Frankly, I am still coping with every odious aspect of Scientology as illustrated in “Going Clear,” HBO's blockbuster documentary about L. Ron Hubbard's glitzy “church” and its indoctrinated, oft-abused followers. Plenty is not funny about what's done to keep devoted followers in horrifying conditions. For instance: Who knows where David Miscavige's wife Shelly is? According to Tony Ortega, who was featured in “Going Clear,” it's nowhere you want to be.
But even the grimmest absurdity is often hilarious, as “Going Clear” itself proved. As we begin to understand everything we learned (or re-learned) in “Going Clear,” let's focus on five moments in Scientology's history that are undeniably, insanely, creepily funny.
1. That L. Ron Hubbard has said — in print — “I'd like to start a religion. That's where the real money is.”
In fact, L. Ron Hubbard said several versions of this statement worded several different ways. It's just a fact. He just enjoyed money! Maybe that's why he is, as the movie pointed out, the most prolific published author of all time.
2. We should be exalting Nazanin Boniadi for failing to be Tom Cruise's girlfriend.
Imagine being Nazanin Boniadi. You're a good, devoted Scientologist. You're an actress too! For some reason the church selects you for a terrific makeover and heaps upon you fantastic fashions for a special assignment. Could the assignment be LOOKING AMAZING? What else could it be? Sigh. Well. Turns out she was being groomed to silently clutch Tom Cruise's arm during red carpet appearances and feign girlfrienddom with him. According to “Going Clear,” she didn't last two weeks at Cruise's gigantic compound in Telluride after her terrific “Vertigo”-like transformation into Tom's vision of a gal pal. He violently screamed at her (which is not funny) and she was escorted back into whatever gulag David Miscavige favored. Excuse me: Can we please exalt this person for failing to wed the wolf-eyed, flip-haired weirdo? Why isn't she the grand marshal at an LA pride parade? No offense to Katie Holmes, but if Tom Cruise rejects you, you must be a human being with a spine. If you can't hack it as an accomplice in Cruise's delusions, you must have a soul. I say we give her a talk show or something.
3. Scientology galas combine the most fabulous elements of “The Hunger Games,” Naziism, and Medieval Times.
I truly think there would be less of a public interest in Scientology if the whole operation weren't so tacky. The font alone on the Scientology Center's main sign is garish in a comic book way. Then take a look at one of Scientology's gala events featuring freaky iconography and Indiana Jones-type special effects. It's like a dictatorial Disneyland.
4. That time Tom Cruise wanted a meadow to skip through with Nicole Kidman.
Here's the thing about Tom Cruise wanting a meadow to dance through with Nicole Kidman: I get it! Meadows are fun. I've seen “Bambi” and Lisa Frank folders. I know what meadows can do for the spirit. But Cruise's insistence on creating an artificial wonderland full of wildflowers is perhaps the height of insane egomania — and idiocy? He does realize that meadows are real, right? Like, there are real people in real meadows right now. According to THR's report on Cruise's meadow fantasy, the actor believes fake meadows are better than real ones.
Miscavige heard about the couple's fantasy of running through a field of wildflowers together, so he had Sea Org members plant a section of the desert with them; when that failed to meet his expectations, the meadow was plowed and sodded with grass. When a flood triggered a mudslide that despoiled a romantic bungalow specially constructed for the couple, Miscavige held the entire base responsible and ordered everyone to work 16-hour days until everything was restored.
5. Every Scientology-related interview with Tom Cruise and John Travolta makes them sound so, so, so dumb.
I think the most laughable part of “Going Clear” is when we watch an archived video with John Travolta, who claims that Scientology is the only religion on Earth devoted to “joy.” He quotes L. Ron Hubbard's words about a world free of insanity to back up his point. Question for John Travolta: What was the world doing until L. Ron Hubbard came around in the twentieth century? Living unhappily? Developing religions about evil? The sheer ignorance of his statement is (predictably) staggering, and the strangest part about it is — like seemingly all devoted Scientologists featured in the movie — they do nothing to understand anything or anyone outside their own church yet insist they're completely aware of them, their problems, and what those people don't know. Hey, John: If Scientology is devoted to joy, why is it such a secretive organization? Shouldn't everyone be entitled to joy?
As for Tom Cruise, just look at the guy. Every time he concentrates on a thought, it looks like it hurts. I bet.