Chicago Tribune | Maureen Ryan
Originally posted: November 16, 2005
Tom Cruise meets Cartman
Think anyone over at "South Park" was nervous about Wednesday's episode of the show, which involved Stan's education about Scientology and visits from cartoon versions of Tom Cruise (who went into Stan's closet and refused to come out) and John Travolta (who joined Cruise in the closet in Stan's bedroom and also refused to come out)?
Maybe. Here was the disclaimer that ran before the Comedy Central show began:
"All characters and events in this show -- even those based on real people -- are entirely fictional. All celebrity voices are impersonated .. poorly. The following program contains coarse language, and due to its content, should not be viewed by anyone."
Sure, there were half a dozen scenes in which members of the media and various characters talked about the fact that the cartoon Cruise just would not come out of the closet (even a visit by Nicole Kidman could not lure him out), but the "South Park" folks were probably most nervous about Stan's Scientology education.
The words "This is what Scientologists actually believe" were plastered on the screen for a couple of minutes, as a long, involved series of supposedly highly secret revelations about Scientology were explained to Stan.
I'd go into all that here, but all the allegedly secret stuff all sounded like plot points from the worst episode of sci-fi TV ever (something about frozen aliens, volcanos and soul catchers in the sky. Actually, wasn't that an episode of "Earth: Final Conflict"?).=A0
But anyhow, "South Park" was funny=A0 (i.e., as amusing as "Family Guy's" recent attack on the FCC). And it featured the second animated appearance of R. Kelly on TV this week (he was on "The Boondocks" on Sunday).
By the way, a PR person for Comedy Central, which is owned by Viacom, told Radar that the network was not nervous about the episode. "If you know South Park, they are free and have been free to satirize anybody and anything they want to," Comedy Central rep Tony Fox told Radar. "They=E2=80=99ve made fun of MTV, they=E2=80=99ve made fun of Viacom, they=E2=80=99ve made fun of Comedy Central, and we=E2=80=99ve never interfered with them."
UPDATE: As several readers pointed out, the disclaimer mentioned above runs before every episode of "South Park." I'd thought it was worded slightly differently on Wednesday, but I was wrong. Thanks to readers for setting me straight.
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Every episode of South Park begins with the disclaimer mentioned in this article.
Posted by: Martin Hollys | Nov 17, 2005 2:23:55 PM
Regarding the "All characters are entirely fictional" disclaimer - it runs before every episode of "South Park", not just this one.
Posted by: South Park fan | Nov 17, 2005 2:25:20 PM
Aha, I thought the part in the disclaimer about celebrities was new, or slightly different. Thanks for setting me straight.
Posted by: Mo Ryan | Nov 17, 2005 2:28:21 PM
Even if South Park didn't run the disclaimer, they would still be free to make fun of anyone they want. Copyright and trademark law grants "fair use" exemptions so that people can satirize anything they want so long as it's for such purposes as commentary, critique, art, humor, etc. That's why SNL can spoof celebrities and commercial products - and you never see a disclaimer in the opening credits.
Of course, there may be issues of slander and libel, but that would apply with or without the disclaimer.
Posted by: South Park Lawya | Nov 17, 2005 2:36:10 PM
The nervousness -- or a very good joke -- came at the tail end of the episode: All the credits were attributed to "John Smith" or "Jane Smith".
Posted by: Mike Lee | Nov 17, 2005 2:40:37 PM
Yes, I was told about the "Smith" thing by a friend, but thanks to the wonders of my TiVo, the show got cut off before end credits were recorded. I didn't mention the "Smith" thing because I didn't see it with my own eyes. But I thought that was pretty funny when I heard about it.
Posted by: Mo Ryan | Nov 17, 2005 2:43:25 PM
Isaac Hayes is reportedly a scientologist, so don't be surprised if Chef isn't around anymore. Perhaps his departure prompted them to make this in the first place.
Posted by: Joe Mama | Nov 17, 2005 2:46:00 PM
I can't tell if you are aware of this or not, but the "worst episode of Sci-Fi TV" stuff IS actually the core belief system of Scientology. It's actually come out court documents over the last couple of decades. They are VERY secretive (with good reason!), and they've copyrighted all of their "religious" texts.
Posted by: Greg M. | Nov 17, 2005 2:59:52 PM
Yeah, I was aware the stuff on "South Park" was all true to the teachings of Scientology. It just all seemed like very bad fiction or TV. I guess I was trying to say, I wouldn't buy that as a "Star Trek" plot, let alone a belief system. But maybe that's just me. To each his own.
Posted by: Mo Ryan | Nov 17, 2005 3:03:26 PM
Didn't see the episode, but "worst episode of Sci-Fi TV" is not surprising. Scientology was, after all, thought up by a Sci-Fi writer.
Posted by: JimW | Nov 17, 2005 3:30:09 PM
The part in which they ran the caption "This is what Scientologists actually believe" is really true. You can read up on it at this URL http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Xenu
The thing that was changed on last night show was the end credits, inwhich every aspect of the show was done by either John Smith or Jane Smith. This ofcoarse followed stan saying "Fine sue me"
Also of interest on how truthful this show was, scientology really does do personality test. If you go to there website at scientology.org you will see on the side a button to click for a free personality test.
Posted by: Adam | Nov 17, 2005 3:34:17 PM
Yes, the disclaimer that said "THIS IS WHAT SCIENTOLOGISTS ACTUALLY BELIEVE" was in fact telling the truth. Like a terrible Star Trek episode.
Posted by: fo realzies | Nov 17, 2005 3:41:53 PM
Regarding the Xenu/Xemu story: It is only revealed to higher 'Operating Thetan' level Scientologists. Your average Scientologist who hasn't spent a good number of years and a good number of dollars with Scientology probably wouldn't know what you're talking about if you mentioned it to them. www.xenu.net
Posted by: Todd | Nov 17, 2005 3:45:51 PM
Awesome episode! As an attorney, I can tell you that S.P. doesn't have to worry about any lawsuits. First of all, "public figures", such as Cruise are fair game for ridicule, etc., just see the Larry Flynt case which inspired an excellent movie.
More importantly, truth is an absolute defense to any slander/libel lawsuit. In the episode, Tom Cruise was actually in a real closet and would not come out.
Sexuality was never mentioned. Based on the actual context of the "get out of the closet(s)," there is nothing wrong with what they did (legally), and again, see the Falwell case on public figures.
Also, if this is what scientologists actually believe (unbelievable, huh), again, truth would be an absolute defense to such a suit.
Finally, there is the embarassment factor - if Scientologists/Tom Cruise want to sue, then they would have to state what they actually believe, which if not exactly what was stated on S.P., is still probably pretty embarassing.
The John/Jane Doe credits were pretty interesting, and of course there is the disclaimer at the beginning of each episode.
Posted by: sal | Nov 17, 2005 4:11:01 PM
The Falwell vs. Flynt case is fascinating. Flynt put this in Hustler: "advertisement "parody" which, among other things, portrayed Falwell as having engaged in a drunken incestuous rendezvous with his mother in an outhouse."
The Supreme Court ruled in Flynt's favor 8-0, with Rehnquist of all people writing the opinion. The basics of the ruling was that Falwell is a public figure and they have to prove a higher standard for libel, and that satirists have a right to "inflict emotional distress" on public figures. The ruling reversed damages against Flynt for emotional distress.
On another angle, South Park disassembled Mormonism a couple of years ago, again by simply telling the truth about how their religion started.
One of the funniest ever!
Posted by: jeff | Nov 17, 2005 6:55:54 PM
Way, waaay off in left field... In the northern end of San Jacinto / Hemet, CA is Golden Era Productions, the movie making arm of Scientology. This is hearsay, but so in keeping with the behavior of [Scientologists], I can't doubt it: Golden Era Productions is not surrounded by, but in the immediate area of, a pretty good number of dairies (fact; major road right through Scientology compound). When Golden Era Productions was first set up there, with all those dairies having been there for years already, one of the first things they did was try to get rid of the dairies, complaining about the smell from all the cows.
Posted by: John Perkins | Nov 17, 2005 8:20:03 PM
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