Narcissism and exploitation: how John Travolta was discarded when his movie flopped

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(Update) (Update II)

Former top Scientology executive Marty Rathbun testifies to some remarkable inside information about the makings of the 2000 mega-flop Battlefield Earth in this interview with Mark Bunker [below]. We knew the movie was based on a sci-fi novel by L. Ron Hubbard, the founder of Scientology, and that it was a pet project by John Travolta – himself a long time Scientologist. We also knew the movie flopped in almost every category and is widely considered to be one of the worst movies of all time (though I’d still say it’s a decent B-movie). We didn’t know, however, about the close involvement of David Miscavige, the current leader of Scientology.

According to Rathbun, Miscavige micro-managed the entire production and provided day-to-day instructions to the production team. More interestingly, Miscavige was so ecstatic about the result after a pre-release screening that he called Travolta up right afterwards and praised him lavishly for making a great deed for Scientology, that “the old man” (Hubbard) would have been be proud etc.

Then within days of its release, the movie flopped. How did Miscavige react to this? By defending its greatness? By admitting to faults in his personal involvement? No, says Rathbun, as soon as the failure was a fact, Miscavige immediately distanced himself from it. As if he’d had nothing to do with it. Instead Miscavige invented a narrative where it was all Travolta’s fault; because what killed the movie was its “cheesy” special effects, and this was due to Travolta taking too much salary. Travolta fell completely out favor and was humiliated and derided behind his back by Miscavige.

Before commenting further on this, it should be noted that the source, Marty Rathbun, has a complex history in- and outside of the church. He himself used to be one of the top, most hardcore executives within Scientology, before defecting and co-founding the “independent” movement of former church members who still practice Scientology.

Rathbun’s interview (he also speaks about it here):

There are several aspects of narcissism going on here. Perhaps the most obvious one is Miscavige’s unscrupulous exploitation of John Travolta. As long as Travolta was seen as an asset – to Scientology and indirectly to Miscavige himself – Miscavige hailed him to the skies (idealization). But then as the movie flopped, Miscavige immediately discarded him (devaluation). Narcissists don’t see other poeple as human beings with real personalities and emotions, but as extensions of themselves – as sources of supply for their narcissism. The moment a person seizes to be an adequate source of narcissistic supply he by all practical means seizes to exist to the narcissist. He is discarded, forgotten and replaced with a new source.

Another aspect is the way Miscavige distances himself from the movie fiasco despite clearly being involved with it (“for months”, according to Rathbun). One would think that a backstop of cognitive dissonance would force most normal people to face internally at least some of the fallout from such a personal failure. But for a narcissist, blame is impossible because he is by design faultless. Narcissists operate through a split persona – a False Self – which is special, perfect and can do no wrong. Blame is therefore either unwarranted, or deflected away – to the accuser or to someone else (Travolta). This is called blameshifting.

Sam Vaknin theorizes that the narcissist’s unwillingness to accept blame goes even further: that whatever he’s blamed for was the making not really by him – but by his False Self. Because even though his False Self dominates him and subjugates his True Self, it is still an alien part of him. And since he is not in control of his own actions, he cannot be blamed and may detach from them at will.

Vaknin puts it this way (emphasis added):

The narcissist just does not know what he’s doing. Divorced from his true self and unable to emphasize and understand what it’s like to be someone else […] the narcissist is in a constant dream-like state. He experiences his life like a movie autonomously unfolding, guided by a sublime or even divine director. The narcissist is a mere spectator. Mildly interested, greatly entertained at times – but a spectator. He does not feel that he owns his life and his actions. The narcissist therefore emotionally cannot understand why he should be punished. And when he is, he feels grossly wronged.

***

There are numerous other instances where people, including high executives (even entire portions of Scientology’s upper management) within Scientology has fallen out of favor and simply disappeared from the public eye – seemingly discarded – at the hands of Miscavige. One destination for these “unpersons” is The Hole, which is a Gulag prison-like facility at a LA-based Scientology base. Here people are put away for years for harsh interrogations and correction under abominable conditions (“handling” in Orwellian Scientology jargon).

Even Miscavige’s own wife Shelly is one of those disappeared persons and hasn’t been seen in public since 2007. Her absence was actually at center in the recent defection by actress Leah Remini, who dared ask questions about her whereabouts. There’s even rumors that the church is about to “trot her out” to kill off speculations about her that started because of this. Just bizarre.

In a comment to yet another, recent story about the passing of a writer for one of Scientology’s propaganda magazines – Freedom Magazine – former church member and outspoken critic Jefferson Hawkins puts it in this dark but precise way:

A sad story. But don’t expect a glowing obituary in Freedom Magazine. Scientology uses and discards people, and when they die, they are ignored and erased. Veteran Sea Org Members, when they get old or ill, are simply shunted off to some low-rent fleabag senior center or offloaded to their families. Sea Org members who die are simply erased from history and forgotten. […]

Update: For a satirical angle on the subject I recommend this “Shelly Miscavige is NOT missing! “ campaign staged on (as it looks) Hollywood Blvd by two “Sea Org” members…

Update II: Mike Rinder (who worked closely with David Miscavige for years) has written a piece about how associates to Miscavige inevitably become cowed and/or ill. He also compiles an eerie list of top Scientology executive who’ve disappeared one way over the other over the years — basically the who’s who of Scientology management for the last 2+ decades:

where-are-they-now

It should be noted also that even though “the Hole” mentioned earlier is a somewhat extreme manifestation (seemingly invented by Miscavige), punishment and abuse is very much a feature of Scientology that Hubbard himself put into place. For instance, there’s the RPFRehabilitation Project Force – a harsh program where underachieving or disobedient Sea Org members are put pseudo-voluntarily to “rehabilitate” through hard manual labor under social isolation. Ordinary practitioners, even celebrities, who question authority or speak critically are interrogated and forced to confessions through “security checking”, which can go on for months and cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. There’s testimony that abuse were common from early on even under Hubbard’s direct supervision.

Overall there’s ample reason to believe that Hubbard were as malignantly narcissistic as Miscavige is. Put another way; Scientology seems to be designed for the likes of Miscavige to thrive and to be able to rise to power. He is a feature of the organization, not a bug. A feature that likely will lead to its collapse.

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“Don’t use social media for serious issues” and the rise of self-censorship

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I suppose there are different ways to react when it comes to the newly leaked (though unsurprising) world wide surveillance programs by the NSA. One can, for instance, protest it by asserting fundamental rights to privacy and free speech, or reject the red herring pretexts of “security”, or remind people that indiscriminate, unchecked governmental surveillance is destined for abuse and corruption, etc. Or, as Anne-Marie Eklund Löwinder proposes in the DN article “Don’t use social media for serious issues”, we should simply submit to the realities of this Brave New World and limit our online social outings to lightweight subjects like “choice of breakfast” and “pictures of cats” [translated]:

According to Anne-Marie Eklund Löwinder one should be self-critical about what stories to share. To say what you’ve had for breakfast, that you’ve taken a walk, or to post pictures of your cat is fairly innocent.
– That’s about the level you should limit yourself to. Social media is not to be used for more serious issues, she says.

And even though what you post might be legal now, who knows what will happen later:

– Today we live in a democratic society, but that can change and what you do might become illegal. […] The point is that everythings that is used can also be abused. The lesser information there is stored about you and what you do, the lesser the risk for abuse.

The logic behind Löwinder’s advice seems to be that in order to avoid repercussions for one’s opinions – or even future hypothetical criminality – we should render ourselves irrelevant by sticking to trivialities. If this self-capitulating mentality doesn’t froth the mouths of the totalitarian surveillance state architects then nothing will. Who needs big, noisy dictatorships when the citizenry is already self-monitoring and self-censoring?

This also illustrates the process by which surveillance becomes self-perpetuating. The NSA could possess all the resources in the world; surveilling everyone all the time still wouldn’t be plausible. The trick instead is to instill in people a fear of being monitored, since this will cause the individual to monitor herself. Hereby surveillance transforms from a technical to an organic modus operandi, from being imposed to being incepted.

Hollywood actor Jason Beghe used the phrase “It’s a put yourself in jail type of thing” in his lengthy 2008 interview about his time in Scientology. In it, he lays out in great detail what lured him to the cult-like organization, the mental breakdown he faced while staying and the hardships of leaving. One of recurrent themes in his testimony is how he made himself stay, despite getting worse and worse by the practices. He ponders:

If I’m trying to enslave somebody, the last thing I want to do is have to worry about fucking keeping the key in the lock, and you know, the best trap is the kind that will keep himself in jail.

In the case of Scientology, part of the reason people stay is its culture where parishioners are constantly indoctrination to believe that they are to blame for any setback, failure or lack of personal or organizational gain. It’s never Scientology’s fault, it’s your own fault. You need to sort your own issues out. You need to change because the technology is perfect. It is an oppressive and subjugating structure by design.

This game of blameshifting ties in to the notion that it’s somehow the surveillance victim who is expected to take measures and impose self-censorship. Though doing so may still be a rational decision, advocating it under any other premise than extreme measures to draconian circumstances is irresponsible and subjugates the victim under the surveillance apparatus.

I do think Löwinder in general makes a correct observation, but is then diametrically wrong in her solution. We as citizens should indeed stay well aware about the implications and dangers of data collection and surveillance, whether by government or by private companies. But the solution certainly isn’t to restrain expression – but to defend our liberties, demand checks and balances and stay vigilant of abuses of power. And, most importantly, to keep mixing up the everyday postings about cats or coffee foam with the hard, important issues.

DN
The Guardian: SA collecting phone records of millions of Verizon customers daily
Atlantic: 71% of Facebook Users Engage in ‘Self-Censorship’

Narcissistic paranoia: Scientology leader David Miscavige at secretive church opening in Portland

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(Update)(Update II)

The narcissist’s grandiose persona is a counter-reaction to his inner insecurity and emptiness. His fears of being exposed for what he subconsciously perceives himself to really be – a loser and a fraud – makes the narcissist paranoid. The paranoia tends to escalate over time as people around the narcissist inevitable abandon him due to his selfish and exploitative nature, fueling (affirming) his perception of people as inherently hostile and unreliable. To retain his grip of his narcissistic supply — loyal followers (personal cult), positions etc — the narcissist becomes increasingly desperate and demanding, which, of course, just acts to perpetuate the cycle and leave him ever more isolated and unhinged from reality.

All of this is on spectacular display in the case of David Miscavige, the leader of Scientology. Ever since he couped his way to power in the 80’s, he’s been ruling the secretive church with iron fist. The man who was outmaneuvered by Miscavige for the leadership position fled the organization and was pursued by private investigators, reporting directly to Miscavige, for two decades. Former top executive Marty Rathbun was subject to a bizarre gang of “Squirrel Busters” sent out to harass him into silence. Mike Rinder, a former spokesperson of the church, was physically abused on a regular basis by Miscavige (violence is a classic trick for narcissists to impose subjugation) and has been smeared ever since he left. It’s all manifestations of Mascavige’s paranoid chase after his inner demons.

Just yesterday Scientology had a grand opening of a new church building, an Ideal Org, in downtown Portland. One would think such an event would be a great PR-opportunity for them to put out on as big public display as possible. Well, apparently not. Mark “Wise Beard Man” Bunker, a long time Scientology critic, tried to make a recording of the event from a balcony across the street, but was tracked down and eventually forced to leave after Scientology harassed the owner of the building he stayed in. All this effort to obstruct some perfectly peaceful documentation (Bunker obviously had no intention to disrupt in any way) of an event the Church splashes out as a well-attended, triumphant success just one day later anyway.

Mike Rinder, the aforementioned former Church spokesperson who is now a vocal critic himself, puts it this way:

You can sort of understand that a movie studio may not want the key scene of a movie given away many months before it is released to the public. But an event supposedly to “announce the opening of our new facility to SERVICE this community and people from all walks of life” (and believe me, that WILL be in the speech by Miscavige and probably by the other “officials” they conned into taking the stage with the Chairman of the Blind).

[…]

Miscavige is becoming increasingly paranoid that something will put him in direct contact with the outside world. In his mind, anyone could be a protester or internet reader, or worse yet a reporter or OMG — a process server! His world is populated exclusively by sycophants inside his self-created bubble. Anyone seeking to enter his bubble uninvited is seen as a hostile agent trying to destroy his life.

Mark Bunker
Tony Ortega
Mike Rinder

Update: Speaking of inner emptiness, what about this promotional video for a nearby Scientology Org, that features exactly zero people? Three minutes of grand architecture, huge numbers of square feet, nicely lit interior shots of squeaky clean floors and surfaces – but not a single life form. And this is the “science of mental health”…

Update II: Oh my. It seems Scientology photo-shopped some of the Portland event pictures by cut-and-pasting people to the audience to make it seem bigger. Now that’s just sad.

The wonderful bliss of submission

IAS is one of the central organizations of Scientology. A group of Scientologists from Victoria, Australia are so thrilled to be members that they sing, dance, rap and Elvis-impersonate about it.

– All right, all right, they’re good people. But as members of an abusive cult, some ridicule is due. I’m sure Scientologists don’t mind. Oh, wait.

Update. Video down. Not surprising. Scientology is extremely protective of their materials and blocks content everywhere relentlessly. In today’s internet-era however, that’s a losing game. So, to spite their efforts, here are two more brainwash-themed songs. The first one if from nearby — Denmark. The second video is an old Band Aid-inspired Scientology production from 1990. In it, the top exec’s of the time can be seen in several pass-by shots; of which the majority have now left, went missing or become outspoken critics of the church (Marty Rathbun and Mike Rinder, to take two).

Today in cognitive dissonance: Sec of Defense hearings of John Hagel and pledges to Israel

It’s hard to fathom the twilight zone a country is in when this kind of statement is mandatory for a Secretary of Defense nominee in his hearings:

I’ve said that I’m a strong supporter of Israel… I’ve said that we have a special relationship with Israel… Ive never voted against Israel in my career… I’ve been to Israel many times,

Imagine if “Israel” was exchanged with any other country. It would be absurd – as it should be. It’s one thing to stipulate that alliances with foreign countries are rational and beneficial – but a very different one to consider them dogmatic.

It actually resembles cult mentality: obsessive demands for loyalty, suppression of dissent etc. Jim “Jonestown” Jones had public sessions in his congregation where dissidents were forced to confess to their (perceived) sins. David Miscavige, the Scientology leader, had a special building called “the Hole” on a church base in Los Angeles, where people who had fallen out of favor were put for long periods, even years, to be subjected to mass interrogations and confessions under torture-like conditions. It all stems from the paranoia of the leaders – Jones and Miscavige – who were/are pronounced pathological narcissists.

The origins of the dogmas and paranoia in US politics when is comes to Israel is not as easily pinpointed, and certainly not to one single person; but intense, often shadowy influences from the Israel lobby is probably a good place to start.