“Trapped in the Closet,” arguably the greatest South Park episode ever, aired 11 years ago. In addition to its side-storyline involving Tom Cruise and John Travolta refusing to come out of a literal closet, the episode concisely broke down the “secret doctrine” of Scientology for a mass audience for the very first time.

The details about intergalactic overlord Xenu solving an overpopulation problem 75 million years ago seemed so typical of South Park’s penchant for the absurd that the creators felt obliged to put the words “THIS IS WHAT SCIENTOLOGISTS ACTUALLY BELIEVE” on-screen, lest viewers think Matt Stone and Trey Parker were making it all up.

After the blisteringly clever episode aired, it is rumored to have caused everyone involved a whole heap of Scientology-related problems.

Television that exposes the inner workings of Scientology is having a moment right now. HBO’s Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief, originally aired in 2015, is still making waves. Through a wealth of interviews with ex-members and painstaking research, the documentary made a number of startling claims about the organization and its conditions for devotees — physical and mental abuse, slave labor and enforced imprisonment in inhumane conditions, and enormous financial burdens, to name a few. Those who have left the church describe harassment, surveillance and defamatory statements made about them by the church, a policy referred to within Scientology as “fair game.”

Then, in November, A&E launched Leah Remini: Scientology and the Aftermath, a staggering series that delves even deeper into the church, uncovering a culture of paranoia, a system that actively deceives and extorts its members, the purposeful breaking up of families (under a practice known as “disconnection”), and even claims of forced abortion. (Statements of denial from the church appear at the beginning of each episode.)

In both HBO’s film and Leah Remini’s series, Scientology’s preoccupation with its celebrity members features prominently, with focus keenly trained on both John Travolta and Tom Cruise. But while Travolta is painted in Going Clear as a somewhat trapped and exploited figure, Cruise is represented as a power-hungry control freak; an egotist; a person willing to participate in the surveillance of his romantic partners; a suitor who will callously discard women who displease him; a man who enjoys all of the luxurious perks of being a higher-up in the church while ignoring the exploitation of those further down the food chain in the “Sea Org.”

For even casual observers, the wealth of evidence uncovered over the last few years has made it almost impossible to ignore the goings-on within the Church of Scientology. Reports have appeared on Anderson Cooper 360 (2010), Nightline (2015), and the UK’s respected Panorama investigative series (2007). Vanity Fair published an astonishing exposé about Tom Cruise’s Scientology-influenced romantic life in 2012. The Village Voice did an entire series in 2011 titled “The Top 25 People Crippling Scientology.” Gossip magazines, including US Weekly, and TV shows alike regularly speculate on the church’s untoward influence over celebrity members’ lives. There is an entire Wikipedia page and at least five prominent blogs dedicated to documenting the church’s legal problems. In addition, there are at least 10 books written by ex-Scientologists or their family members (including Ron Miscavige, the father of apparently all-powerful church leader, David Miscavige), all of which allege a great many wrongdoings within the church.

At every turn, facing down each controversy or legal challenge, the church vehemently denies all of the allegations made against it. Cruise himself has maintained a defensive position for years. As far back as 2004, Cruise appeared slightly manic in a Scientology promotional video, and in 2005, he aggressively patronized Matt Lauer when espousing the anti-psychiatry stance of the church on The Today Show (skip to 8:17 to see the outburst):

In more recent years, the church of Scientology has almost entirely quit communicating with the media, except to issue denials of any and all allegations made against it. Tom Cruise has also pulled back when it comes to talking about his religion publicly. But, even without the church’s input, the evidence keeps piling up. In 2016, it became hard to ignore the fact that this organization is, at best, philosophically problematic, and at worst, potentially guilty of several major federal crimes (including tax evasion).

With all we now know about what (allegedly) takes place in the church, how do we justify continuing to put money in Cruise’s pocket, when we know at least some of those funds are going right back into Scientology? In Cruise’s case, the exchange between the public’s wallet and his bank account is direct; the actor has a habit of eschewing a fixed payment for his movies, preferring instead to take a percentage of the box office.

Cruise made $53 million last year. According to Forbes, that made him the fifth highest-paid actor of 2016. It was an increase on the $40 million he made in 2015. In 2012, Cruise was the highest-paid actor on Forbes’ list, having made $75 million that year. Cruise’s unerring popularity is something Scientology is, and always has been, proud of. One promotional video noted that: “Tom Cruise has introduced LRH [L. Ron Hubbard] technology to over one billion people of Earth.”

As Leah Remini told Entertainment Tonight in 2015: “Being critical of Tom Cruise is being critical of Scientology itself. You are a person who is anti- the aims and goals of Scientology.”

So why hasn’t Cruise’s career been affected yet? Tom Cruise is an undoubtedly great movie star. He doesn’t really age and he has a penchant for making movies with small plots and big effects. He does death-defying stunts and runs fast and keeps his teeth white. He takes a lot of selfies on a lot of red carpets with a lot of fans. His appeal is obvious. But so is his high-ranking involvement in an organization that seems to have done a great deal of damage to a multitude of people, over an extended period of time.

Perhaps the public is willing to turn a blind eye, despite our unerring fascination with stars’ private lives, because it’s easier to not have to think about famous people’s personal choices when picking the movies we want to see. (Roman Polanski, Woody Allen, and every still-successful actor who has ever been accused of assault provide evidence of this). Perhaps respecting religious freedom is so ingrained in the American psyche, few feel right about questioning Cruise’s belief system. Perhaps we just think all famous, creative people are entitled to their own special brand of quirks.

Of course it’s difficult not to gaze on in fascination as Tom Cruise hangs off the side of a moving plane. But it should be equally as hard to ignore the devastated tears of the families that feature in every episode of Remini’s A&E series. When this many people have had their lives detrimentally affected, we should be holding accountable all of the people involved in the organization responsible — even the ones we’ve been watching and enjoying on the big screen for decades.

Why Don’t Exposés About Scientology Hurt Tom Cruise’s Career? 9 January,2017Rae Alexandra
  • Curious

    Because he’s a lib.

    • Frodis73

      Ah, no. It is because before Tom will sit down and do an interview he has a list of questions that are off limits. Scientology is at the top of that list along with questions about how long since he last saw his daughter and why he uses slave labor just to name a few. The media needs to stand up to Tom as he needs them a lot more than they need him.

      • Lacey Sheridan

        The media are happy to have him for an interview under any circumstances. Tom sells.

  • Buffarms

    The author fails to make the connection between Tom Cruise and the illegal actions of his religion. She doesn’t even appear to be trying to show specific instances where Tom Cruise did something wrong, only that he is of that religion. As such boycotting him would simply be an act of religious bigotry. Same as boycotting watching a Catholic because of pedophile priests, or a Muslim because of ISIS.

    • Mark Foster

      Tom Cruise has used scientology sea org slave labor for personal gain. He is a public figure who, unlike members of the Sea Org, can easily research the allegations against his ¨religion¨; allegations which go back over 50 years and are well-documented. Members of the Sea Org cannot write letters or make phone calls without monitoring, nor are they allowed to discuss in detail their work or their living conditions. They are forbidden any access to the internet. They work over 100 hours per week and often work long periods with little or no sleep. They are not allowed to keep their passports. Their maximum pay is 50 dollars per week and they often work for less, for extended periods. They are also subjected to the Rehabilitation Project Force, a prison camp environment with poor food, insufficient sleep, abusive interrogations, manual labor, and isolation from contact with others in the Sea Org and the outside world.
      So, yeah, I can definitely see raking his ass over the coals for supporting such an abusive, criminal cult. And what I´m mentioning here doesn´t even scratch the surface of the destructive, abusive policies and actions of this so-called ¨church¨.

    • Graham

      He is not merely “of that religion”; he’s #2 in that religion. He and church leader David Miscavige both regard themselves as ‘big beings’. Cruise is not just any old parishioner, he’s right at the heart of this deeply suspect organisation.

      • Mark Foster

        Yes, as utterly fantastic and crazy as this may sound, Cruise considers himself and Miscavige as the 2 ¨Big Beings¨on the planet who are going to ¨save this sector of the universe¨ with scientology. Combine that deluded view with the soul-raping, money-grabbing, family-crushing legacy of this cult(its actions, e.g. largest domestic espionage operation against the US federal government in US history)…and, yes, I´d say he´s overdue for boycotting…

      • Cara

        Didn’t Leah Remini say the the leadership of the church is a singularity meaning that only misavage has the absolute power? What management postion does Tom Cruise hold in the church?

        • Graham

          Scientology claims to be a religion not a business. Thus Cruise does not have to hold a management position in order to be #2. Both he and David Miscavige regard themselves as #1 and #2 ‘big beings’ (Well, 2 and 3 if you count Hubbard as #1). In their own minds they really do regard themselves as the two most enlightened spiritual beings on this planet.

          In practise Cruise’s position within Scientology would be that of the person most able (should he choose) to confront David Miscavige and get him to ameliorate the abuses.

          • Cara

            Oh I got it now. I was confused for a bit. Thanks for the clarification.

  • Andrea ‘i-Betty’ Garner

    An excellent article, many thanks. Too rarely will the media call Tom Cruise out on his clear culpability and complicity in Scientology’s abuses. He has benefited greatly from free Sea Org (slave) labor on his properties and vehicles, from staffing to renovations.

  • Its celebrity status. Just like Donald Rump, who famously said he could shoot someone in broad daylight and not lose followers.
    The media isn’t doing its job. They are being used.
    Kudos for this article.

    • tftillman

      Donald Trump is a saint compared to Tom Cruise.

      • gogol

        Now that puts you out of the discussion… At least for 80 %of the world population who hates the orange maniac…

  • sizzle8

    The problem is that Tom Cruise, because of his celebrity and because of his access to all levels of the organization, has the power to look into the overwhelming evidence of malfeasance but CHOOSES not to.

    At this point there is no doubt that a multitude of abuses have been going on.
    The basic tenets of Scientology REQUIRE him to investigate and correct.

    He has decided not to look, not to act and has decided to NOT be responsible when he actually could be.

  • Frodis73

    Thank you for calling out the fact that so few are calling out Tom Cruise. It is long overdue.
    Btw, it is not that critics are questioning Tom’s beliefs, none of us care what he believes. It is the abuses and the crimes that he should be questioned about. All sci celebs should be questioned about this.
    I do my best to not give money to any of the celebs that support scientology. Thankfully that list is getting shorter all the time.

    • Barstool Blues

      Tom Cruise jumps from film to film…he’s not even around the scientology facilities and churches where all the hilarious stuff goes on.

  • Beth Grant DeRoos

    His target audience is made up of males 18-30 who have no interest in religion of any kind. Nor do most follow news shows like 20/20, 60 Minutes and others who have done extensive pieces on the ‘church’ of Scientology.

    Most people have an aversion to being forced to hand over a percentage of what they make to any outfit/cult. And thankfully the more money one makes the more likely they will be science based thinkers who see Scientology for the sham that it is.

  • Lacey Sheridan

    Most people are tired of hearing about Scientology. Disaffected church members have developed a cottage industry around their complaints; clearly, they are making money off Cruise’s name. Interviews with ex-members provide highly emotional content, but they never offer a video or audio tape in support of their allegations, not even a letter. I’m sure that this “church” does some unpleasant things, but compared to pedophile priests and suicide bombers, Scientology, with it’s tiny numbers, isn’t even on the radar screen. I have yet to see a former Scientologist admit that they were foolish to become involved with this outfit; there’s no personal responsibility at all. If this religion works for Tom Cruise – and he attributes his success to it – that’s his business. Why aren’t Catholic and Muslim actors hassled for not speaking out about the horrors committed by their respective religions? Enough with Tom Cruise.

    • Glen

      “Pedophile priest and suicide bombers.” You certainly set a low bar. I have seen video tapes and heard audio tapes, talked with people with first hand knowledge and seen abundant documentation of abuses. You trivialize the abuses by not addressing them as something other than “unpleasant things” and instead offer that it is a “cottage industry.”

      Tom Cruise, of course, can believe anything that he wants. But he is actively supporting without question an organization that continues some horrific human rights abuses.

      • Lacey Sheridan

        If video and audio tapes showing alleged abuses and criminal acts are available, let’s all see them. I would be especially interested in seeing Scientology members claiming they are victims of human rights abuses. The authorities could finally become involved then.

        • tftillman

          Take a look. They are all over You tube. Don’t you know you are supposed to “never defend, only attack” ? Turn yourself in to the ethics officer.

          • Lacey Sheridan

            I have seen many allegations by former church members, but no documentary evidence. I don’t know what an “ethics officer” is, but it sounds as if you are also an ex-Scientologist. If so, my advice would be “move on.”

          • tftillman

            If you don’t know what an ethics officer is, you are clueless. I do. I was in for 30+ years. Do some research before you comment.
            I will “move on” when this criminal organization is in ashes.

          • Lacey Sheridan

            I am not a Scientologist; in fact, I am an atheist. The likelihood of my being involved with something as outlandish as Scientology is nil. My interest here is in first amendment rights.

          • tftillman

            If you haven’t seen any evidence, you haven’t looked. My authority to opine is that I was on the inside, for 30+years.
            I will “move on” when this criminal organization is in ashes.

          • Lacey Sheridan

            That, to me, is the saddest part: those who claim to have “left” Scientology, when, in fact, it still dlminates their lives.

      • Shrike

        Spanish inquisition, Killing of Jews by Christians Nazis, Extermination and forced conversion of African and Red Indian tribes,
        Slavery, child rape, and massacre of non muslims/kafirs by ISIS and Al Qaeda.
        These are pretty low bar by your standards?
        Christians and muslims have done every atrocity known to mankind in their zeal to spread their religion.
        Some I would say Scientology seems pretty lame by the standards your religion has set.
        This selective concern of Human rights abuses by westerners is truly heartwarming.

  • tftillman

    It IS hurting his career. I, and many others, are refusing to support this Scientology
    Criminals’s movies.

    • Cara

      His returns at the box office is still huge. That’s why the article is written. We are not seeing any damage.

    • Lacey Sheridan

      Which has obviously amounted to nothing.

  • Left_Brains

    They SHOULD be hurting his career. And the exposés should be increasingly prying, truthfully critical and outspoken. Celebrities have long been known for scandalous behvior, odd fixations and sometimes even criminal rapsheets. The same standard should be applied here, even on some supposedly untouchable pretty boy who does nothing but look nice and run a lot in his action/sci-fi “thrillers.” He’s simply a terrible actor anyhow. I’ve been watching his movies since I was seven and still cannot figure out why Tom Cruise is worshiped and showered with accolades.

    Sure, continue watching. We apparently don’t stop listening to rap artists after they’ve been arrested for multiple assaults, or rock stars for getting involved with drugs and underage partners.

    But not only is his art kind of empty, continuous support of an observably and objectively catastrophic organization that destroys lives, tortures dissenting members, harasses families and financially devastates them while pretending to be a real religion should be monitored and scrutinized by Hollywood, mainstream media and movie lovers everywhere.

    • Cara

      He is a garbage person, but he is talented. He did a great job in Collateral, Magnolia, Rain man, and born on the fourth of July. He even go three Academy nomination. Now all he does is action, but back then he was good.

      • gogol

        Do you know him personally to call him garbage, cause damn sure you didn’t bring any argument towards your statement, which makes you just a lame troll… Idiot

  • tftillman

    It is hurting his career. I, and many others, will never watch another one of his crap movies. He runs with a cult of the worst kind, and thus, runs with irresponsible criminals.

    • Barstool Blues

      Boo fucking hoo

      • Ah the token Scientologist has found this page. Note the immature reply: Boo fucking hoo. This individual is barely literate, as almost all the “enlightened cult puppets” are.

    • gogol

      Yeah, but I and so much many other still watch his professional performances and distinguish that from his personal beliefs… Probably he’s a maniac with his religion, but hating on assumptions is really the lowest a human can go… One person above called him garbage as a person although I bet that she only knows him from YouTube interviews and National Inquirier shit articles…. How the fuck can I rely to a person like that and start hating a guy because he is part of something I assume it’s bad and other assume that the assumption might be true… Wake up, trolls and DO BETTER

  • Barstool Blues

    He makes entertaining movies…that’s all I care about. Besides, I have no sympathy for these stupid people that fall for this scientology crap…in fact, I wish I could get a scam like this going too.

  • Shrike

    Using your logic Christianity should be banned for destroying civilizations across continents. Pope supposedly supported Nazis till he realized that Hitler”s real agenda was not extermination of the hated jews, but world domination under a borrowed , bastardized symbol of Swastika.
    Islam was the primemover behind slave trading in North Africa and Asia in the middle ages.
    Religions across the world in all ages have been used as a tool to oppress mankind.
    Scientology is no different, Some people have delusions of grandeur. They think they have right idea about GOD.
    Who the fuck has seen god?
    Nobody, Neither jesus the m*ther fcker nor Mohammad the paedo.
    Religions are nothing but a tool to control people thereby economy and politics.

    • vijay kumar

      Your ma bahen are fuuking beech bazaar and you are commenting here.

      • Shrike

        You might be making a living pimping your maa bahen to bearded mullahs.
        But, We hindus like you mullahs and xtians dont’t condone baachbaazi and incest.

Author

Rae Alexandra

Rae Alexandra is a freelance writer for KQED Pop. Born and raised in Wales, she has written about punk and hardcore for magazines like Kerrang!, Rock Sound and Revolver; indie and pop music for JustinTimberlake.com; and a little bit of everything for SF Weekly and The Village Voice. She holds a postgraduate diploma in Magazine Journalism from the University of Wales and regularly destroys your favorite movies from the 1980s at MovieRuiner.com.

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