Monday, November 16, 2015

Going Clear (movie review)

By the time this documentary is over, we have to see it as mostly critical, in the sense of damning.

But lets review a few points made early on:  there really is quite a bit of fuzziness on what constitutes a religion; Hubbard (LRH) was living the life of a novelist who had come to believe in his narrative and cast himself within it.

He didn't take the money and run, as the more cynical charlatan might have.  He continued to work out with his E-meter, trying to make it more powerful, that the last of the BTs (body thetans) might finally be removed.  He absorbed a lot of military memes and used them to build his top-down org / pyramid.

More a dupe then, though with elements of shyster certainly.  The guy had tremendous hubris and saw himself as larger than life.  He let it go to his head, but then what did he have to lose after a certain point?  "Might as well see it out to the end, in for a penny in for a pound" would become the operative psychology.

Given an army of doting minions, he could also afford to be aggressive, leading a charge against other temporal powers (the IRS mainly), a battle he eventually won.  That's saying a lot given the old mantra about death and taxes.  That was quite a feat, to beat "the man".  Who does that?  He did have impressive skills.

In the sense of eating his own dog food, he's not that different from other religion founders who've bought into their own tales.  That doesn't prevent us from seeing him as a seriously messed up individual.  But then what exactly is mental illness?  Again lots of fuzziness.  We're not talking settled science.

His original struggle was to break free of mental illness, criminality and war.  Travolta:  what's to argue with there?  As a Quaker, I have to like the beyond war rhetoric.  Is Scientology anti nuke weapon? My Google search suggests that it is and mom confirms a Scientologist wanted to join their recent UNA meeting in Missouri, but was not especially welcomed by others on the board (mom said he seemed like a good guy).

In bringing up "fuzziness" I'm not looking to dodge the hard questions.  I've never spent a dime on Scientology nor read Dianetics cover to cover.  My friend Ray Simon admired LRH and worried he might have died already (early 1980s).  He wrote some letters.

I remember Ray's delight upon getting a note, believably from Hubbard, saying he wasn't sure what Ray's question was.  That was about 1981, so yes, that was likely an authentic letter.

Ray exposed me to improv and a NYC Scientology celebrity center.  This was after college, when I began to more seriously understand "show business" and the hunger for star status, notoriety, visibility, a place in the sun (or The Sun as the case may be).

As a logistics supervisor for est in New York City, which I did get involved with, I was starting to meet more people trying make a living through acting, in soaps, in commercials, in whatever gigs they could get.  Scientology offered to help with that, with other stars, like Tom Cruise, helping recruit new adherents by advertising Scientology as a key to their own success.

I hadn't known how deeply Hubbard's roots were right there in LA.  Makes sense.  That's where we see all those buildings, which I noticed one Christmas season, some years ago, walking up and down Hollywood Boulevard.  It's a religion that works in synergy with Hollywood.  Celebrities help build the church which in turn helps them build their careers.

Given how much depends on image and reputation, tarnishing accounts are seen as a threat and it's part of the church apparatus to defend the brand, especially against buyers' remorse, buyers being, of course, a main source of revenue.   A goal is to help the faithful keep their faith.  Don't let Hollywood go hollow.  Making an example of public dissenters discourages any public dissent.  Excommunication as a "suppressive person" is a form of banishment, and therefore feared.

Following the arc of Scientology helps us explore other religions and governments, as the same patterns are oft repeated.  What's so amazing about Scientology is how Hollywood it really is, in how it lives up to a caricature of itself, as if a screenwriter set out to make a cinematic science fiction movie about a religion by, for and about actors.

For an institution so real in the history books, it has the flavor of implausibility, a fevered dream.  Really, this could happen?  History is stranger than fiction sometimes, that much is clear.

Speaking of est, many stories on how C/S attacked Erhard's reputation are already out there. Erhard was perceived by Hubbard as stealing Church IP and was therefore considered "fair game" by its Office of Special Affairs.