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Ten years ago, ‘South Park’ rocked Scientology in a way it’s never recovered from


On November 16, it will be ten years since Comedy Central first aired the South Park episode titled “Trapped in the Closet.” The episode brought to many people their first exposure to the wacky contents of Scientology’s secret Operating Thetan Level Three material, in which founder L. Ron Hubbard explains that each of us is infested with invisible alien souls left over from a genocidal incident that happened 75 million years ago, courtesy of a galactic overlord named Xenu (pictured).

The OT 3 materials had been described publicly as early as 1972 in the book of a former Scientologist, Robert Kaufman. It had also been featured in some newspaper reports and online. But South Park famously put the OT 3 story into cartoon form and on cable television, and it became a huge hit. One of the people partly responsible for that episode was our old friend, journalist Mark Ebner. We asked Ebner to reminisce about that epic event for its big upcoming anniversary…

It has been a decade since Matt Stone and Trey Parker summoned me to South Park Studios to consult with them on what would become their Emmy Award-nominated “Trapped in the Closet” episode of South Park — one of the most effective pop culture blows against Scientology (and Tom Cruise’s ego) to date, perhaps for all time. In one half-hour cartoon, the South Park geniuses managed to break down and fully expose the comically sinister upper-level Scientology cosmology for the next generation. I could not have been more proud of my contribution, which had me walking them through my undercover reporting experience, and contributing the key dialogue bit, “[Scientology] is a global scam.”



Coincidentally, or perhaps deliberately, the “Trapped in the Closet” premiere coincided with Comedy Central’s 10th anniversary, and I’ve been gleefully dining out on my small participation since. Hell, I was even invited by the graduating class of my alma mater (Bard College) to keynote at their Senior Dinner based on my scant South Park connection.

But the real heroes in history are Stone and Parker, their production staff and producers, and most of all, their willingness to ultimately go ass-up against their corporate landlords — Tom Cruise’s home studio and Comedy Central owners, Paramount.

Getting the episode on the air wasn’t easy. I imagine it went something like this…

Stone & Parker: Can we say Tom Cruise is gay?

Standards & Practices: Absolutely not.

Stone & Parker: Can we lock Tom Cruise in a closet he can’t get out of?

Standards & Practices: Absolutely.

The real problems for South Park came with their re-run plans, when Cruise reportedly threatened to halt his publicity efforts on his latest tent-pole movie for Paramount. The studio buckled, and “Trapped in the Closet” was yanked off the air, and pretty much scrubbed from the Internet.

Well, not really.

The infamous episode lives on in sporadic syndication, and on the hard drives of millions.

— Mark Ebner

Thanks, compadre. In fact, more conventional means of seeing the episode do exist. You can watch it on Hulu, for example. The episode really is a classic. After making fun of Scientology in a silly manner, it gets to the OT 3 material and then actually portrays Hubbard’s goofy material accurately, with the onscreen graphic, “This is what Scientologists actually believe.”

As for Cruise, anyone who really seriously covers the man and has good sources knows that the gay rumors are bullshit. As we explained in our story about Mimi Rogers, his first wife, she introduced him to Scientology specifically because she hoped it would “handle” his incorrigible skirt-chasing. After they were married, they didn’t conceive, and that’s when the gay rumors started up. Mimi fueled those rumors when she joked to Playboy that Cruise was “celibate,” an in-joke among those who knew Cruise, but a quote the press has repeated seriously ever since.

Oh well. The idea of Tom stuck in a closet is still as funny as ever, and Mark is right, the cartoon take on Xenu was one of the most significant cultural humiliations that Scientology has ever endured. And we’re super glad that our friend Ebner had his part to play in it.



We didn’t get a chance to include photos in our book, so we’ve posted them at a dedicated page. Reader Sookie put together a complete index and we’re hosting it here on the website. Copies of the paperback version of ‘The Unbreakable Miss Lovely’ are on sale at Amazon. The Kindle edition is also available, and shipping instantly.

Our book tour is concluded for now. We’ll let you know about future appearances. Previous events: Santa Barbara (5/16), Hollywood (5/17), Orange County (5/17), San Diego (5/20), San Francisco (5/22), New York (6/11), Chicago (6/20), Toronto (6/22), Clearwater (6/28), Washington DC (7/12), Hartford (7/14), Denver (7/17), Dallas (7/20), Houston (7/22), San Antonio (7/24), Austin (7/25), Paris (7/29), London (8/4), Boston (8/24), Phoenix (9/15), Cleveland (9/23), Minneapolis (9/24), Portland (9/27), Seattle (9/28), Vancouver BC (9/29), Sydney (10/23), Melbourne (10/25), Adelaide (10/28), Perth (10/30)


Posted by Tony Ortega on November 3, 2015 at 07:00

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Learn about Scientology with our numerous series with experts…

BLOGGING DIANETICS: We read Scientology’s founding text cover to cover with the help of LA attorney and former church member Vance Woodward

UP THE BRIDGE: Claire Headley and Bruce Hines train us as Scientologists

GETTING OUR ETHICS IN: Jefferson Hawkins explains Scientology’s system of justice

SCIENTOLOGY MYTHBUSTING: Historian Jon Atack discusses key Scientology concepts

PZ Myers reads L. Ron Hubbard’s “A History of Man” | Scientology’s Master Spies | Scientology’s Private Dancer
The mystery of the richest Scientologist and his wayward sons | Scientology’s shocking mistreatment of the mentally ill
The Underground Bunker’s Official Theme Song | The Underground Bunker FAQ

Our Guide to Alex Gibney’s film ‘Going Clear,’ and our pages about its principal figures…
Jason Beghe | Tom DeVocht | Sara Goldberg | Paul Haggis | Mark “Marty” Rathbun | Mike Rinder | Spanky Taylor | Hana Whitfield


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