Joshua Glenn has an interesting post over at Brainiac regarding Mitt Romney’s much-discussed remark that his favorite novel is Battlefield Earth, a critically-suspect science-fiction tome by Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard that was widely criticized for including indoctrination and themes similarly to the creation story of the Church of Scientology and Dianetics. It was later made into a notorious flop of a feature film starring John Travolta that was universally panned. The Providence Journal, the hometown paper of Reality Check HQ, had this to say about the film’s aesthetic:
“Battlefield Earth’s primary colors are blue and gray, adding to the misery. Whenever we glimpse sunlight, the screen goes all stale yellow, as though someone had urinated on the print. This, by the way, is not such a bad idea.” [“Earth To John Travolta”, Providence Journal, May 20 2000]
To be fair, Romney didn’t mention the movie and explicitly stated that he disapproved of L. Ron Hubbard’s “religion”:
‘“Actually, the one by L. Ron Hubbard,” Romney said when asked to name his favorite novel. “I’m not in favor of his religion by any means but he wrote a book called “Battlefield Earth” that was a very fun science fiction book.”‘
So what does all this have to do with flip-flopping? Joshua Glenn aptly quotes a few commentators who note the contrast between Romney’s naming such an unusual and stigmatized work and his usual attempts to distance himself from much of the nation’s suspicion of Mormonism:
‘”Yikes, that doesn’t strike me as the way to go for a candidate who’s trying to convince Middle America that Mormonism is not exotic,” commented Congressional reporter Lyndsey Layton… At TNR’s website The Plank, Michael Crowley said: “Isn’t naming a novel by the hilariously nutty founder of Scientology more than a little loaded?”‘
The Boston Herald quotes a professor of religious studies and expert on Mormonism:
‘”Stephen Prothero, head of Boston University’s religion department and the author of “Religious Literacy,” noted that Romney’s Mormonism could be a stumbling block with some voters.
“Mormonism sounds like a science fiction fantasy to some Americans, Prothero said.” “It seems one of the burdens of his campaign is to present an image of Mormonism that sounds more reasonable and less fantastic. This seems to be undercutting that effort.”‘
Tucker Carlson, usually more adept at hyping the debate rather than adding to it, probably summed up the feelings of many Americans (especially among evangelicals, who have a strong voice in Republican primaries)who, undeterred by political correctness or the Church of Scientology’s many legal suits and threats of same, continue to regard both Mormonism and Scientology as similarly suspicious and with similar skepticism:
“I am concerned about what our potential president is putting into his brain. If you are reading for fun, and not some sort of twisted research project, but voluntarily reading L. Ron Hubbard, as a novelist, I think it’s a real red flag.”
Unless someone uncovers evidence that Mitt Romney previously named some other novel as his official favorite, there’s no actual flip-flopping involved here. But Reality Check will certainly continue keeping an eye on the ex-governor’s efforts to define himself into the religious mainstream and the rhetorical ballet that will likely entail.