Sunday, May 20, 2007

'A Hammer to crack some nuts? - A.A. Gill on Panorama in today's Sunday Times

What on earth came over Panorama (Monday, BBC1)? For as long as anyone under 30 can remember, it’s been choosing the dullest, worthiest subjects – malfeasance in northern planning departments, bad grammar on multilingual NHS brochures. But all of a sudden this week it chose to take on the Scientologists, the most ornery, touchy, vindictive spiritual movement since the Spanish Inquisition. Scientologists bear grudges. They hate it when people use the c-word, so when John Sweeney called them a c**t (I’m not going to write it – I don’t want them after me; they can all be huge c**ts, for all I care), they went spare. It was their overreaction that made the programme, which is a lesson for anyone who wants to retaliate on screen. You will always come off looking worse. For all their media sophistication, the Scientologists don’t understand the first thing about appearing in front of a camera. If they’d said and done nothing, this programme would have been just another Panorama, a liberal-agnostic sneer.

Scientology is no more bonkers than believing in thousands of gods, some of whom have eight arms or elephants’ heads. In fact, it’s no dafter than the metaphysics of anyone’s spiritual belief. They’re not suicide bombers; they’re not circumcising women; they’re not burning nonbelievers out of their houses. The reason Panorama was so fired up about Scientology is that it’s rich and American and attracts celebrities. If its followers were poor, black and anonymous, they’d never have shot a foot of film.

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