they do not have windows, in order to exclude a view of the sinful world outside.
The Brethren are examined here because their practice of ‘dis-fellowship’ or ‘exclusion’ closely parallels the Scientology practice of ‘disconnection’.
Disconnection is one of most controversial of Scientology practices. If a Scientologist defies the Church, other members (including family) are ordered to send them a formal letter stating that they will not communicate with them in any way until they relent, and complete the penance required to be restored to good standing. In practice, this is rarely a genuine option.
This policy has separated husbands and wives, and estranged parents from their own children. The threat of disconnection is a powerful disincentive to internal dissent.
View the documentary in a video window after the break Continue reading
A Scientology Miscellany
While looking for material for this site, I have found a few references to Scientology which are too short (or too daft) to warrant a post in themselves.
Perhaps readers are due a little comic relief, so I decided to to post a collection of these items. Since I first posted it, I have returned and posted new material.
If anyone would like to suggest new additions (i.e. funny references to Scientology that won’t fit in anywhere else) please leave a link in the comments section below and I will consider adding them, too.
So far, the odds and ends include:
- A reference to Scientology in Old Harry’s Game (A BBC Radio comedy programme) in which Satan himself comments on the origin of Scientology
- Two scenes in the film “Religulous” by Bill Maher . In the first, he declaims the Xenu story on Speaker’s corner (in London). The second features a short extract from his stand-up comedy act
- The Futurama episode “Hell is Other Robots” (season 1 episode 9) in which Bender joins the ‘The Temple of Robotolology” – a thinly disguised version of The Church of Scientology
- The Simpsons episode “The Joy of Sect, in which Homer joins the Movementarians (a cult based on elements of Scientology and other controversial New Religious movements)
- An episode of Lewis Black’s “Root of All Evil” – a comedy court case which pits Disney against the Church of Scientology to decide which is the Root of all Evil
- Kamphues Boeit – Anonymous and Scientology- A TV programme from the Netherlands, in which a comedian selects a person for an interview and then handcuffs himself to his subject. In this short extract from a longer programme, he speaks with members of Anonymous and then approaches a Scientology Org and tries (and fails) to handcuff himself to the Scientology functionary who appears to ‘handle’ the presenter and film crew.
- A recent episode of “It’s always Sunny in Philadelphia” where a character occidentally starts a cult (initially to prevent a room-mate eating his thin mints…)
- An segment from “Saturday Night Live” which lampoons Scientology under the name of ‘Neurotology”’.The Tom Cruise Fan App (for Android ‘phones) which is perplexing. Who was it made by? Who is it aimed at? Why bother? I don’t know.
There are links to several more programmes which satirise Scientology on the page “Scientology in Popular Media. These include “South Park”, “The Mentalist” and “Millennium.” My post “Satire and Scientology – Do’s and Dont’s“, which includes the BBC comedy “Life’s too short”, and the US Nip and Tuck.
If you only watch one, make it the “Millennium” episode, which I cannot recommend too highly for sustained invention and real satirical humour.
Watch Online | Download as .mp4
Today, the first broadcast of “Going Clear” was moved to the prime spot of Sunday the 29th of March – and the first trailer released. This is the film that has forced Scientology to mount its recent advertising blitz – an effort which has proved counter-productive because it has only increased public interest.
“Going Clear” promises to be a game-changer, which may transform popular public perception of the Church of Scientology. Here is a version of the trailer that can be viewed outside of the US.