On August 5, we started a countdown that will give credit — or blame — to the people who have contributed most to the sad current state of Scientology. From its greatest expansion in the 1980s, the church is a shell of what it once was and is mired in countless controversies around the world. Some of that was self-inflicted, and some of it has come from outside. Join us now as we continue on our investigation of those people most responsible…
South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone did not begin skewering Scientology with their infamous 2005 episode, “Trapped in the Closet.”
Five years earlier, they were asked to contribute a short South Park bit for the MTV Movie Awards, and riffed not only on that year’s big blockbuster, Gladiator, but also 2000’s most epic fail — and what certainly continues to be one of the worst movies of all time — Battlefield Earth, John Travolta’s misguided attempt to actually film some of L. Ron Hubbard’s bad science fiction. In the short piece, Travolta’s “Terl” kills Russell Crowe, and Cartman wipes his ass with a Scientology personality test…
But of course, it’s the Season 9 “Trapped in the Closet” episode which remains the supreme comedic takedown of Scientology, probably of all time.
In the episode, Stan is looking for some inexpensive fun, and is enticed to take a free personality test at the local Scientology center. The test is nicely parodied as Stan learns, to his astonishment, that he’s depressed and in really bad shape. (He was not aware of this.) He hits his parents up for $240 so he can give it to the Scientologists to cure the depression he didn’t know he had. They hook him up to an e-meter, and are stunned to find that he measures “OT IX”! Only one other person in Scientology history had ever rated that high, and that was L. Ron Hubbard himself. Stan, they realize, must be L. Ron’s reincarnated self!
Now, up to this point, the episode has been pretty fun, and it’s playing fast and loose with Scientology — which you would expect of a South Park episode. But then, Parker and Stone did something brilliant. They stopped kidding.
The Scientology “president” (who unfortunately is not recognizably a parody of church leader David Miscavige) decides it’s time to tell Stan Scientology’s big secret.
Then, what unfolds is a beautiful rendition of OT III, the actual Xenu tale — complete with alien souls being indoctrinated in the “R6 implant” — and it’s a pleasure to see it so well illustrated. Especially Xenu himself, who looks like this…
And as you can see from that screenshot, the title that Parker and Stone put up throughout the Xenu segment — “THIS IS WHAT SCIENTOLOGISTS ACTUALLY BELIEVE” — really shifts this episode from farce to political satire. This IS what high-level Scientologists are asked to accept, after several years of membership and several hundred thousand dollars in fees: that disembodied, indoctrinated alien souls are attached to us after they were brought here 75 million years ago by a galactic overlord named Xenu, and only Hubbard’s techniques of “auditing” can remove them from you so that your superhuman potential can be unleashed.
There’s something about putting the OT III story in a cartoon that makes it even more stark-raving mad than simple words can convey.
Coming the same year that Tom Cruise went loopy and gave the mainstream press less qualms about mentioning Scientology, South Park‘s mocking of the church and its beliefs brought Scientology to a level of uncoolness that it really hasn’t shaken since then.
Parker and Stone weren’t the only media figures taking shots at the church and helping to spread the word that it was an odd organization. As Marc Headley relates in his book Blown For Good, hearing jokes about Scientology on the radio made him curious about criticisms of the church and put him on the track to questioning everything about his life working under harsh conditions at the secretive desert headquarters, Gold Base. He also credits Conan O’Brien making fun of the church as a big influence. And maybe sometimes we forget just how powerful a simple joke can be. So here are other media figures who have made sure their audiences know just how odd Scientology is.
Conan O’Brien gives Scientology the opportunity to state its case on his show:
Stephen Colbert announces in March, 2009, that he has replaced Xenu as the new galactic overlord:
Howard Stern has long ridiculed Scientology. Here’s a clip from back when Tom Cruise was running rampant, in 2005:
And Bill Maher wonders about the balls it takes to tell another human being, with certainty, what happened 12 trillion years ago. Heh.
I know that the Internet, as well as specific defectors and critics, is often credited for the morass that Scientology is in today. But it’s also important to remember that well-liked, intelligent comedians and cartoonists can spread more awareness with a one-liner than most of the rest of us can with gigabytes of data and debate.
The Top 25 People Crippling Scientology
#1: L. Ron Hubbard
#2: David Miscavige
#3: Marty Rathbun
#4: Tom Cruise
#5: Joe Childs and Tom Tobin
#7: Mark Bunker
#8: Mike Rinder
#9: Jason Beghe
#10: Lisa McPherson
#11: Nick Xenophon (and other public servants)
#12: Tommy Davis (and other hapless church executives)
#13: Janet Reitman (and other journalists)
#14: Tory Christman (and other noisy ex-Scientologists)
#15: Andreas Heldal-Lund (and other old time church critics)
#16: Marc and Claire Headley, escapees of the church’s HQ
#17: Jefferson Hawkins, the man behind the TV volcano
#18: Amy Scobee, former Sea Org executive
#19: The Squirrel Busters (and the church’s other thugs and goons)
#20: Trey Parker and Matt Stone (and other media figures)
#21: Kendrick Moxon, attorney for the church
#22: Jamie DeWolf (and other L. Ron Hubbard family members)
#23: Ken Dandar (and other attorneys who litigate against the church)
#24: David Touretzky (and other academics)
#25: Xenu, galactic overlord
Tony Ortega is the editor-in-chief of The Village Voice. Since 1995, he’s been writing about Scientology at several publications.
Keep up on all of our New York news coverage at this blog, Runnin’ Scared
SCIENTOLOGY IN THE VILLAGE VOICE
[Scientology spokesman Tommy Davis secretly recorded discussing “disconnection”]
[Benjamin Ring, LA deputy sheriff, wants you to spend your 401K on Scientology]
[Scientologists: How many of them are there, anyway?]
MARTY RATHBUN AND THE SIEGE OF SOUTH TEXAS
[Scientology has Rathbun arrested] | [Rathbun and Mark Bunker reveal surprising ties]
In Germany with Ursula Caberta: [Announcing plans] | [Press conference] | [Making news about Tom Cruise, Bill Clinton, and Tony Blair] | [Post-trip interview]
The Squirrel Busters: [Goons with cameras on their heads] | [Rathbun’s open letter to neighbors] | [Ingleside on the Bay, Texas rallies to Rathbun’s cause] | [Squirrel Buster’s claim to be making a “documentary”] | [VIDEO: “On a Boat”] | [“Anna” sent to creep out Monique Rathbun] | [Squirrel Busters go hillbilly] | [A videographer blows the whistle on the goon squad] | [Ed Bryan, OT VIII, shows the power of Scientology’s highest levels]
SCIENTOLOGY SPYING AND “FAIR GAME”
[Secret Scientology documents spell out spying operation against Marc Headley]
[Scientology’s West U.S. spies list revealed] | [Scientology’s enemies list: Are you on it?]
Spy operation against Washington Post writer Richard Leiby: [Part 1] | [Part 2]
[A Scientology spy comes clean: Paulien Lombard’s remarkable public confession]
[Scientology advertises for writers in Freedom magazine]
[Accidental leak shows Scientology spy wing plans to “handle” the Voice]
SCIENTOLOGY AND CELEBRITIES
[“Tom Cruise told me to talk to a bottle”] | [Tom Cruise likes coconut cake] | [Tom Cruise has a sense of humor] | [“Tom Cruise not a kook!”] | [Paulette Cooper on Tom Cruise]
[Paul Haggis, director of Crash, issues an ultimatum, leaves the church]
[Character actor Jason Beghe defects noisily] | [Actor Michael Fairman reveals his “suppressive person” declaration] | [Michael Fairman talks to the Voice]
[Giovanni Ribisi as David Koresh: Scientology-Branch Davidian link makes sense]
[Russell Brand weds ex-Scientologists in wild ceremony] | [Skip Press on Haggis]
[Placido Domingo Jr.: Scientology’s retaliation is “scary and pathetic”]
Grant Cardone, NatGeo’s “Turnaround King”: [Doing Scientology’s dirty work?] | [Milton Katselas complained about Cardone’s smear job] | [Cardone runs to Huffpo]
JANET REITMAN’S INSIDE SCIENTOLOGY
[Our review of Inside Scientology] | [An interview with Janet Reitman] | [A report from Reitman’s first book tour appearance] | [At the Half-King: Reitman not afraid]
[Scientology doesn’t like Inside Scientology] | [Q&A at Washington Post]
[A roundup of Reitman’s print reviews, and why isn’t she on television more?]
HUGH URBAN’S THE CHURCH OF SCIENTOLOGY
EX-SCIENTOLOGISTS SPEAK OUT
[Marc Headley: “Tom Cruise told me to talk to a bottle”] | [The Nancy Many interview]
[Sympathy for the Devil: Tory Christman’s Story] | [Jeff Hawkins’ Counterfeit Dreams]
[86 Million Thin Dimes: The Lawrence Wollersheim Saga] | [Mike Rinder on spying]
[Scientology singalong, “We Stand Tall”] | [Captain Bill Robertson and “Galactic Patrol”]
[Scientology wins a major award!] | [Scientology wants your money: Meet Dede!]
[Birmingham in the House! The “Ideal” dance mix] | [Scientology and the Nation of Islam]
[When Scientology was hip] | [Sad: David Miscavige makes fun of his own fundraisers]
[Freedom magazine parodies The New Yorker. Hilarity ensues.]
[Scientology surf report: Anonymous parties outside the New York “org”]
THE VIEW INSIDE THE BUBBLE
[A scientologist’s letter to the Voice and its readers] | [Scientology silent birth]
[Tad Reeves: Scientology might listen to this guy] | [More Tad Reeves and family]
[Scientology never forgets: A heartwarming telemarketing holiday miracle]