Over at The Kernel, Jesse Hicks has put together a fascinating account of the Church of Scientology’s relationship with the Internet. So, how has a notoriously secretive and hierarchical organization dealt with the world’s most “open and radically nonhierarchical platform for communication”? Not well. Scientology’s antagonistic relationship to the Internet dates back to the web’s early days: when an early ’90s message board became a gathering place for Scientology critics, the Church launched a full-scale war on the site. Things have not improved in the intervening two decades. Why?
Mark Ebner, another journalist who’s often written about the church, offers an even blunter assessment. “We (journos, apostates and critics alike) saw the Internet undoing of Scientology coming around ’96,” he emails. The Internet amplified the reach of critics and brought them together; it helped potential defectors find critical information otherwise suppressed by the church. (Tory Christman remembers the software sent to members in 1998: described as a Web page builder, it also covertly blocked users from viewing anti-Scientology websites.) “The Internet pulled back the curtain to find Hubbard bare, and caught the Office of Special Affairs with their pants down,” Ebner writes. “Years later, Anonymous came to Cyber Town and strafed Scientology while they weren’t looking.”
And then it just sat there for a decade and a half—etched in time and completely untouched—before being rediscovered and going viral in 2010. It was an antique visitor from a distant land, a riveting and slightly horrifying reminder of what the web once was. In other words: it looked aesthetically very similar to the unauthorized Harry Potter fan site that I maintained on GeoCities for most of third and fourth grade (flashing gif icons for every section, bright red Times New Roman text on a black starry sky background, et al). Erik Malinowski’s entire account of the site’s history and legacy is fascinating, but perhaps most interesting is the fact that this oft-mocked website has outlasted nearly everything else surrounding the highest-grossing basketball movie ever made:
Today, the Space Jam site’s popularity has outlived almost everything to which it has been connected. The Fifth Avenue [flagship Warner Bros.] store shuttered in 2001. Both stars of the movie’s stars made forgettable exits in 2003 – Jordan with the Washington Wizards, Bugs with Looney Tunes: Back in Action. And every person directly associated with the site’s creation has now left the studio.
But the site lives on, aging for 19 years but free from influence, to our enduring delight.