Sunday, September 30, 2012

One of the Creepiest Things I Have Ever Seen: "An Introduction to Scientology"

In his only filmed interview, made in 1966 for television, L. Ron Hubbard provides the basics of his Scientology process, plus provides this reviewer with an overwhelming sense of unease.

This DVD and accompanying forty-four page booklet are meant as recruiting tools for possible Scientologists. Hubbard submits to a fifty-one minute interview with an unnamed reporter (Tony Hitchman, according to IMDB), and tries to explain to the sometimes skeptical questioner some of the basic tenets of Scientology. Let's do the shorthand version of this. Remember, this is a summation of Hubbard's statements, not any personal beliefs on my part, except for my comments on the stupid stuff.

Scientology is the fastest growing religion in the world (sorry, Mormons). Hubbard began studying Man after witnessing the shocking brutality of Asia (not the rock band) when he lived there as a teen. He did not write or study straight philosophy like other "ivory tower" philosophers, he went out and lived with and observed twenty-one primitive races, including Filipino pygmies (!) and Mongolian bandits. Hubbard was looking for one common denominator that linked all of Man, both primitive and advanced, and he discovered that the denominator was Survival. Now, Man is a spiritual being first and foremost. We are spirits encased in flesh, put here by a universal author or higher powers (he does not say whether that would be God or space aliens). It is this earthly life, with all its temptations, that turns good Man into drooling Bad Man. Scientology opens the eyes of its subject and shows them how to shake loose all of the roadblocks that renders them incapable of resolving their own problems. Hubbard really bristles when Scientology is compared to psychology and psychiatry. Psychology calls Man an animal, rejecting the spirit; a very Germanic idea, he mutters. Psychiatry deals with the insane, a group of people Hubbard calls a lost cause who are beyond help. Scientology literally means "the study of knowledge or truth," Man must know himself in order to help himself.

And who helps the Man? The Auditors! The Auditors have training that equals twelve years of collegiate study, guiding a subject (ethically, of course) through the throwing off of the mental baggage that is holding everyone back until the subject reaches the Clear stage. At the Clear stage, a person has been unbrainwashed through Processing, their IQ has increased (proven by university research, although Hubbard could not think of any specific universities), and this person's spirit can deal with any earthbound problem headed their way. Wanna be an Auditor? You must have beingness (the ability to interact with your environment), a high IQ, good moral fiber (no "bad background"), be educated, and have a desire to help people. Wanna learn more? Hubbard insists you spend a couple of years or so reading all the books, then contact a local organization for meetings.

As to the film itself...this was originally filmed in black and white and recently colorized. The colorization process has not come a long way since Ted Turner tried to ruin the great films of the 1940's, both Hubbard and Hitchman look like they are wearing pancake batter for makeup. Hubbard as an interview subject seems a little uncomfortable, grinning goofily, rising occasionally, and sometimes nervously addressing the camera directly. Some of the interviewer's questions are tough, and sometimes Hubbard can be prickly- he can prove there is life after death, but that is "too technical" to cover on this program. I wonder if space aliens were involved in that explanation.

Hubbard's dismissal of "the insane" is the most troubling aspect of the film. One of my sons has a myriad of medical problems which have caused behavioral catastrophes in his school recently. He is on some medications that Tom Cruise has deemed not necessary, yet when he is off of them, or they just do not work, my son is far worse. I do not mean he is a little bratty or hard to control, I mean worse as in violent tantrums and threats that have required physical restraining so he won't hurt himself or others. Is my child a lost cause? A failure? His spirit is beyond help, so he should be relegated to a human trash heap according to this man and a toothy actor/psychiatric history expert. I don't think so.

You might think I am overreacting. No, it's right there in artificially dyed black and white. No drugs, says L. Ron, only vitamins! Chemo patients, diabetics, epileptics, toss out your pill bottles and pop a Centrum. Maybe by the word "insane," Hubbard is referring to the Charles Mansons or Kevin Trudeaus of the world. According to the handy dandy glossary in the back of the disc's booklet, insane is defined as "an individual who is incapable of any responsibility for his own acts and social conduct." This definition can be applied broadly, covering everyone from infants to Alzheimer's patients. If the church's thinking on this subject has changed, the video shows no evidence of it through an onscreen comment, voiceover, or even an edit. The interview may be over forty years old, but the disc came out last year, and changes could have been made and points clarified if the distributors had thought them necessary.

Believe what you want. If your Processing enables you to Clear with the help of your Auditor, then fine but L. Ron, if you are looking down from the mother ship, still certain the mentally ill are beyond help, then you obviously missed your own point. Not only did you fail to discard yourself, you gave the world "Battlefield Earth." As I watched the disc, I was truly afraid of getting fed subliminal messages from Kirstie Alley or John Travolta, their commands embedded somewhere in the fake colored studio background. After it was done, I did not feel any different, the "Look Who's Talking" series is still a low point in the history of cinema, but I was disturbed none the less.

"An Introduction to Scientology" is just that. I do not see the allure, you would think a religion rich in celebrities would put out a product with more bells and whistles, instead of the hollow thuds and hot air that was L. Ron Hubbard's thought process. Read the book "A Piece of Blue Sky" by Jon Atack, instead. (*) out of five stars.