South Park is a show that oscillates between being overly preachy and moralistic, and being incredibly immature and off-color. The truth is that Trey Parker and Matt Stone, the creators of South Park, are both brilliant and horribly immature, which is why they choose their medium carefully, and why it works perfectly. South Park involves 4 boys with foul mouths whose curiosity and bad luck constantly puts them in the middle of inane circumstances for 22 minutes. (Update) A few seasons ago, the show actually started doing story arcs, and, until the 2016 election, they were among the best works of satire of neoliberalism and neoconservativism that I have ever seen. Sadly, they have now abandoned serialization because the election ruined their last arc, and caused them to lose faith in America. But, c’est la vie. (Update of an update) Okay, so, they actually started serializing again, loosely.
“This is what Scientologists actually believe.” With six words, South Park unleashed a small hell. Well, there was also a series of jokes implying that Tom Cruise, John Travolta, and R. Kelly are all secretly gay (primarily the first two, R.Kelly is mostly just insane), but those are secondary.
Trey Parker and Matt Stone (who voice almost every character) are famous for their willingness to assault every belief and every religion. They’ve taken shots at Christians, Jews, Mormons, and even Atheists and Agnostics. Usually, it’s in a pretty fair way, pointing out that there is merit to most of these beliefs, even if there are huge drawbacks to some dogma or forms of practice. Even in the episode with Mormons, in which they literally call the founding of the Mormon religion a giant, stupid lie that only idiots would believe, they still point out that it doesn’t mean Mormons are bad people. In fact, it says that most of them are just friendly, polite, and hardworking, and that if you decide to overlook those qualities to judge them for their beliefs, then you’re the real asshole. But, with Scientology, they really didn’t try to look for a good side. They went for the throat, clamped down, and shook it until it looked completely ridiculous, and then burned the body and peed out the embers.
The plot of Trapped in the Closet is that Stan, one of the four boys, is feeling bored and broke, and thus takes a free “personality test” provided by the church of Scientology. The test says he is depressed, and thus is a perfect candidate for Scientology. They then ask him to pay $240 to take an E-meter test. This test reveals he has absurdly high Thetan levels, so high that he must be the reincarnation of L. Ron Hubbard, the founder of Scientology. Stan is then informed of the “secret history of the universe.”
The story of the secret history of the universe is… Okay, most religions require some sort of heavy level of illogical belief in their founding. Christian, Jew, Buddhist, even Confucian, you have some stuff that sounds weird to every other religion. Scientology’s is only the craziest because it seems like exactly what a B-grade Sci-Fi writer would have created in his spare time. Oh, and because while explaining the story, South Park had to put up the disclaimer “this is what Scientologists actually believe.” It involves alien souls, DC-8 aircrafts, hydrogen bombs, and the great lord Xenu.
After being told of the secret history, Stan is approached for approval by Tom Cruise. Stan inadvertently insults Cruise’s acting, resulting in Tom hiding in his closet. John Travolta comes in to ask him to leave, but also ends up in the closet. Then, Stan tells the church of Scientology that he wants them to help people for free… at which point the current head of the church calls him an idiot and tells him that Scientology is just a giant scam. It was clearly made up in order to get people to give them money and act as a way to avoid taxes through being a church. Stan proceeds to tell the world the truth in a press conference, resulting in the Church threatening to sue him, reflecting the church’s love of litigation. The credits replace all of the names of the cast with “John Smith” and “Jane Smith.”
The fallout from this one episode was much bigger than anyone would have thought. Tom Cruise supposedly ordered this episode to be pulled from the rotation or else he’d stop promoting Mission: Impossible 3, which was produced by Comedy Central’s parent company Viacom. We can’t be sure about that, but the episode was pulled from repeats until after the movie came out. Isaac Hayes, who played the character Chef, definitely left the show over this episode. Whether it was him directly, or the Church of Scientology putting pressure on him, the character of Chef died because of this episode. When Isaac Hayes passed away, the creators put out another episode, further satirizing the church by making up a fake club of pedophiles that brainwashed Chef, then telling their history with “this is what the Super Adventure Club actually believes.” A year after this, Comedy Central and Viacom were STILL dealing with issues getting members of the “church” to participate in projects. Rolling Stone even held an anniversary cover for this episode. Not bad for a cartoon born of fart jokes.
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