August 9, 1996 in Seven

Scientology Conspiracy Theories Run Rampant Over ‘Phenomenon’

Stephen Whitty San Jose Mercury News
 

It’s a conspiracy.

You may not have been aware of it. You may have thought “Phenomenon” was just another schmaltzy, Spielbergian fantasy.

But it doesn’t take an Oliver Stone to realize that this feel-good/feel-bad soap opera is really a devilishly clever piece of Scientology propaganda.

At least, that’s what recent articles in New York magazine and Entertainment Weekly seem to seriously insist.

Travolta’s powers of healing in the movie? An ability that advanced Scientologists - including Travolta - have claimed. The story’s message of freeing your inner mind and your innate powers? Pure Scientology doctrine.

The film’s distrust of the federal government and the medical establishment? Classic Scientology worries.

This entire hypothesis? Pure media paranoia.

Magazines regularly warn of the Scientology influence in Hollywood and of the “superstars” who follow its doctrines - although, frankly, after you’ve mentioned Travolta, Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman, the names get pretty small.

(I mean, do you really think Hollywood policy is being set by Lisa Marie Presley? Kirstie Alley?)

And what is this influence? Where exactly are the Scientology messages in “Mission: Impossible” and “To Die For”?

Of course, it’s not just Scientology. People regularly search pop culture for any hidden meaning or subversive influence. But where do you stop? How paranoid are you going to get?

You can analyze anything if you want to. “Striptease,” with its dead exotic snake, Eager Beaver bar and line “This is degrading to animals”? Pure PETA propaganda. “Kingpin,” which mocks Amish life and modern lifestyles? A recruiting poster for the Mennonites.

You see how silly it can get.

It’s not as though movies shouldn’t be subject to analysis. If movies are worth watching, they’re worth thinking about. Many movies propound political points of view.

Sure, sometimes those messages are inadvertent. Yet what films say accidentally can be as important as what they say on purpose. What’s left out can be just as important as what’s put in.

(Did you notice, for example, that “Twister” - written by the sometimes reactionary Michael Crichton - did not have a single minority character?)

No, the best audiences are active ones who regularly challenge the assumptions movies ask them to make. Yet these “Phenomenon” analysts sound as silly as the senators who found communist propaganda in “Kitty Foyle” or satanic messages in old KISS albums.

Sure, movies reflect moods and reinforce stereotypes. Of course, cinema - that most emotional of arts - delivers the most powerful messages.

But we’re talking about Hollywood here. We’re talking, for heaven’s sake, about a Disney movie.

And both institutions are about as interested in churning out Dianetics propaganda as they are in losing money.


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