Friday, March 16, 2018

Scientology TV

As many of you probably know, in 1946 L. Ron Hubbard and Jack Parsons performed a magical operation inspired by the (fictional) Moonchild ritual from Aleister Crowley's novel of the same name. Meanwhile, Crowley himself would write to Karl Germer regarding said operation that "Apparently Parsons or Hubbard or somebody is producing a moonchild. I get fairly frantic when I contemplate the idiocy of these louts." As I see it, Crowley was right to be concerned, because as things worked out what the ritual eventually gave birth to was the Church of Scientology. That's a powerful argument right there that it should never be performed again.

Scientology is one of the world's biggest and most famous cults. They're most well-known for hoovering up every spare bit of cash their members come across, going after any and all ex-members who dare to criticize their organization with a vengeance, and threatening to sue people right and left. I might even get a cease-and-desist letter for calling the group a cult on this blog. But I don't use the term lightly. Any new religious movement that requires the investment of the amount of money that Scientology does, and/or harasses members who try to leave like Scientology does, really does deserve that epithet.

Anyway, for those of you who were anxiously waiting for Scientology to get with the times and create its own television network (and, yeah, that's basically nobody), you're in luck. The Church of Scientology is in fact starting its own television network on DIRECTV AppleTV, Roku, FireTV, iTunes, and Google Play. But a number of critics have pointed out that starting up a television network now might not be the best thing for the church to be doing.

Given the organization's decades-long controversies, perhaps there's no great time for it to expand it media platform. But right now does feel particularly odd. For starters, the February mass murder in Parkland, Florida brought a deluge of attention to another niche broadcaster — NRATV — and a wave of threatened boycotts against its platform, Amazon. On Twitter Monday morning, users were already expressing surprise at DirectTV, and saying how to contact the network directly. Then there's the increased scrutiny the organization has faced in recent years, thanks in no small part to its high profile defectors. In 2015, filmmaker Alex Gibney's documentary series "Going Clear" made a splash on HBO, and garnered three Emmy awards. The same year, "King of Queens" star Leah Remini released the bestselling "Troublemaker: Surviving Hollywood and Scientology." She followed up with her own documentary series to "give a voice to victims of the Church of Scientology despite public attempts to discredit them."

And in December, high profile Scientologist Danny Masterson was axed from the Netflix series "The Ranch" amidst rape allegations. Journalist Tony Ortega reported accusations last year that "At least three alleged cases of rape or sodomy of women who were also Scientologists and who claim they were pressured by the Church of Scientology not to contact police or go public." Of course, other high profile members of the organization, like recent Emmy winner Elisabeth Moss, continue to thrive in the the public eye. But they tend, like Moss, to keep their relationship with Scientology relatively quiet. With dinosaurs like Tom Cruise and John Travolta now carrying the bulk of the group's celebrity prestige, maybe it seemed time to explore different avenues of recruitment (That guy with the brochures at the Port Authority can't do it all on his own).

Little information has been offered up so far about the content of Scientology's network will offer, though there are promised programs with tantalizing names like "Meet a Scientologist," "Voices for Humanity," "L. Ron Hubbard: In His Own Voice" and more. Even without previews, though, the reviews are already largely unfavorable. The Guardian on Monday declared the network "a PR move to try to make Scientology look less like a toxic dustbin full of deluded millionaires with aggressive superiority complexes," and the A.V. Club deadpanned that "Maybe Danny Masterson will get a new show now." And it may all just be one big coincidence, but at the exact time the Scientology network has slated for its Monday launch, ID Network happens to be running some choice counter programming — a Vanity Fair investigation on the mysterious disappearance of Shelly Miscavige, wife of Scientology leader David Miscavige.

Wow, those sound like some compelling shows right there! Seriously, though, I know there are people out there who actually like Hubbard's writing. I'm just not one of them. So maybe those fans will become loyal viewers. Given the treatment of Hubbard's biography by the church, though, I doubt much of the content will be all that accurate. There are several books you can read that talk about the real details of his life, and the church has gone to great lengths to suppress them. Personally I just can't get my brain around the idea that a science-fiction mythology is somehow the greatest contribution to humanity ever.

Regarding that Vanity Fair piece, I also should point out that David Miscavige is a real piece of work and responsible for many of the church's excesses. In the seventies and early eighties, before Hubbard died, the church was neither as greedy nor as vengeful as it is today. Those of you who watch The Path on Hulu should be aware that basically, Miscavige is Cal from the first season. The difference is that in real life, Miscavige successfully pushed out Hubbard's chosen successors and took over everything. Scientology didn't have an Eddie for him to contend with, and that pushes the show in a different direction.

So it is possible that under new leadership the church might eventually do some good. Not everything they teach is complete nonsense. "Auditing" can be a useful practice, even if Hubbard's ideas about how "engrams" work are completely silly and a twenty dollar multimeter works the pretty much the same as a thousand-plus dollar e-meter. Many other non-science-fiction parts of their belief system were cribbed from Thelema, and their system is essentially a form of modern Gnosticism wrapped in a science-fiction package. They just need to ditch all the culty bullshit, and maybe they could start helping people.

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