When the Internet says, “No!”: Scientology *Spontaneously Updated! Awesome!*

15 04 2010

I’m not here to tell you that Scientology is a dangerous, money-hungry cult. I don’t have near enough lawyers to say that (and I’d be putting plenty of hardworking deprogrammers out of jobs). What I can say is that a man named L. Ron Hubbard used material from his science fiction stories as facets of a religion he created himself, so I feel justified writing about him in a blog about “cultural recycling.”

Let me make one thing clear: you have to work pretty hard to piss off the internet. Oh, sure, there are plenty of pissed-off people on the internet, but that’s not the same thing. People on the internet are justifiably pissed off. They live in a world where gory shock pictures lurk around every corner, where every sick sexual fantasy is played out in the flesh, and where Nancy Grace has more than three websites dedicated to information about her. Given this environment, it would be singularly hard to create one issue that simultaneously raises the ire of thousands of anonymous people enough to make them act in concert. So, way to go Scientology, I guess!

Most people aren’t sure whether Scientologists are full-on evil “hood ‘n’ cloak” religious nuts, or run of the mill lawful-neutral “read my pamphlet” religious nuts. This might be a good time to increase your knowledge about Scientology. Why not consult your local library for books on the subject? Ha! Kidding! Just use the internet like a regular person. Check out “Scientology” articles at Wikipedia, and its comedic clone, Encyclopedia Dramatica.

To summarize quickly and in broad strokes: Scientologists are strongarm thugs with technobibles. They take your money, acquire information to blackmail you with, and spent all day suing people who say mean things about them.

In early 2008, Project Chanology was unleashed on an unsuspecting nation. It was when the internet rose up as one, put up a hand and said “nay!” Discussions about religion on the 4chan messageboards resulted in growing anger about Scientology among the commenters there. Moving past standard 4chan battle tactics like DDoS attacks on Scientology websites, the protesters used their version of the nuclear option by actually leaving their houses and organizing. Thousands of people in Guy Fawkes masks (if you don’t already know, please don’t ask me. I can’t explain the whole internet to you in a day) gathered outside Church of Scientology centers nationwide as a form of nonviolent disruption. Since 2008, Project Chanology has definitely changed the discussion around Scientology, and the dust is still settling over the affair.

Given that 4chan attracts a younger crowd, what can we glean about my generation from this strange, spontaneously-conceived event? Well, no matter what your political leanings, I think Project Chanology encapsulates our sensitivity and anger about being manipulated. It often feels like objective truth has evolved into political truth. These protesters were people who spent their formative years in the political (and let’s face it, factual) uncertainty surrounding the war on terror and the wars abroad, a time when all the information available seemed to serve an ideological end. So, I think the fact that Scientology used “humanitarian” rhetoric for private gain resonated with larger feelings of anger about being fed “strategic disinformation.”

Lastly, I think Chanology says that we love our right to free speech. We love data. We want content to be free and plentiful on the internet, and we want to be able to say any tomfool thing we want to on it. We like a world where nobody has the monopoly on communication, where there’s never one single message, where there’s never one single voice. So when the Church of Scientology starts trying to silence dissenters, it just plain rubs us the wrong way.

*UPDATE* So I’m super behind the times and all, but I just found this awesome little documentary (WARNING: SP-SP-SP-SPOOKY STUFF AHEAD. NO JOKE. I FEAR FOR MY LIFE) from the distinguished men and women from YTMND. So I’m in a class called online journalism, right? This link is pretty much a stellar example of the type of thing we talk about all day long. And it’s from a site associated with simple one-off jokes. It makes me feel vastly inferior as a journalist and a human being.




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