Whenever I give lectures on my book on censorship – Whaddya mean you haven’t read it? Buy it here at a recession-beating price – I discuss the great issues of the wealthy to silence critics, the conflict between religion and freedom of thought and the determination of dictators to persecute dissenters. These themes have animated great philosophers. None more so, I continue, than Trey Parker and Matt Stone, the creators of South Park, who managed to get them all into one cartoon.
In a 2005, they broadcast an episode entitled Trapped in the Closet. The little boy Stan goes to one of the Scientologists’ personality testing centres. His “Thetan” levels are so high the Scientologists decide he must be the reincarnation of L Ron Hubbard, that herder of credulous souls who founded the sci-fi cult in the 1950s.
South Park’s writers have a lot of fun leaking the religion’s secrets. They explain that long, long ago, the evil alien emperor Xenu fills DC10s with people who were excess to his glactic empire’s requirements – quite how he got DC10s is not explained. He crashes them into the earth’s volcanoes. Once they were safely deposited in Vesuvius, Mount Etna and suchlike, Xenu nukes them. The souls of the unquiet dead now inhabit all of us. If you are fool enough to fall in with Scientologists, you will pay thousands of pounds to learn about the dastardly Xenu, then thousands more to “clear” the ill effects of being hit by an H-bomb.
Anyway, celebrity Scientologists John Travolta and Tom Cruise join the crowd on Stan’s lawn in South Park that has gathered to worship the messiah. When Stan tells Cruise he does not think he’s as good an actor as Leonardo DiCaprio or the guy who played Napoleon Dynamite but is “OK, I guess”, the despairing Cruise buries his face in his hands.