Why you should care

Sometimes life imitates art, which imitates life, which consequently threatens to sue art.

After 136 episodes you would think South Park might have run out of material or people to offend or both. But in the midst of the show’s 12th season in 2005, co-creator Trey Parker uncorked a doozy. South Park had poked fun at Scientology before, including a spoof of the 2000 MTV Movie Awards that saw John Travolta arrive in a spaceship in an attempt to recruit Russell Crowe and other slaves from Gladiator into the church.

Naturally South Park’s approach to the issue was not subtle, but it was epic, Operating Thetan Level IV-quality comedy.

But in the episode titled “Trapped in the Closet,” which was nominated for an Emmy and still ranks 17th on TV Guide’s list of TV’s Top 100 Episodes of All Time, Parker chose to parody a phenomenon even more difficult for many people to believe than Scientology itself — that Tom Cruise, one of the church’s most prominent members, is straight. The superstar has married (and divorced) three women and has three children, but questions still abound as to his sexual orientation. Naturally South Park’s approach to the issue was not subtle, but it was epic, Operating Thetan Level IV-quality comedy. When aspiring Scientologist Stan pronounces the visiting Cruise’s acting just “okay,” Cruise locks himself in the boy’s closet.

“Dad, Tom Cruise won’t come out of the closet,” Stan calls to his father. And so the farce begins.

Cue the threats of litigation, the reprisals against Comedy Central’s parent company, Viacom, and Parker and Matt Stone’s facetious press release calling themselves “servants of the dark lord Xenu.” A memo leaked by a former high-ranking Scientologist even details the church’s elaborate surveillance of Parker and Stone, including an attempt to lodge a film-student mole as an intern at South Park. But the most significant fallout from the episode was the departure of an offended Issac Hayes, the voice of Chef on the show and a devoted Scientologist, whose request to pull the episode was refused.

Burnishing yet again South Park’s credentials as an equal opportunity offender.

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