Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Scientology and Its Aftermath, episode 7 (Arts & Entertainment, 2016)

by Mark Gabrish Conlan • Copyright © 2017 by Mark Gabrish Conlan • All rights reserved

My “feature” last night was the next-to-last episode of Leah Remini’s series Scientology and Its Aftermath, a rather confused show whose first half told the story of the Reisdorf family. Gary and Lois Reisdorf were a Scientology Sea Org couple who left the Sea Org (relatively painlessly, it seems, compared to other stories we’ve heard on this show) and resettled in their native South Africa, and they had four sons: Brandon, Gary, Brett and Craig. Alas, at least three of their kids drifted back into Scientology, and Craig became so committed to it he “disconnected” from his family when his parents and his brother Brandon turned against the church and publicly criticized it. Brandon got so worked up against the Church, especially when he manifested symptoms of bipolar disorder and instead of allowing him to seek conventional therapy, Scientology subjected him to their so-called “Introspection Rundown,” which involved isolating the patient, feeding him vitamins and eventually subjecting him to high-intensity auditing (the combination of psychotherapy and lie-detector testing that’s the essence of Scientological practice) which made him worse instead of better. Apart from the Church and given conventional medications for his condition, Brandon improved but retained such an intense grudge against the Church that at one point he went from his home in San Diego to Los Angeles and threw a hammer through the window of a Church of Scientology building — and the Church insisted that he be prosecuted as a hate criminal and convicted of a felony. Remini and her chief consultant, Mike Rinder, pointed out passages in Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard’s writings that state that anyone who criticizes Scientology or does anything hostile to the Church is doing so because of their own “crimes” — and it’s not only the right but the duty of the Church to hound that person relentlessly until they confess the “crimes” that led them to attack Scientology. The second half of the show depicted three journalists — Joe Sweeney, Tony Ortega and Mark Bunker — who’d had to deal with full-barreled attacks from the Church for doing stories critical of it. The oddest moment on the program was when Sweeney sat at the table with Remini and Mike Rinder, the Scientology hit man who had carried out the Church’s attacks on Sweeney (a veteran reporter for the BBC) when Rinder was still the Church’s designated hit man before he left — and the three reminisced about the hostile encounters they’d originally had when Remini and Rinder were still Scientologists in good standing and Sweeney’s crew filmed them giving the Church’s hard line against him and his project.

Sweeney said he’s covered Saddam Hussein, Vladimir Putin, the Kim family who run North Korea, and Donald Trump, and none of those people pursued him as relentlessly (to the point where he literally lost sleep over it and had nightmares) as the Church of Scientology. It’s interesting he should mention Trump because one of the things that comes through strongly in this program is how Scientology head David Miscavige and Trump are really brothers under the skin. Their personalities — particularly their hair-trigger over-reaction to any hint of criticism (displayed recently when Trump, responding to Meryl Streep’s attack on him at the Golden Globe Awards — though carefully avoiding using his name, Streep reminded us that Trump had once mocked a disabled reporter at a rally, and Trump replied that Streep was an “overrated actress” and her attack on him was just more evidence of how out-of-touch the Hollywood celebrity culture is with the “real America” that elected him), their addiction to threats of physical violence against their real or perceived enemies, and the aura of intimidation and bullying that surround both of them — are so similar Scientology and Its Aftermath is emerging as yet another bit of pop culture that’s coming across very differently now than it would have before the election. For at least the next four years — and probably longer than that as the Republican Party hardens its domination of American politics and uses its power to make sure it will never be voted out of power again (by restricting the ability of its opponents to vote or win office and by dominating the courts so even if it loses legislative power, it will be able to prevent the Democrats from doing anything by ruling it all unconstitutional) — we are going to be ruled by bullies, by people whose idea of power is, in George Orwell’s memorable phrase, “a boot stamping on a human face — forever.” It’s the mentality of the Church of Scientology, of the Trump movement, of Putin’s and Kim Jong Un’s governments and of the populist-Right parties that are on the cusp of gaining power in one Western European country after another — and all of a sudden Scientology is of interest not only as a silly “religion” cooked up by a science-fiction writer but as a microcosm of what the world is going to look like with bullies like Trump and Putin ruling all its major countries.