Scientology in popular culture

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Scientology has been referenced in popular culture in many different forms of media including fiction, film, music, television and theatre. In the 1960s, author William S. Burroughs wrote about Scientology in both fictional short stories and non-fictional essays. The topic was dealt with more directly in his book, Ali's Smile/Naked Scientology. The 2000 film Battlefield Earth was an adaptation of a novel by L. Ron Hubbard.

Musicians and playwrights have made reference to Scientology on some of their work, with some pieces treating the topic in a negative light by their references, and others in a positive manner. Frank Zappa's 1979 concept album/rock opera Joe's Garage lampoons Scientology in the song "A Token of My Extreme". Scientologist Chick Corea has made reference to Scientology in his work, and two of his albums were influenced by L. Ron Hubbard novels. Maynard James Keenan of the metal band Tool, has been critical of Scientology, and the 1996 song "Ænema" contains a negative reference to L. Ron Hubbard. Both Scientology and the life of its founder L. Ron Hubbard were addressed in the 2003 Off-Broadway musical, A Very Merry Unauthorized Children's Scientology Pageant. The play took a tongue-in-cheek look at both Hubbard's life and the history of the Church, and received an Obie Award in 2004.

Scientology has also been dealt with in fictional television shows, including sitcoms, cartoons, and dramas. The 2005 South Park episode "Trapped in the Closet" dealt with Scientology, and related the story of Xenu. This episode resulted in a deal of controversy, including the departure of Isaac Hayes, and questions over why the episode was not initially rebroadcast. In season four of the television program Nip/Tuck, characters Kimber and Matt join the Church of Scientology. Issues addressed within Nip/Tuck have included both the Xenu story and a look at deprogramming. In Boston Legal's third season, character Alan Shore helps defend an employer sued for discrimination after firing a Scientologist. The episode delves into some of the employee's more eccentric beliefs as well as a debate on religious bigotry, but Shore ends up winning the case for his client. In the radio sitcom Old Harry's Game, Satan claims he invented Scientology.


William S. Burroughs, who briefly dabbled with Scientology, wrote extensively about it during the late 1960s, weaving some of its jargon into his fictional works, as well as authoring non-fiction essays about it. In the end, however, he abandoned Scientology and publicly eschewed it in an editorial for the Los Angeles Free Press in 1970.[1] Burroughs' work Ali's Smile/Naked Scientology contains many writings related to both Dianetics and L. Ron Hubbard.

"Operation Freakout", also known as "Operation PC Freakout", was the name given by the Church of Scientology to a covert plan intended to have the author Paulette Cooper imprisoned or committed to a mental institution.[2][3][4] The plan, undertaken in 1976 following years of Church-initiated lawsuits and covert harassment,[5] was meant to eliminate the perceived threat that Cooper posed to the Church and obtain revenge for her publication in 1971 of a highly critical book, The Scandal of Scientology.[2][3][4] The events of Operation Freakout are featured, in a thinly fictionalized form, in Giuseppe Genna's 2004 novel In the Name of Ishmael.[6] Scientology is referred to as "Science Religion", Cooper is called "Paulette Rowling" and Mary Sue Hubbard is "Johanna Lewis".[6] The book includes an almost word-for-word transcription of the Operation Freakout planning document of April 1, 1976, with the names of the principal figures substituted as described above.[6]

In the science-fiction setting of Count Zero, a cyberpunk novel by author William Gibson, one of the character's relatives is mentioned to be a Scientologist. L. Ron Hubbard (referred to simply as "Hubbard") is also mentioned as an option of a possible hologram that could appear over someone's bed, another choice included the Virgin Mary.[7]


In reviews of the 1999 film Bowfinger, some critics compared the fictional organization "MindHead" to the Church of Scientology. In the film, producer Bobby Bowfinger, played by Steve Martin, encounters difficulties involving actor Kit Ramsey, played by Eddie Murphy. Paul Clinton writes in CNN online: "'Bowfinger' could just be viewed as an out-there, over-the-top spoof about Hollywood, films, celebrities and even the Church of Scientology. But Martin has written a sweet story about a group of outsiders with impossible dreams."[8] Andrew O'Hehir writes in Salon that "Too much of 'Bowfinger' involves the filmmakers' generically wacky pursuit of the increasingly paranoid Kit, who flees into the clutches of a pseudo-Scientology outfit called MindHead (their slogan: 'Truth Through Strength')."[9] The Denver Post describes the Kit Ramsey character as "...petulant, paranoid and pampered, like any good star, and also a devotee of a Scientology-like religion."[10] In a review in the San Francisco Chronicle, Wesley Morris describes Ramsey's organization as "a mock-Scientology cult called MindHead - a bit that sprung from Martin's own issues with MENSA."[11] The Albuquerque Journal describes the MindHead organization "a rather thinly veiled but nevertheless amusing blast at Scientology,"[12] and the Fort Worth Star-Telegram characterizes it as an "organization that comes across as a thinly veiled send-up of Scientology."[13]

Some critics perceived the 2000 film Bless the Child to be mocking Scientology because the fictionalized cult "The New Dawn" in the film mimicked Scientology's symbols and rhetoric.[14] The following year in 2001, a film titled The Profit parodied Scientology and L. Ron Hubbard.[15]

Paul Thomas Anderson's 2012 film The Master features a religious organization called "The Cause" that has many similarities to Scientology.[16][17][18] Also, the character of Lancaster Dodd, played by Philip Seymour Hoffman shares a physical resemblance to Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard.[19]

Two other films that feature new religious movements similar to Scientology are Schizopolis, and The L.A. Complex.[20]


Frank Zappa's 1979 concept album/rock opera Joe's Garage lampoons Scientology in the song "A Token of My Extreme". Zappa uses terminology such as "L. Ron Hoover" and "Appliantology", telling the main character "Joe" that he "must go into the closet" to pursue his latent appliance fetishism.[21][22] Gary Numan had popular songs laced with Scientology references in the 1980s such as "Me! I Disconnect from You", "Praying to the Aliens", and "Only a Downstat", influenced directly by William S. Burroughs' Scientology-based writings.[23][24]

The progressive metal band Tool has voiced criticism of Scientology. After releasing their first full-length album Undertow in 1993, the band began touring to promote their new work. In May 1993, Tool was scheduled to play the Garden Pavilion in Hollywood but learned at the last minute that the Garden Pavilion belonged to the Church of Scientology, which the band felt clashed with "the band's ethics about how a person should not follow a belief system that constricts their development as a human being".[25] The band's vocalist Maynard James Keenan recalled that he "spent most of the show baa-ing like a sheep at the audience".[26] Scott Schalin reported in Bay Area Music: "Between songs, Keenan, staring first at the lush grounds paid for by devoted L. Ron followers and then into the eyes of his own audience, bayed into the mic like a sheep looking for his shepherd's gate. "Baaaaa! Baaaaa!" the singer bleated."[27] The lyrics to the Tool song "Ænema" contain the phrase: "Fuck L. Ron Hubbard, Fuck all his clones."[28]


An organization with similarities to Scientology, called Selfosophy, was a central part of an episode from the second season of Millennium that aired on the Fox network on November 21, 1997, entitled "Jose Chung's Doomsday Defense." Selfosophy was created by a science fiction writer who had spent time in an insane asylum. Matt Roush of USA Today wrote that the episode was "written with the density of a Simpsons cartoon. You'll scream till you laugh, or laugh till you scream."[29] Michael Patrick Sullivan writing for Underground Online/UGO wrote: "After a year and a half of doom and gloom stories, one of the most astounding television writers of the nineties, Darin Morgan, is allowed his fractured take on Millennium and Frank and author Jose Chung investigate murders that lead them deeply into the world of a pseudo-religion called Selfosophy (read as Scientology). Bizarre is exactly the word for it as Millennium takes sharp aim at itself and has fun with it."[30]

In 2005, Season 9 of South Park, "Trapped in the Closet" Stan is interviewed by a member of The Church of Scientology. The member tells him that he isn't happy, but the Church can help him for a nominal fee. Later he is given a test on an E meter machine. He scores astoundingly high, which leads the members to believe that he is the reincarnation of L. Ron Hubbard. The next day he is confronted by the entire Church of Scientology, including Tom Cruise. Stan tells Cruise that his films are "okay" and that he's not as good as "the guy who played Napoleon Dynamite". Tom locks himself in the closet. He stays there for the entire episode and is later joined by John Travolta, and R. Kelly who speaks in song, as he does in Trapped in the Closet. Meanwhile, Stan is commissioned to finish the Writings of Scientology. One of his major changes is that he wanted to make the church free. One of the leaders of the Church reprimanded him for this. He tries to tell the rest of the church about the scam. Each individual member of the church threatens to sue him, including Tom Cruise, John Travolta, and R. Kelly, who have finally come out of the closet.[31]

In 2006, season four of Nip/Tuck, the characters Kimber and Matt join the Church, making them the first Scientologist regular characters on a prime-time TV show.[32] In the latter part of the fourth season, Kimber has a hallucination in which Xenu appears to her.[33] Though the Scientology "tech" and details are portrayed in a simplified way, the show is incorporating the Scientology storyline as a serious subplot, rather than a parody or a one-time jab. In the episode Dawn Budge, Matt moves out of the house after his parents pressure him to leave Scientology.[34] Both characters eventually leave Scientology in the fifth season.

In April 2015, following the recent release of Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief , Saturday Night Live aired a music video featuring the "Church of Neurotology", a parody of Scientology's 1990 music video "We Stand Tall".[35]

In Series 5 of Peep Show. Jeremy, (played by Robert Webb), and Super Hans, (played by Matt King), go into "The New Wellness centre" (a thinly disguised parody of Scientology). Their intention is to 'out-freak the freak show', or possibly just get warm. However, within hours they are giving all of their possessions to the church, renaming themselves, and indenturing themselves in perpetuity. Mark, (played by David Mitchell successfully deprogammes Jeremy and by the next episode Super Hans has also left the church.


The controversy surrounding the Church of Scientology and the (new) Cult Awareness Network organization was described in the 2002 Stephen Adly Guirgis play, Jesus Hopped the "A" Train.[36] The character Angel tells Mary Jane that individuals who call the Cult Awareness Network looking for help will end up speaking with a Scientologist on the other end of the phone.[36] The play was nominated for a 2003 Laurence Olivier Theatre Award, in the category: "The BBC Award for Best New Play of 2002."[37]

In 2003, the play A Very Merry Unauthorized Children's Scientology Pageant was produced, which described a tale of the life of L. Ron Hubbard and the Church of Scientology, told from the perspective of fictional children of Scientologists. The play won a 2004 Obie Award.[38][39][40]

Video games[edit]

The survival-horror video game series Dead Space features a religion named "Unitology". Unitologists worship an alien artifact known as "The Marker," and believe the necromorph contagion represents the rebirth of humanity. Unitologists advance their knowledge of church doctrines by way giving large sums of money to the church in the form of "tithes," as well as by purchasing expensive collections of written works authored by the founder of Unitology, Michael Altman.

In Grand Theft Auto V The Epsilon Program is modeled on Scientology.

A small cult called the Hubologists appear in both Fallout 2 and the Nuka-World DLC of Fallout 4, offering several therapies involving increasingly larger amounts of radiation, and claims of their leader communing with aliens.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ William S. Burroughs (1970-03-06). "William S. Burroughs On Scientology". Los Angeles Free Press.
  2. ^ a b United States of America v. Jane Kember, Morris Budlong, Sentencing Memorandum; pp. 23-25
  3. ^ a b Behar, Richard (May 6, 1991). "The Scientologists and Me". TIME. Time Inc. Retrieved 2008-06-25.
  4. ^ a b Ortega, Tony (December 23, 1999). "Double Crossed: The Church of Scientology has a reputation for ruthlessly going after its enemies. Robert Cipriano claims Scientologists rewarded him for helping them do just that. Now he's turned on them". Phoenix New Times. Village Voice Media. Retrieved 2008-06-25.
  5. ^ Bercovici, Jeff (June 22, 2007). "Writer: I Was Stalked by Scientologists". Radar Online. Radar Magazine. Archived from the original on October 10, 2007. Retrieved 2008-06-25.
  6. ^ a b c Genna, Giuseppe (2004). In the Name of Ishmael. Miramax Books. pp. 89–92. ISBN 0-7868-8886-5.
  7. ^ Gibson, William (1987, c1986). Count Zero. Berkley Pub. Group. pp. 35, 74, 85. ISBN 0-441-11773-2. Check date values in: |date= (help)
  8. ^ Clinton, Paul (August 12, 1999). "Review: 'Bowfinger' over-the-top farcical treat". CNN. Time Warner. pp. Section: Movies. Retrieved 2007-12-18.
  9. ^ O'Hehir, Andrew (August 12, 1999). "Bowfinger: Martin and Murphy team up for a good-natured sendup of the mindless summer blockbuster -- and just barely avoid making one themselves". Salon. Retrieved 2007-12-18.
  10. ^ Booth, Michael (July 16, 2007). "Martin skewers Hollywood". The Denver Post. Retrieved 2007-12-18.
  11. ^ Morris, Wesley (August 13, 1999). ""Bowfinger' has the touchMartin, Murphy make mincemeat out of Hollywood as a down-and-out producer and his "star'". San Francisco Chronicle. Hearst Newspapers. Retrieved 2007-12-18.
  12. ^ Staff (January 1, 2007). "'Bowfinger' Lacks Chemistry Between Martin, Murphy". Albuquerque Journal.
  13. ^ Staff (January 21, 2000). "Hollywood looks in the mirror, and laughs". Fort Worth Star-Telegram.
  14. ^ Bruce Kirkland (2000-08-11). "Spawn of Hollywood". The Toronto Sun.
  15. ^ Steve Persall (2001-08-24). "Real problems with a fictional movie". St. Petersburg Times.
  16. ^ Brown, Lane (December 3, 2010). "So This New Paul Thomas Anderson Movie Is Definitely About Scientology, Right?". New York Media Holdings. Retrieved June 5, 2011.
  17. ^ Brown, Lane (March 17, 2010). "Universal Passes on Paul Thomas Anderson's Scientology Movie". New York Media Holdings. Retrieved June 5, 2011.
  18. ^ Pilkington, Ed (April 26, 2011). "Church of Scientology snaps up Hollywood film studio". Guardian News and Media Limited. Retrieved June 12, 2011.
  19. ^ Yamato, Jen (June 10, 2010). "Will Scientologists Declare War on Paul Thomas Anderson's The Master?". RealNetworks. Retrieved June 2, 2011.
  20. ^ Bereska, Tami M. "Hollywood Bites". In Kent, Stephen A.; Raine, Susan (eds.). Scientology in Popular Culture.
  21. ^ Carr, Paul; Richard J. Hand (December 2006). "Frank Zappa and musical theatre". Studies in Musical Theatre. 1 (1): 41–56. doi:10.1386/smt.1.1.41_1. ISSN 1750-3167.
  22. ^ Prince, Michael J. (Spring 2005). "The Science Fiction Protocols of Frank Zappa". Chapter&Verse. PopMatters Media, Inc. Retrieved 2007-11-28.
  23. ^ Numan, Gary. "Notes".
  24. ^ "Replicas by Tubeway Army".
  25. ^ Sokal, Roman (2001-05-23). "Tool - Stepping Out From the Shadows". Exclaim!. Retrieved 2006-09-17.
  26. ^ Dolan, Jon (August 2006). "33 Things You Should Know About Tool". Blender. Archived from the original on 2008-05-09. Retrieved 2006-09-18.
  27. ^ Schalin, Scott (November 1993). "Sob Story - Tool Will Give You Something To Cry About". Bay Area Music. Retrieved 2007-10-24.
  28. ^ Gennaro, Loraine (February–March 1997). "Angry Jung Men!". Livewire Magazine. pp. Volume 7, #3.
  29. ^ USA Today, Roush R., 20 November 1997
  30. ^, Sullivan, M.P., 22 November 1997
  31. ^ "Trapped in the Closet".
  32. ^ Leventry, Ellen (October 4, 2006). "Scientology Gets Nipped and Tucked". Idol Chatter.
  33. ^ Dow Jones (October 1, 2006). "TELEVISION; 'Nip/Tuck' warms up to Scientology". Los Angeles Times.
  34. ^ Hank Chilton, Ryan Murphy (October 3, 2006). "Nip/Tuck", Dawn Budge (Television). Episode 49, Production Code 405, (Season 4, Episode 5): F/X.CS1 maint: location (link)
  35. ^ "Saturday Night Live's genius spoof of Scientology: Lyrics and images « The Underground Bunker".
  36. ^ a b Guirgis, Stephen Adly (2002). Jesus Hopped the "A" Train. Dramatists Play Service, Inc. pp. 25. ISBN 0-8222-1799-6.
    "Scientologists sued the Cult Awareness Network, bankrupted them, and took over the damn Cult Awareness Network! ... Same office! Same phone number! But when you call the [expletive] up, you speaking to one of them! What kinda help you think they gonna give you?"
  37. ^ Staff (February 14, 2003). "Laurence Olivier Award winners - complete list". London Theatre Guide. Archived from the original on 2007-09-27. Retrieved 2007-10-28.
  38. ^ Hernandez, Ernio (September 15, 2006). "A Very Merry Unauthorized Children's Scientology Pageant Returns to NYC". Playbill. Archived from the original on November 17, 2007. Retrieved 2007-11-01.
  39. ^ Staff. "OBIES Awards". The Village Voice. pp. "2004 Winners", Special Citations: Kyle Jarrow and Alex Timbers A Very Merry Unauthorized Children's Scientology Pageant. Archived from the original on 2007-12-09. Retrieved 2007-11-01.
  40. ^ Glaister, Dan (2004-10-22). "Curtain goes up on Scientology". Guardian Unlimited. Retrieved 2007-10-24.

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