How weird are Scientologists? Other than the bright-eyed young men in sharp suits on Tottenham Court Road — who have somehow spotted my glaring personality problems at a distance and are adamant that I ought to step inside and identify them in more detail — I’ve never knowingly met one, so I don’t really know.
My hunch, though, would be fairly. It’s not everybody who can go through life believing themselves to be covered in millions of tiny aliens which a tyrant called Xenu once stacked around volcanoes which he then detonated with hydrogen bombs. Mind you, I once went to a decent-sized town in Guatemala where they worship a plank in a hat by giving it cigarettes. So you never know.
Often, I’ve thought that everybody mocks Scientologists so much because they tend to be people like Tom Cruise and John Travolta, and it’s just another way of suggesting — much like the intermittent rumours about their sexual preferences, or the rather contradictory ones that they both have genital areas like those of Action Men after you jemmy off their blue plastic shorts with a screwdriver — that their lives aren’t as glossy and damn well perfect as we all fear they might be. I mean, come on. Tom Cruise? Who doesn’t want to be Tom Cruise? Sure, he’s a bit starey and can’t sustain a relationship, but when those failed relationships are with Nicole Kidman, then Penelope Cruz, then Katie Holmes, then that’s what you might call ‘failing well’.
Ah, Katie Holmes. My age and below, you’d probably watched her as the girl next door on Dawson’s Creek and, probably, fallen in love. It had problems, that show, partly to do with the way they were all 17 and talked like Jean-Jacques Rousseau, but mainly because it was all about how awful it was growing up in North Carolina, when it glaringly wasn’t awful because just next door you had Katie Holmes. To a generation of pale and sensitive boys, she represented something, and that something could have perhaps been best defined as ‘the sort of girl who doesn’t marry Tom Cruise’. And then she did.
So that’s probably something to do with this vast outpouring of hostility that Cruise and his wacko religion have suffered since the pair announced their split last week. Although it can’t be all of it. I’ve been wondering, albeit tentatively, whether the rest might have something to do with Mitt Romney, who could quite conceivably be the next president.
Romney is not a Scientologist. He is, however, a Mormon, and thus believes some pretty challenging stuff of his own, including that an angel called Moroni located a pair of magic spectacles buried in a New York hillside sometime during the early presidency of John Quincy Adams. America, you sense, is still twisting over what to do with this information. Should you ignore it? Mention it? Mock it? What? There are powerful differences, obviously, between Mormonism and Scientology. The former, on a cursory examination, seems to be broadly a force for good in the world, beyond the lurking polygamy thing, driving devotees to mainly behave exceedingly well and charitably, albeit for arguably batshit reasons. The latter seems — on one equally cursory — to be bullying, sinister and scheming, exploiting and ruining devotees as a matter of routine. And yet, there aren’t very many devotees, and aside from Tom Cruise and a handful of others, they don’t really seem worth worrying about, unless they all band together and inflict another film upon us as dreadful as Battlefield Earth.
America isn’t big on ridiculing religious devotion, however mad. We get a thrill out of it; they tend not to. Regardless of the First Amendment, there’s a distaste of it, a sense that it’s somehow below the belt. With Cruise, though, the gloves seem to be off. Maybe that’s just because people hate him, because he seems a weirdo. Maybe, though, like I said, they’re all just gearing up for something else.
Technology corner. Remember how, a few weeks ago, I sang the praises of my cut-price Android tablet, made by the unhappily named Chinese gizmo firm Ainol? (Their slogan is ‘Enjoy Life, Enjoy Ainol.’ You cannot have forgotten this.) My view was that such things were going to change the world. Well, I was premature. It’s bust. The screen cracked. There’s no easy way of saying this. I have suffered an Ainol rupture.
But I was right, broadly speaking, anyway. My point was that these things — tablet computers — were on the verge of switching from a luxury to a commodity. And it’s happened. Last week, Google announced plans to build a tablet of their own, retailing at a mere £157. I know tablets are a problematic technology. I realise they’re basically useful for nothing, except for reading the Times or The Spectator. But still, this is important. These are the baby steps which change the world. I truly believe it. I just wish I could master a way of readably enthusing about such things that wasn’t reliant on arse gags. I really do.
Hugo Rifkind is a writer for the Times. The Spectator app for iPad and iPhone can be downloaded free at spectator.co.uk/app