Having come to Los Angeles to study Improv and Sketch comedy at the Upright Citizens Brigade, I find myself about three times a week standing right opposite the Scientology Celebrity Centre and eventually felt compelled to do the tour. Looking at the centre, I am fascinated with the seemingly endless ways the human psyche can rupture itself and disrupt society. In addition, over the years I've read as much as I can about cults and serial killers, narcissistic personalities, psychopaths, emotional intelligence, empathy and lack thereof. L Ron Hubbard seemed to have all the traits of a person with, at the very least, some kind of narcissistic personality issue.
The Celebrity Centre, (with a British 're', not Amercian 'er') have tours all day, everyday. Personal tours. I managed to persuade my friend to come with me. A man greeted us at the gate with effusive generosity. He asked for my name and address and my inner strength already started buckling. What would they do with my name, would I be the endless recipient of mail to my address extolling the wonders of Scientology? I asked why and he smilingly said, 'Well you are coming into my church, that seems reasonable'. Of course it's unreasonable but I was intimidated. I could feel my boundaries slipping away in the wake of the majesty of the building, his non-hipster bearded charm and my knowledge about their propensity for litigious harassment that befalls the suppressive person. The suppressive person being anyone that stands in the way of L Ron Hubbard's world view. Sometimes I think if I were held captive by terrorists I'd give away state secrets for a cup of tea and a biscuit. One false name later, 'Smith', really Adrienne? argh... and we are swept into a glorious castle of a building that apparently was once a stately retirement home for Clark Gable, Humphrey Bogart, Bette Davis and other aged movie stars of a bygone era.
Upon arrival we are handed over to a much less intimidating young woman who was perfectly lovely. About twenty five years old, nicely self possessed and attractive, she proceeds to give us a form to fill out wanting more of our personal details. For someone like me, with a fear of authority, I was already negatively beholden, snared and slightly anxious about my inner compass which seemed to be flapping about like a duck. What did I want to learn about? There were so many boxes to tick, we chose two. My friend who initially was totally reluctant was maintaining complete composure and sense of self, whilst I, primed on my daily coffee, was all asunder. Meanwhile my friend asked straight up, 'So what do you think about people who say you are a cult?' We got the stock response, 'You know how the media are, they like to exaggerate and blow all things out proportion'.
We were shown two videos. Introduction to Dianetics and Introduction to Auditing. There was some common sense in there. It's possible we do have imprinted trauma memory that informs our present. It's also possible it can be cleared. Scientology believes a process called auditing with an e-meter will 'clear' these trauma memories and set us on a path to freedom, liberation and wholeness.
My friend and I then took turns on the e-meter with the attractive and self possessed young woman acting as our auditor. The e-meter apparently works like a lie detector and picks up stress when holding the cylindrical electrodes ("cans") that register an electrical impulse which then gets transmitted to the needle. 'Think about something that is bothering you'. My friend went first: she is having an issue with her boss and every time she thought about him the needle went to the extreme right. Then it was my turn. For reasons fortuitous I am not having any concerns of late apart from my immediate concerns about being trapped inside the Scientology Celebrity Centre and the e-meter, did...well... nothing. A flicker. 'What are you thinking about?' she said, I said, 'Well I thought about my family'. No problem there. After much tweaking, twiddling and fiddling of dials she asked me to think of about something again. Before I had a chance to think the needle flung itself about like it was on fire. She was pleased. 'What were you thinking about?' I said I'd not even had a chance to formulate a concern. But the e-meter had found one. Quite clearly I was stressed and in need of some auditing.
I had no intention whatsoever of letting them know I had ever read a book about Scientology, which I have, or even knew a Scientologist, which I did. One of my closest friends and my room mate in our early twenties became a Scientologist in his late twenties and stayed that way for about fifteen years. He was fully committed. Like so many others before him who have a conversion experience, he instantly developed that sense of liberation, with a born again glassy glint in his eye. He was all at once set free and simultaneously psychologically trussed up like a chicken. He called his ex girlfriend in the middle of the night in Australia when he was being 'audited' and doing some 'clearing' of his 'engrams' to ask if they had taken 'real' acid back in the day. She was like, 'I don't know and I don't care. I'm going back to sleep'. He was frantic. He had been told if it was real acid, then he was polluted forever and could never ascend any further.
From there we were taken back downstairs and in the foyer were two book shelves with about sixteen large hard cover books. Each one sporting a photo of L Ron Hubbard on the cover in various guises.
L Ron Hubbard, Sailor, L Ron Hubbard, Philanthropist, L Ron Hubbard, Author, L Ron Hubbard, Engineer, L Ron Hubbard, Mathematician, L Ron Hubbard, Humanitarian, L Ron Hubbard, Adventurer, L Ron Hubbard, Horticulturalist, L Ron Hubbard, Screenwriter, L Ron Hubbard, Artist, L Ron Hubbard, Explorer, L Ron Hubbard, Photographer, L Ron Hubbard, Awesome Guy. Etcetera.
L Ron Hubbard displayed many of the characteristics of a narcissist. He was grandiose, a charmer, a fantasist, boastful, his feelings were easily 'hurt', he raged, and was charismatic. He also followed the predictable cycle of all cult leaders by riding high on his messianic glory followed by rapid collapses into paranoia when challenged, which set him off on his mission to litigate and subsequently isolate himself from society. He was a split self - divided between the 'ideal' and the 'war' he was fighting with the world. Through a cycle of reward and punishment Scientology manages to keep people in and out of favour on an ever revolving wheel of distraction much like Chairman Maos' constant revolutions. One day you are Queen of the Hill the next day you can be in Florida wearing a blue boiler suit, with people instructed not to look at you, scrubbing floors, eating table scraps out of buckets and sleeping on the floor in the bowels of a building.
Of course I imagine it's not quite so unpredictable for the Celebrities that grace the Celebrity Centre. No doubt they are detoxed, audited and cleared on a fast track to an engram free life. Just to the left of the garden exit at the Celebrity Centre is the restaurant where they serve brunch for $12 on Sundays. Now thats more like it. The way to my heart, brain and religious conversion is most definitely through my stomach. So I shall return to partake of their all you can eat $12 buffet and I might even spot a brunching Scientology Celebrity.
'Would you like to smell the most amazing perfume in the world?' says a rather creepy possibly botoxed face which sits askew his skull.
"I'm not sure' I say.
He pulls out a smelly litmus paper and waves it under my nose.
'Don't you want to drive men crazy?' he says.
'Not really, I've had a few crazy men, I didn't like it.'
'Don't you need a new perfume, don't you need a secret weapon, just one day a week, a secret weapon?'
'No' I say. 'I don't think a weapon is the arsenal in which I need to find a man'
'But don't you want to drive men crazy just one day a week with a secret weapon?'
'No' I say sniffing the paper which smells like cheap air freshener. 'I do not want an arsenal of this product as a weapon to make a man crazy. No, thank you'
By this stage I wonder what on earth the perfume is he is trying to flog. I walk over to his counter.
There it is, the glorious weapon that will drive a man crazy.
'Sexual'. Really? Thats the name. Yes. 'Sexual.' Subtle and understated.
Nothing to see or smell here.