Scientology’s Slick, Stupid Commercial

I’m not one of those people who pays attention to the Super Bowl commercials, but someone told me about the Scientology commercial that aired during the game and I went on Youtube to see it. It was very slickly produced, well thought out and mind-numbingly stupid.


A few things jump out at me, the most obvious of which is how the commercial is designed to play into how everyone likes to view themselves. Everyone, even the dullest among us, likes to think of themselves as “curious” and “inquisitive.” Even those whose most difficult reading is a Penthouse Forum or the graffiti on bar bathroom stall perceive themselves to be “seekers of knowledge.” No matter how much someone goes through life without ever encountering, much less generating, an original thought, they consider themselves a “freethinker.” No matter how safely they stay within the boundaries of polite society, in their eyes they are undoubtedly a “non-confirmist” — even if their greatest act of non-conformity is putting one of those window stickers showing Calvin peeing on something they dislike, like Chevy or a rival college or Democrats, on their pickup truck. Even the lowest wage-slave likes to think of themselves as “powerful beyond measure.”

As HL Mencken wrote long ago:

No man could bring himself to reveal his true character, and, above all, his true limitations as a citizen and a Christian, his true meannesses, his true imbecilities, to his friends, or even to his wife. Honest autobiography is therefore a contradiction in terms: the moment a man considers himself, even in petto, he tries to gild and fresco himself.

It’s smart marketing, built upon a century of techniques that sell products on the basis of exploiting our insecurities and thus our fervent desire to project an image that we have none. Like all those Mountain Dew commercials about how “extreme” you are if you drink it, because in America we like our “rebellion” to be prepackaged and carrying a corporate logo.

The other thing, obviously, is that utterly moronic conclusion: “The only thing that’s true is what’s true for you.” Bullshit. Scientology is false. It’s not only false, it’s a complete and utter fraud, designed to separate the credulous from their money with great efficiency. And that is true no matter how many slickly produced commercials then spend millions of dollars to air.

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  • iknklast

    The other thing, obviously, is that utterly moronic conclusion: “The only thing that’s true is what’s true for you.”

    That sort of thinking has really invaded our classrooms. In my science classes, students will indicate that “it’s true for me”. I don’t buy that. But too many of our teachers are teaching that dynamic that what’s true is what’s true for you.

  • “The only thing that’s true is what’s true for you.”

    Really up-front with their grade-school subjectivism and rejection of reality, aren’t they? Is there an award for unintentional honesty in a commercial?

  • I’ve seen a variation of the commercial that altered only the text at the end to say “Atheism.” In that context, it wasn’t too bad.

  • josephmccauley

    How did I miss that ad during the game? Where do I send my money? Can I book a guest preacher? So many questions!

    I often used to carry a framing hammer in class, telling my students “I haven’t had to use this for a while.” If I heard that “true for you” BS from my kids I may have had to use it.

    (I really can’t believe I missed that gem)

  • This was a Superbowl commercial?! Really? I’m not a follower of sports, I had no idea. I thought I would have heard of this before…Weird

  • Well, I guess it’s a better marketing plan than airing a clip of Miscavige besting the snot out of an underling.

  • thisisaturingtest

    National Enquirer used to* run ads with the “inquiring minds want to know” tag- I guess that made its readers feel better about being nosy-parkers and reading stories about children sired by aliens; probably the same sort of thing here.

    *I say “used to” because I don’t know if they still do- other than during football season, and the occasional Law and Order: SVU marathon, I don’t watch TV (hey, I have a thing for Mariska Hargitay, ok?)

  • Gosh, I don’t know how I missed that. I was in the middle of writing my soon to be on the NYT Best Sellers list self-help book, “Everything I need to know about Sex and Sexualtiy, I learned from Xaviera Hollander!” but still…

    I got roped into going to one of those Scientology front group meetings (it’s been twenty years now and I can’t remember the name) and after about six minutes I knew it was some bullshit Amway style presentation. The person who roped me in (my then girlfriend) said she’d pay for the first part of the course they were offering–I declined her generous offer. I prefer to throw my money away on gambling, drinking and other fun activities.

  • lancifer

    I remember the first time I heard the solipsism “perception is reality”. It was in a business seminar for a hotel chain I worked for in the 1990’s. If taken to mean “be careful to consider things the way that others may interpret them” it is relatively harmless and useful advise.

    But unfortunately some people actually take it literally and use it to justify the most banal and illogical self-delusions. As a physics and math teacher I assure students that their “perceptions” are often completely illusory. Science is the process by which you check “your truth” against reality.

  • Randomfactor

    Like 102 percent of Scientology’s statements, the claim that this is a Superb Owl ad is a sham. The cult bought LOCAL advertising in selected markets during the game and let folks mistake this for a nationally-televised spot.

    They have a training regimen built around how to lie convincingly and with plausible deniability. As for the production values, well, they have their own studios at their desert prison camp.

  • lancifer

    I think Scientology and Christian Science should both be required to change their names due to truth in advertising laws.

  • Sastra

    Yes, we are all rebels. Nobody wants to go against that.

    And yes, the ad makes much more sense if it ends with “Secular Humanism” or “Atheism.” But then I’d think that, wouldn’t I?

    I’m not sure what religion or philosophy would NOT be willing to put its name at the end of this bland commercial filled with glittering generalities and button-pushing deepities. The Catholic Church? Wiccans? Muslims? The Lutherans? No, I think they’d all think they fit the marketing slant. Dare to Think For Yourself.

    It’s the rare sheep who doesn’t at least bleat out that hey, they’re a sheep by choice — a risky, daring, noble choice which doesn’t follow the wolf-pack mentality like everyone else.

  • Glenn E Ross

    Ed sez:

    No matter how much someone goes through life without ever encountering, much less generating, an original thought, they consider themselves a “freethinker.”

    Reminds me of a lunch I had with my fundamentalist minister brother and two twenty-something friends of his. Of course a lot of the conversation had much to do with their fundamentalist beliefs, and not wanting to be rude, I stated that I considered myself a skeptic. I figured that was less confrontational than saying I was an atheist. One of the twenty-somethings said, “I’m a skeptic too.” after spending the previous half hour parroting the normal fundamentalist word salad. Dog knows why, but I just let it go and kept my mouth shut.

  • dugglebogey

    I actually kind of disagree with this.

    Not that Scientology isn’t a scam, of course it is. But no more than any other religion.

    I feel like when Scientology fights to be recognized as a religion they are actually fighting the good fight. In other worlds, shining a light on all other religions that people think deserve some kind of protected or special status. A scam is a scam. Calling it a tithe is still just someone telling you that “God wants you to give 10%.”

    They’re all cults. Scientology is actually slightly more obvious about it than most. While still being completely evil, of course.

  • baal

    @ josephmccauley

    You threaten kids with physical violence?

    fwiw there is a recent book on scientology getting flogged about (Lawrence Wright, Going Clear). I haven’t read it but am thinking I will be.

  • I particularly like how in the second act someone opens a beer and all the ladies magically appear in bikinis with a pool and a party. Go Spuds MacScientology!*


    * This memory of Superbowls past provided by Unreliable Narrator®. Unreliable Narrator®, misremembering history so that you don’t have to.™

  • Reginald Selkirk

    How did I miss that ad during the game? …


    Gosh, I don’t know how I missed that…

    The Scientology ad was only run in limited markets, not nationwide.

  • josephmccauley

    I used to teach a lot of very smart, ambitious high school junior and seniors. Sometimes it was hard to get them to loosen up:

    I’d stand in front of the class, tapping my head with the hammer, waiting for someone to point this out. Silence. “Won’t anyone give me the straight line for this joke?”, I’d plead. More silence.

    “Geez, OK, then…Mr. McCauley, why are you hitting your head with that hammer?”

    “Because it feels so good when I stop!”

    That used to go over like a lead ballon, the poor kids would look at each other with the knowing look that says: “This guy ain’t wrapped too tight.”

    The hammer was a great prop. We used it a lot for real. Sometimes the kids would hide the damn thing when I actually needed it, so that someone would be chosen to go out to my truck and rummage through my toolbox.

    Sneaky little smarties. I loved ’em. Thirty five years wasn’t enough!

  • Michael Heath

    Ed writes:

    ’m not one of those people who pays attention to the Super Bowl commercials . . .

    I am. And in my very subjective opinion, they sucked ass relative to past Super Bowls; with no close seconds.

  • tomh

    There has been a different Scientology commercial running in my area, an ode to L. Ron Hubbard, presenting him as a much-decorated war hero, humanitarian, educator, one of the best-selling authors of all time (I think that one is true), etc, etc. I guess they think it will bring recruits.

  • Heath: I agree — the most memorable Super Bowl ads are always the ones that precede a recession. Y2K — that was the year for great Super Bowl ads!

  • dingojack

    two thoughts,, no three thoughts about this:

    a) Oh noes Moral Relativism !!! eleventy !! Therefore atheism!!!

    b) Scientology is clearly the tool o’ Satan (just ask fundie [read ‘REAL’] christianists).

    c) who the fuck cares? I mean who watches this so called ‘sport’ anyway?

    😉 Dingo

  • stubby

    I’ve seen the same ad tomh mentioned during local news out of Minneapolis.

  • oranje

    @tomh: It’s kind of true, in that same way the right-wingers buy up their own books and then give them away to inflate the numbers. I mean, Ayn Rand is one of the better selling authors of all time, too. It doesn’t mean either of them are any damn good.

  • naturalcynic

    Brian: You must all think for yourselves

    Crowd: Yes, lord, we must all think for ourselves

  • oranje “@tomh: It’s kind of true, in that same way the right-wingers buy up their own books and then give them away to inflate the numbers. I mean, Ayn Rand is one of the better selling authors of all time, too.”

    To be fair, there are a lot of 13 year old, picked-on, mildly sociopathic boys who think the world would work better (perfect! Utopia!) if only it revolved around them. Not that I’d know about that. During that critical period I read Heinlein, which appeals to a totally different kind of, lesser, asshole.*


    * I should note that it’s been decades since I’ve read Heinlein, and I fear his work and his personality have combined into a single mass in my head.

  • marcus

    Modusoperandi @ 26 “* I should note that it’s been decades since I’ve read Heinlein, and I fear his work and his personality have combined into a single mass in my head.”

    Yes, I remember that he somehow made incest and libertarianism interesting in an odd way. Still, I think I read all of his books. Arthur C Clark saved me.

  • aluchko

    It’s surprising that they didn’t run it nationally, it’s a well done commercial and the COS certainly has the money. The only thing I can think of is they were worried about drawing a negative media response with a national commercial, or the national broadcaster just wouldn’t accept the ad.

  • Crudely Wrott

    Arthur C Clark saved me.

    Clarke and Asimov double teamed me at age ten or thereabouts and so represent my co-saviors. I only ran into Heinlein some years later and found him to be a clever devil. Not that I was ever tempted. Oh, no.

    Well, I did have a bit of a crush on Friday for a while. >blush<

    My first real brush with ElRon was during my early thirties when a friend handed me a copy of Battlefield Earth. Having spent twenty some years devouring sci fi, I dug right in. And was immediately bogged down in a morass of repeating scenes and dialogues. I never finished it. Never picked up another of his, either.

  • martinc

    The thing about Heinlein was that he was such a good story-teller that he could insidiously deliver all sorts of ‘sons of Patrick Henry’ rubbish without you noticing. You’d read the breathless exploits of his dashing heroes (and heroines – Heinlein saw the ‘equal opportunity’ writing on the wall a little earlier than most) and find yourself swallowing the dribbles of philosophy alongside it: “Yeah, children carrying guns, good idea!” … (cartoon double-take) …”hey, WTF?!”

    One thing about Heinlein though is that he accepted the implications of the marketplace of ideas, and wasn’t afraid of exposing his philosophy to competition from others. Although he personally loathed the left-wing philosophy and drug-taking ways of Philip K. Dick, he recognized that the younger less successful – at the time – writer had a talent that needed to be allowed out. Many times when Dick got himself into financial problems, Heinlein sent him money.

    I was never as much of a fan of Asimov and Clarke. They simply didn’t have the yarn-spinning power of Heinlein. Heinlein’s stories made you want to be there, to be the hero, to encounter and overcome the problems he faced. His books were ideal to make SF movies from. And some have gone down that road (Starship Troopers, Puppet Masters). But strangely – and I really don’t know why this is the case – the SF writer most likely to have his work turned into a movie has been Philip K. Dick, despite his difficult-to-film themes of reality-vs.-perception. Blade Runner, Minority Report, Total Recall, Paycheck, A Scanner Darkly, Next, Screamers, The Adjustment Bureau, Impostor.

  • dingojack

    In my opinion the difference between the greatest SF writer* and Heinlein, is the former (two) wrote SF, the latter wrote space opera.

    😉 Dingo


    * Either Arthur C Clarke or Isaac Asimov, depending who you were interviewing. If the latter the former, and if the former the latter.

  • Crudely Wrott

    Dingo, you made me chuckle contentedly. You’re good at that, I must say. ;^>

    A trait of Asimov’s that I’ve come to like even though it took a while (I read so much of his works as a young boy; deeper appreciation came later on) is the ability to spin a great detective story and to do so with mostly dialog. For example, his robot stories featuring R. Daneel Olivaw and Elijah Baley feature little descriptive prose. Reading them is like reading a movie script as opposed to reading a screen play. I only wish that they could be made into movies with sparse FX, done in black and white and evoking Daschel Hammet. I think that I’d not be the only one to enjoy that.

    The enjoyable advantage that I discovered was that the images, the screen play, if you will, was my own. Right down to the costumes and makeup and the sets. But then, I was an imaginative youth.

    I also benefited greatly by reading his non fiction. In a nostalgic vein, he well always be the Good Doctor.