In a much talked about controversy half a decade ago, Tom Cruise found himself facing off with the four cartoon kids from South Park. 14 seasons in, episode 12 of season 9 can still boast itself as arguably the most controversial South Park yaoi episode. “Trapped in the Closet”, the episode that poked fun at Scientology and daringly suggested that Tom Cruise, John Travolta and R. Kelly are gay, and maybe even lovers, still draws laughter at its sheer audacity and perhaps accurate depiction.
In this epic episode, the creators of South Park deal several blows to the Scientology church – suggesting that extremely depressed people are perfect candidates for the religion; portraying Stan as a reincarnation of L. Ron Hubbard, Scientology’s founder and prophet; have John Travolta appear as a member of the Scientology church; have the Scientology president reveal that the religion is actually a money making scam; sends Randy, Nicole Kidman, John Travolta and R. Kelly to persuade Cruise to “come out of the closet”; and eventually puts Travolta and Kelly into the closet together with Cruise.
If an Emmy nomination for best animated program garnered by this yaoi episode is anything to go by, this just shows how good, or bad (depending on how you look at it), “Trapped in the Closet” is. The episode also won a spot on Comedy Central’s list of “10 South Parks That Changed the World” and managed #17 honours on the TV Guide list of “TV’s Top 100 Episodes of All Time”.
This episode did indeed leave such deep impressions on viewers, while ruffling the feathers of others at the same time. What’s been said to be funnier than Tom Cruise jumping on the couch is the heated reaction from the Scientology camp over this notorious episode. Besides several outrages from its members, It was rumoured that Tom Cruise, famous for being a celebrity Scientologist, reportedly threatened to cease promotional activities for his then-upcoming Paramount Pictures flick “Mission: Impossible III” if Viacom, which owns Comedy Central that produces South Park and Paramount, went ahead to rebroadcast this episode . Isaac Hayes, who voices Chef on the series in which he has long been a cast member, and happens to be a Scientologist too, had actually abruptly announced his departure from his contract. He claimed that the yaoi episode was very offensive. However, Hayes did return to the show later on.
Whether it was the public outrage over this episode or Tom Cruise’s influential figure that muzzled the show, the scheduled May 2006 repeat telecast was replaced with another episode. While producers deny that the withdrawal had anything to do with Tom Cruise and Scientology, one could only wonder.
However, the yaoi episode went on to be rebroadcasted on Comedy Central several times and has been available on the South Park Studios website since. Still on the tip of the tongues of South Park fans and detractors alike, the show’s creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone went on CNN’s Showbiz Tonight, where they stated that all of the controversy increased publicity for the episode and that “Tom Cruise has done more for South Park than anyone… in the world”.