Book review: Troublemaker, by Leah Remini
I love Scientology. NOT LIKE THAT! I don’t want to get put on some list, like their never-ending mailing list. But I’m obsessed with knowing about this cult masquerading as a religion. I’m a total SP! (That’s Scientololingo for a Suppressive Person, someone who hates on them.) Going Clear is an absolute must-read; in fact, it should be probably be read first.
Like I’ve mentioned before in reviews of books about cults and/or extremist religious beliefs, I’m so drawn to these in part because I have this insatiable need to know 1) what are the gory details of the craziness they buy into, and 2) how and why do they stay in? Scientology is a particularly tough one to get a handle on, which is maybe why it draws me like a magnet.
The average member pays around half a million dollars to an organization that teaches, in all seriousness, that an evil intergalactic warlord named Xenu threw a bunch of people he killed into Hawaii’s volcanos, they blew out and particles of them called thetans landed in us and that’s why we have problems like depression. I’m heavily paraphrasing, but that’s the gist.
Every time it’s news that someone has left Scientology, I get excited because I know some fresh dirt’s coming. But Leah Remini was a particularly exciting get, because she’s never been accused of biting her tongue. Actually, beyond knowing that she’s outspoken and has a gritty Brooklyn demeanor that I automatically love (she’s from Bensonhurst) I didn’t know much else about her.
I caught some episodes of her A&E documentary series, Scientology and the Aftermath, and I was in awe of the effort she’s making to expose the kooky yet often heartbreaking inner workings of this money-sucking group that cruelly stalks and taunts ex-members. I was interested to see what else she had to say in her book.
Troublemaker begins with Leah’s childhood on Bay Parkway, as her parents separate and her mom’s new boyfriend gets them involved in Scientology, eventually leading to a move to Clearwater, Florida; the notorious “Flag”. From the beginning Leah’s brash, hot-tempered, and headstrong personality can’t be stifled, necessitating another move, this time to California.
Which is why it’s still bizarre to me that she was able to be strong-armed into so much malarkey from this church – like paying back $40K for some burgers and custard that she stole at Flag while she was going hungry as a child Sea Org member. Her participation in this kind of coercion while seeing what a tornado she is elsewhere still doesn’t jive.
Her explanation for sticking with Scientology is that she really thought they were the only ones in the world doing good, “clearing the planet” as the concept is sold to members. They’re also forbidden from reading anything about their religion in books or on the internet (for obvious reasons), and are pressured into confessing to their auditors if they have. Auditors are Scientology counselors who basically act like corrupt cops forcing interrogations until exhausted suspects confess to anything to make it stop. Then pay money to advance past a problem and/or clean toilets with toothbrushes to do penance.
And of course her family belonged too, and the church has an infamous policy of “disconnection” – if a member defects amidst negativity and speaks out or against the church, any remaining friends or family members including parents and children are forbidden from communicating with them, risking severe punishment themselves.
Leah’s break with the church, many details of which are already well-known, began after problems at Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes’ wedding in Italy, when Tom’s sister and assistant left Suri crying on a bathroom floor without feeding her, apparently talking to an infant like she could understand and adjust her behavior accordingly. The church also tried constantly to separate her from her good friends, then-married Jennifer Lopez and Marc Anthony, who it seems like Scientology was going hard to recruit at the time, asking Leah to invite them to the wedding despite their barely being acquainted with Tom or Katie.
Leah got hit with an inundation of “knowledge reports” – Scientology-speak for a kind of official tattletale report, inflating her alleged bad behavior at the wedding (ridiculous things like asking to change seats to sit with JLo and asking where Shelly Miscavige was, she being the conspicuously-missing wife of tiny Scientology dictator David Miscavige) and was forced to spent twelve-hour days in auditing sessions. It was downhill from there and some years later, she finally made her break with Xenu and Co.
I loved the parts of the book that dished on Scientology – that’s what I came here for. I cared less for the parts about her acting career and auditions. I know that sounds unfair, but I don’t have any interest in the behind-the-scenes of acting or Hollywood, and I didn’t know enough about her to be invested in how she made it, but that’s just me. I will say that I respect her incredibly after reading what she’s done and how she did it, and that she managed to stay as down to earth as she is. She really makes a case for the power of hard work and relentless determination as the keys to succeeding and I was impressed.
The book is written in the chatty, jokey style that many celebrity memoirs are, so it’s a speedy read. Leah is very funny, and her tone doesn’t usually go too far into annoying, gimmicky territory (I consider that a potential risk with any celebrity memoir) so it’s fun to read too. I did get a feeling that she was holding back sometimes, but this was published in 2015, and she’d only been free of Xenu’s grasp for two years then. As she explains, this was an emotional experience for her, leaving the umbrella she’d been under since childhood, so basically the belief system that structured the majority of her life.
I also would’ve liked a little more about Scientology’ s methods, what practitioners call ‘technology’ or ‘tech’. Scientology is famously protective of their tech, because that’s what they charge “parishioners” hundreds of thousands of dollars or even millions to learn.
She describes a few and they’re tantalizing – like how when a child is hurt, instead of soothing them you should perform an “assist”, which involves touching the injured body part to the exact spot on the object or place where the injury occurred, until they confirm that it no longer hurts (probably just to make the person stop doing this weird repetitive exercise.) More like this! Second dishy memoir please, Leah!
Troublemaker: Surviving Hollywood and Scientology
by Leah Remini and Rebecca Paley
published November 3, 2015 by Ballantine Books (Random House)