Thursday, 25 September 2014


[29] While reflecting on the relationship between celebrities and politics, sociologists David S. Meyer and Joshua Gamson concluded, "[t]he resources that celebrities bring to bear in social movement struggles do not generally include citizen education or detailed political analysis" (Meyer and Gamson 1995, 202). In essence, few celebrities have the educational and political skills that would allow them to do sustained, in-depth and nuanced presentations. Certainly this conclusion gains support from reading a CSCE transcript in which the Scientology celebrities floundered for answers to members of Congress about why Germany appeared to be so hostile to that particular group (Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe 1997, 16-17).[x]
[30] If we can overlook these floundering responses, and if we put aside the unsuccessful campaign that attempted to link the condition of contemporary German Scientologists with pre-war German Jews, then observers of Washington politics must give credit to the partial effectiveness of Scientology’s negotiation and celebrity lobbying efforts. Its negotiation of an IRS settlement has proven enormously valuable to the organization’s image, and it is doubtful that Scientology’s stars would have gained access to governmental elites without it. With that charitable status in place, Scientology and its celebrities apparently applied pressure on the Department of State, gained access to key State Department officials, motivated the U.S. Trade Representative (with Sonny Bono’s assistance) to undertake a key copyright issue with Sweden (Bardach 1999, 91; Heintz 1997), won key congressional members to its causes, and even gained entry into the Clinton White House. Taken together, these achievements bespeak an organization that had learned how to make Washington listen.
[31] While some Hollywood celebrities gain political access through their financial contributions, only a few prominent Scientologists show up on politicians’ lists as major contributors. For example, Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman-perhaps Hollywood’s highest-profile Scientology couple until their recent divorce proceedings cast her commitment in doubt-contributed $58,000 to various Democratic causes, including $14,000 to Hilary Clinton’s successful Senatorial campaign (von Rimscha 2000). Scientologist Mimi Rogers attended a $5,000-a-person dinner/fund-raiser for Clinton in September 1998 (Weinraub 1998), and Travolta introduced President Clinton at a $25,000-a-plate fundraiser in August 2000 (Kennedy 2000:2). An inside-the-beltway Washington lawyer and Scientologist, John Coale, donated at least $30,000 to various Democratic causes, "including the Democratic National Committee and Vice President Al Gore’s political action committee" (Jacoby 1998:5; Hess 1999, 74). He and his wife (CNN legal commentator, lawyer, and Scientologist Greta Van Susteren) attended a state dinner for the Italian Prime Minister, and Van Susteren sat next to First Lady Hilary Clinton (Jacoby 1998, 5). No evidence, exists, however, that Cruise, Rogers, Coale, or Van Susteren have tried to transform their financial clout and contacts into Scientology lobbying opportunities. More interesting is that fact that, all on the same day (July 2, 1998), ten prominent Scientologists donated a total of $7,400 to Congressman Benjamin A. Gilman’s coffer-three months before he signed on as a co-sponsor to Matt Salmon’s House of Representatives bill that was critical of Germany’s protection of religious freedom (see The Center for Responsive Politics 1999). Financial interests, however, may be a factor that helps to explain the Scientology celebrities’ access.
[32] Not only does the Department of State have a mandate to monitor human rights (including religious human rights) issues in countries around the world, it also seeks to protect American financial interests abroad. Seen in this context, Germany’s firm stand against Scientology combined religious human rights concerns with financial protection of America’s major export-entertainment. Corea caught the ear of politicians and State Department officials with his claims of financial loss due to the cancellation of German shows, and Travolta (along with fellow Scientologist Cruise) had been the subject of a movie boycott. Hayes had not ‘suffered’ at the hands of German officials, but perhaps Scientology officials thought that his status as a visible minority (an African-American) gave him a platform to discuss alleged discrimination. In any case, the withdrawal of state funding for Corea and the (albeit failed) boycott of a Travolta movie gave the stars issues in which they could "legitimately claim standing or stake" (Meyer and Gamson 1995, 201).
[33] Finally, worth remembering is that members of Congress and the State Department grew up with these Hollywood personalities. Travolta has been a presence in the American pop culture scene since the 1970s, starring in numerous television and movie roles with a rejuvenated career in the 1990s. Hayes’s major musical hit, "Shaft," is instantly recognizable and still receives occasional radio airtime, and Corea has been making music for decades. For a generation of Americans who have grown up with television and radio, these three celebrities are familiar figures who, in various ways, have been in people’s lives for a long time. Indeed, some baby-boomers associate them with crucial moments in their own young adult lives. Because of this pop-culture, media-generated notoriety, it is not surprising that Americans-specifically American politicians and government officials-would give them special access. Indeed, Scientology officials count on them doing so, and thus far the actions of D.C. decision-makers have proven them right.
[34] On a practical level, perhaps the most significant question that this article generates is whether the influence of Scientology’s celebrities was indeed part of a larger pattern of accessibility that Hollywood experienced because of systemic predilections involving media, money, and political power in the American political system, or instead was a temporary window of opportunity fostered by the social climate of the Clinton administration. Cultural studies theorists who view celebrities and politicians as constructing "public subjectivities to house the popular will" (Marshall 1997, 204) undoubtedly see the infusion of celebrities into politics as a reality of post-modern life. In, however, the post-9/11 realities of a nervous America led by George W. Bush, one cultural commentator reflects, "[t]he whole fusion thing [between Hollywood and Washington] seems dated suddenly.... [W]hat the public wants now are supercompetent technocrats with no discernible private lives who sublimate their libidos by plotting strategy instead of parading them on cable [television]" [Kirn 2002, 12]). For many people, world events may have become more gripping than entertainment, so celebrities may find fewer politicians and smaller audiences for their opinions on pressing issues of the day.
[i] By "cultural elites" I mean people whose relationships to various media give them significant impact upon societies and/or cultures, especially in areas involving styles, tastes, and entertainment.
[ii] The best known celebrity among American federal politicians was Ronald Reagan, and a celebrity-turned-politician who had taken Scientology courses and remained a supporter of some of its causes was the late Congressman Sonny Bono [Bardach 1999, 90-92])
[iii] Resource mobilization theory identifies the ways in which organizations acquire and utilize a wide variety of assets (such as time, wealth, talent, labour etc.) in efforts to reach their goals while depriving their opponents of them. By the late 1970s it has usurped relative deprivation as the dominant paradigm for interpreting social movements. In recent years, new social movement theory has been among its most vocal challengers, yet some researchers have moved resource mobilization theory into areas such as Internet battles (Peckham 1998)and globalization (Kent 1999a; 2001c).
[iv] Most of this material is housed in a research collection that I oversee, although a great deal of it is available on the Internet.
[v] In secret committee negotiations that transpired over two years and that operated "outside of normal agency procedures," Scientologists and IRS officials reached an agreement that granted the organization tax-exempt status after the organization agreed to pay $12.5 million for unspecified reasons to the federal government, and Scientology agreed to drop 2300 lawsuits that its members had launched against the revenue department (International Association of Scientologists, [1994?]). These and other aspects of the agreement, which undermined a string of court decisions against Scientology’s tax exemption efforts, remained confidential until The Wall Street Journal posted a leaked version of the document on the Internet (Franz 1997; MacDonald 1997).
[vi] Some North American scholars see Germany’s position differently. Two Canadian authors explain German hostility toward Scientology as the result of a "lack of empirical research coupled with hasty theological judgements based on limited texts" interpreted by church-affiliated anti-cultists who often enjoy special relationships with the state (Hexham and Poewe,1999, 210, 222). Taking a different approach, an American law student argued, "the majority of Germans perceive Scientology as not fitting traditional religious norms and as perhaps unworthy of protection" (Moseley 1997, 1169).
[vii] It is difficult to obtain information about the results of Scientology’s Albanian efforts, although one source indicates that Albania banned Scientology "in the wake of a corruption scandal" (Morvant 1996).
[viii] RPFs operate in and on Scientology property in at least three California locations, plus at locations in Clearwater (Florida), Copenhagen, East Grinstead (West Sussex, England), and Australia.
[ix] Important to note is that, within Scientology, all three entertainers are "Honorary LRH [L. Ron Hubbard] Public Relations Officers" whose goals involve the propagation of Scientology information and image. (See the list attached to Anderson 1980, 1, 3; Church of Scientology International 1994).
[x] When, for example, Corea responded to a question about apparent German hostility to Scientology, his interpretation of its cause was, "We’re dealing with incredible, weird, wild emotions" (Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe 1997, 17).

Clinton helped Scientology?

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