Travolta and Alex Gibney’s HBO documentary ‘Going Clear’
Back in the early 2000s we all happily went out and bought Adidas and Nike sports and leisure gear despite a veritable avalanche of journalistic exposès in the media and the attention drawn to the exploitation issue by activist groups such as ‘Team Sweat’ that detailed the horrendous sweatshop conditions workers endured to bring these cool logos to our stores.
In the decades after WWII, to the endless frustration of the allies, Germans continued to deny any knowledge of NAZI atrocities; this in the face of thoroughly documented, photographic evidence taken in Belsen and Buchenwald. We are dumfounded that a radio host, Alex Jones, can maintain that the Sandy Hook atrocity was a hoax, notwithstanding the gut wrenching testimonies of parents and teachers witness to the blood soaked carnage that described the crime scene.
Where cognitive dissonance is manifested as the denial of the existence of human rights abuses and blood crimes and when this is encountered in a friend, political figurehead or media personality it is galling. To those of us who have suffered or seen firsthand abuses meted out, the denial of its existence hurts on a visceral level. It is demeaning. It undermines our sense of self. It fills us with rage and impotent fury.
Film star, John Travolta left many of us speechless following his April 6th interview with Steve Persall in the Tampa Bay Times. A mere six days after the broad public release of what has to be one of the most thoroughly researched documentaries on the controversial Church of Scientology in recent times; Alex Gibney’s documentary for HBO, ‘Going Clear’. Travolta emphatically denied any and all of the claims and allegations made therein. These are claims made by such high profile figures as director Paul Haggis and ‘Chicago PD’ star, the actor Jason Beghe. More astounding yet was the fact he had not seen, and vehemently asserted that he would not watch, the documentary. He stated that he would consider it a crime to do so.
A three second Google search of the term ‘Scientology abuses’ scrolls out a listing that reads like an FBI report on the aftermath of a Mafia crime wave. Would it be a crime for John to sit down and do a bit of Googling?
Travolta cultivates a persona that is part gentleman and part chilled-out-grandfather. I don’t know what he is like behind closed doors but if there is any veracity to the numerous news reports, serendipitous paparazzi shots and damage claims that have been taken against him, then one can only conclude that he is something of a sexual predator.
I cannot take issue with his subjective experience in the Scientology world. I can say that as a man with an enormous public profile, a profile he unfailingly lends to Scientology, that his Church handlers would be inclined to pamper; to shield him from anything that might be jarring or uncomfortable. His Scientology experience is gilded. He is treated like royalty. There are lounges and living quarters kept for his exclusive use on Scientology’s cruise ship, at the Fort Harrison complex in Clearwater and at the striking Arthur Harvey designed Chateau Élysée on Franklin Boulevard in Los Angeles, better known as Celebrity Centre International.
He is enormously wealthy, is John Travolta. A fleet of private jet planes and classic cars are at his disposal twenty-four hours a day. He has a house with his own private airfield and staff that cater to his every whim. I do not begrudge him these luxuries. He lives off the fruits of his industry, one that pays outrageous sums to the anointed ones; the chosen few of mega stardom. It is his consistent, obstinate, uncritical and very public defence of the Scientology Corporation that rankles.
In order to get some perspective on his Tampa Bay Times interview we should contrast his five star Scientology experience with that of the Scientology peasantry. The Sea Org Members and the Scientology staff that man the various delivery centres dotted around the US, Canada, Europe and beyond. Let’s start with ‘Going Clear’ interviewee, former Sea Org member and Travolta handler, Yvonne ‘Spanky’ Taylor. I will recap her interview for the three American non-Scientologists who might have missed the HBO program.
Yvonne was Travolta’s personal assistant. She was a Sea Org member and her duties concerned promotion, PR and publicity. She was also a close friend and confidant of the rising star. Then she got into trouble with her Sea Org bosses. She was assigned to the Sea Org equivalent of Mao’s re-education camps, the notorious RPF, the Rehabilitation Project Force.
The RPF is really a forced labour camp. It is designed to break the individual. It achieves its end by demeaning the prisoner in front of his peers – they wear black boiler suits, must run everywhere in groups, must address anyone outside the RPF as ‘sir’. They eat slops and leftovers from the crew mess hall. They sleep in sheds, garages or basements. These people were in many cases formerly Sea Org members of the highest grades. They were Commanding Officers and public relations luminaries. Now they are forced to do the filthiest of work, cleaning sewers and kitchen grease traps are typical. In the pressure cooker environment that Scientology engenders, self esteem is a prized commodity. With assignment to the RPF you are spat upon by former junior staffers. These former senior executives must even address the cooks as ‘sir’.
The RPFer is policed twenty-four hours a day. They are forbidden contact with the outside world, if there is pressure from concerned friends or family a carefully scripted phone call is allowed. I have witnessed these ‘fair weather’ calls. The RPFer sits squeezed between two burly security guards primed to snatch the phone out of her hands the moment she deviates from the script.
Spanky Taylor’s account of working hard labour shifts of thirty-five hours straight with three hours sleep for weeks on end is typical enough. That she had to endure this while ten weeks pregnant is tantamount to a crime. It took seeing her lice infested, filthy toddler lying in a state of abject neglect in the Sea Org ‘child care’ facility to jolt her out of the zombie-like state the RPF program induced.
John Travolta knew what his dear friend and confidant was enduring. He blamed her, not the Scientology Corporation, for allowing such degradation. While he luxuriated on silk sheets and snuggled under eiderdown quilts, she snatched what sleep she could on damp mattresses. How could this ostensibly kind and caring movie star not act in her defence? To the gentle civilian it is quite simply unconscionable that he left her to rot in that pit of despair.
We have to get inside his head; we have to unpick the mentality that his Scientology training inculcated in him if we are to make sense of this. We must work back from a couple of key tenets bashed into every Scientology recruit before he takes his first steps to enlightenment.
The first being that, in his own words ‘Hubbard is ‘Source’. He is the sole progenitor of ‘man’s only hope’, Scientology technology.
Then the second: “A being is responsible for his own condition”.
These are fundamental and overriding Scientology concepts.
Let’s look at these two principles as they apply to the Scientologist aiming to reach Hubbard’s ultimate goal; Total cause over Matter Energy Space and Time.
Once you take these corner-stone tenets of the Hubbard thought system on board then one must assume that one is doing well only because he is applying Hubbard’s technology correctly to self and to others around him. He is doing something right. This can induce a sense of smug arrogance if one tends toward insecurity – and let’s face it, you would not go near Scientology unless you had serious self esteem issues-. Conversely, if one is doing poorly it produces an inwardly focused state of frantic neurosis. ‘Hubbard cannot be wrong; the tech is perfect. Thus it must be something that I am doing that is causing me to feel bad’.
The Scientology internal policing system – in their lingo ‘Ethics’ – is built around the belief that if you are doing badly then you are withholding, meaning that you are refusing to confess to having done something bad. And the Ethics Officer is going to find out what that naughty thing is. Maybe you masturbated, maybe you stole something. Maybe you had bad thoughts about Hubbard or Chairman of the Board, David Miscavige. Maybe your wife is an SP. Maybe you are gay.
The Scientology ‘Ethics’ department uses these two concepts as a stick to beat the followers with. A typical interview with Scientology ‘Ethics Officer’ always involves a variation of this conversation: ‘Scientology cannot be wrong, you are responsible for your own condition. So you are feeling bad? Well then you are hiding something from us and we are going to find out what it is ’.
When Travolta learned of the horrendous conditions that his friend Yvonne was enduring he cut himself off from her. In his eyes she allowed herself to be degraded. And as far as he was concerned she took a perverse pleasure in her degradation. Contact with her would thus soil him; it would upset the sense of happy disassociation that his Scientology processing engendered. If he stopped and faced up to the depredations she was suffering he would get angry, upset and his progress on Hubbard’s joyful path would be slowed.
Why do you think Scientologists go along with that cruel, heartless policy of disconnection? It is fear and self interest. I spent enough time in the fold to conclude that Scientology makes spineless cowards of people who would be otherwise principled, courageous and self-sacrificing. What kind of perverted life perspective would have a mother cut herself off from her child, a husband denounce his wife or grandchildren vilify their grandparents because they questioned Church scriptures or complained about the treatment of staff?
So, by inference Travolta is selfish, cowardly even. I doubt that he was always that way. But Scientology is about self, it is a twist on Roberts and Tilton’s God awful ‘Prosperity Theology’. Except that Scientology admits to no God but self, and no prophet but Hubbard.
One of the manifold festering sores that the Scientology Corporation has left in its wake is the nightmare that is the Lisa McPherson saga. This young Texan woman was moving up Hubbard’s glittering path to Total Freedom. She had a mental breakdown occasion by the severe psychic stress that Scientology was putting on her in the course of its dangerously intrusive counselling procedures.
A fender-bender on a St. Petersburg main street pushed her over the tipping point into a full psychotic meltdown. She was taken to the psychiatric wing of a Clearwater hospital for observation. Not two hours later a bunch of Scientologists turned up and had her released into ‘Church Care’. Seventeen days later her cockroach ridden, emaciated corpse was delivered to a Clearwater hospital in a Church van.
Scientology money and Machiavellian manoeuvres prevailed over justice in the ensuing legal suit brought against them by the family. But they lost utterly in terms of truth, honesty, humanity and morality.
In Gibney’s HBO documentary there are several clips from an interview with Travolta on the set of ‘Broken Arrow’. He is dressed military fatigues and talks to the camera. He poses the rhetorical question ‘what other religion or philosophy has joy as its basic principle’? He states that Scientology has been beautiful for him. He loves Scientology.
In my estimation, John, Scientology and love are mutually incompatible concepts.