Hard News by Russell Brown

Scientology is retarded

Has TV3 felt the pain of Catholic anger after all? And will the Church of Scientology be next? Rick Friesen insisted yesterday that the broadcaster's apology and undertaking not to screen the 'Bloody Mary' episode of South Park again was not was about ratings or money, but "the genuine offence that we have caused to people that we had not expected." Huh?

TV3's claim to have "reviewed our internal processes for dealing with religious programmes, particularly in relation to religious satire," is a bit bizarre too. It wasn't an internal process, it was a public stance; one it appears to now have reversed.

The background here gets interesting. Months ago, Comedy Central also dropped 'Bloody Mary' from its re-run schedule, an action that earned footnotes rather than news headlines. There has been rather more of a new storm about it doing the same thing with 'Trapped in the Closet', an episode that featured Tom Cruise and borrowed narrative elements from R Kelly's infamous song cycle to highlight the absurdity of Scientology doctrine. If you're familiar with the various strands of popular culture involved, you might well find it screamingly funny. I know I did.

Comedy Central's action follows a public statement by Isaac Hayes, the voice of Chef, announcing his departure on account of the show's disrespectful treatment of Scientology, to which he subscribes. But the smarter money is on the motive being pressure applied by Cruise: did he threaten to refuse to do publicity on a movie in which Comedy Central's owner, Viacom, has an interest?

The irony is that Comedy Central hasn't exactly skulked off to a corner over this one. Matt Stone and Trey Parker have responded to events with an episode called 'The Return of Chef', which is nicely summed up here.

The entire plot line of this episode is an obvious stab at Isaac Hayes's recent departure and against Scientology in general. Using pre-recorded audio clips, they dubbed over Chef's voice to make him say horrible things about molesting children, which the boys discover is the result of Chef having joined some "fruity little club." It even goes so far as to have the club leader explain why they believe in molesting children, an explanation which in it of itself is a reference to the show's explanation of Scientology in the episode "Trapped in the Closet." (The same episode that caused Isaac Hayes to leave the show in the first place.)

I watched 'The Return of Chef' last night. It's wildly offensive, both in general and more particularly to the Church of Scientology itself. It is also, as is the way of Stone and Parker, thoughtful and even touching.

At one point, the Super Adventure Club's Head Adventurer William P. Connelly Esq explains to the kids the Super Adventure club's gospel, which is not dissimilar to the story of Xenu, the founding myth of Scientology written by L. Rob Hubbard in the late 60s:

Kyle: "Do you realise how retarded that sounds?

Connelly: "Is it any more retarded than the idea of God sending his son to die for our sins? Is it any more retarded than Buddha sitting beneath a tree for 20 years?"

Kyle: "Yeah. It's way, way more retarded."

Stone and Parker seem to think so too. I don't happen to believe in the founding myths of the major religions (and there's a decent case for saying Jesus never existed as a single individual), but at least they have some stature and grace. Scientology's story is just astonishingly bad science fiction.

Anyway, if you like to keep up with cultural controversy in real time, there are good torrents for Trapped in the Closet and The Return of Chef. You can't really watch one without the other. They're in Real format, so the files are relatively small.

The full Brash interview from 95bFM yesterday is up online. I did hear right: he described the prosectutions of his MPs Shane Ardern and Nick Smith as "spurious and rather trivial". He might have a point with Ardern - but Smith? Feel free to have another look at what he did and what the court thought of his evidence under oath.

Brash also claimed, absurdly, that Parliament was in the process of amending the laws on reporting on the Family Court in a way that would have made Nick Smith's actions legal. Parliament subsequently did, indeed, open the Family Court to reporting under clear and careful conditions. It most certainly did not change the law to allow MPs to make pressuring phone calls to litigants and attempt to influence decisions by making wild and inflammatory public statements about cases in progress.

Brash needs to calm down. Lawyer and Public Address reader Anthony Trenwith thinks so too:

Clearly Don Brash should at least try to learn something about contempt of court. It takes a fair bit of doing to be held in contempt for a start - it's not something you can really do inadvertently (or at least not do and be proceeded against for).

Also, the police have nothing to do with contempt of court. The "charge" is actually brought by the Solicitor-General - an independent civil servant. Of course, as any politician knows, the facts should never be allowed to get in the way of a decent story!

Wheat really irks me though is the use of the term "prima facie case" in relation to the police decision to prosecute. Properly (with jury trials at least) it's not the police's call to decide if there's a prima facie case, that's the purpose of a depositions hearing. Even in summary jurisdiction, a decision to prosecute means very little on an evidentiary level.

The charge can still be withdrawn by police prosecutions (a quasi-separate entity from the rest of the thin blue line with their own hierarchy) who can (and do) make their own decisions about whether or not to proceed with a case.

I do wish that our MPs would grow up and at least try not to act like a bunch of 10 year olds. The police made their decision - end of story. If it really gets up Brash's skirt that much then he should feel free to take a private prosecution against every single member of the Labour caucus!

Helen Clark probably needs to calm down too. Given the disgraceful nonsense Investigate magazine has published about her alleged personal life, she has every right to consider Ian Wishart a "creep". I'd personally be tempted towards saying or doing more than that if it happened to me. But, of course, the moment she says so, Wishart becomes the injured party.

Anyway, a couple more thoughts on the Ponsonby Road shunt, as covered yesterday. Craig Ranapia asks, justifiably, why it took the PM's office six weeks to come up with a minimum-possible written answer to Rodney Hide's question. Were they just trying to piss him off? Or, as another tipster suggested to me yesterday, is the real story that official drivers have been involved in more than one minor traffic whoopsie? So was a matter of, so to speak, a right old bunch of shunts?

Whatever. I hope the voters of Epsom feel well-served by Hide's latest diversion, because it seems his own party is getting pretty fed up with the muck-raking.

And finally, here's something we don't usually see. New Zealand-born mathematician Professor Vaughan Jones, recipient of his discipline's top gong, the Fields Medal (and a Distinguished Companion of the Order of New Zealand), is back here from Berkley and giving lectures at the Auckland and Palmerston North campuses of Massey University next week.

Jones is reckoned to be a brilliant, informal lecturer and the events have been mounted by the Institute of Fundamental Sciences at Massey as part of its mission to bring science to the general public. His lecture, Romancing the Commutator, being the tale, from prehistory to the twenty first century, of the stormy relationship between PQ and QP apparently incorporates sex, envy, Descartes and rugby football. (Jones famously wore an All Black jersey when he accepted his Fields Medal.)

The Auckland leg is at LT300 at the Massey campus in Albany, 6pm, on Monday. I was going to flick some invites to Public Address readers, but arrangements have changed and you can just bowl up on the night. It's free. More details here. He'll also deliver the lecture at the Palmy campus on the 30th.

PS: Harmeet Sooden. Armed rescue - or face-saving cover story for a negotiated settlement? I'm inclining towards the latter, given that the rescue team was able to stroll into a house where the only occupants were the hostages. Where were the bad guys? Had they popped down to the dairy for fags and a pint of milk?