Not that there’s anything wrong with that

TomCouch

Here is my question for the day, as we watch the latest chapter in the Tom Cruise passion play.

If Frank Rich of The New York Times chooses, of his own free will, to stop spending his own hard-earned dollars to purchase tickets to Mel Gibson movies, and this decision is largely based on Rich’s rejection of Gibson’s religious beliefs (including sins, struggles, opinions, confessions, etc.), does this mean that Rich is a bigot?

Or let’s apply that question to the Cruise drama, which I think is part of the larger drama of Hollywood trying to come to grips with the values and tastes of ordinary Americans in an age when DVDs, home theaters, cable, the World Wide Web and a host of other factors are giving consumers all kinds of options other than lining up at the local mall multiplex.

If millions of ordinary Americans chose, of their own free will, to stop spending their own hard-earned dollars to purchase tickets to Tom Cruise movies, and this decision is largely based on their rejection of Cruise’s religious beliefs (sins, struggles, opinions, confessions, etc.), does this mean that these ordinary Americans are bigots?

I ask this question because of the following passage in the orginal Los Angeles Times story about the nasty, nasty divorce that ended the megastar’s 14-year business arrangement with Paramount. I refer to the part where reporters Kim Christensen and Claire Hoffman write:

For more than a year, Cruise’s public outbursts have made headlines and sparked speculation that one of Hollywood’s most bankable figures might be tarnishing his image.

In a series of unrelated incidents, Cruise publicly denounced Brooke Shields last year for taking antidepressants, jumped up and down on a couch during “The Oprah Winfrey Show” and proclaimed his love for fiancee Katie Holmes, and jabbed an accusing finger at Matt Lauer on the “Today” show as he lectured his host on the evils of Ritalin, a stimulant used to treat attention deficit disorder.

At the same time, Cruise’s increasingly vocal advocacy of Scientology has drawn attention to his faith — at times colliding with his career.

Note this interesting statement of fact: “In a series of unrelated incidents …”

How does the newspaper of record in Hollywood know that these episodes are unrelated? I would argue that, for millions of Americans, all of this seemingly bizarre behavior is connected. Many Americans now believe that Cruise is bizarre because they consider his personal beliefs bizarre. In short, the connecting thread is the public’s view of Scientology.

spEP912  Trapped in the Closet  2This is hard for the media to deal with because (a) it’s hard to write about Scientology, period, in Hollywood and elsewhere; (b) quite a few people in the MSM consider all strong, doctrinaire religious beliefs somewhat bizarre; and (c) because all of this is linked to years of rumors about Cruise that, frankly, may never escape the world of innuendo (and journalists, with good reason, refuse to go there, even if South Park already has).

Meanwhile, the economic realities of Hollywood are changing for a wide variety of reasons, most of them rooted in technology. Click here for a Los Angeles Times Cruise update that focuses on this angle.

At some point, Sumner Redstone and his team at Paramount have to ask if paying Cruise more money than Tom Hanks makes sense in today’s market. What is the studio supposed to do if a megastar is determined to offend millions of moviegoers? Cruise has every right to practice his faith and to be an evangelist for it. Consumers have every right to tell him to go make movies on some other planet.

This is the between-the-lines theme of the somewhat snippy second-day feature in — where else — the Style section of The Washington Post that ran with the headline “Viacom’s Rationale: Cruise Is Risky Business” and a loaded second deck that said, “In Hollywood, It’s Okay to Be … Whatever. That Is, Unless You Start Costing Someone Money.”

Believe it or not, the story by William Booth and Anita Huslin doesn’t deal with the Scientology issue until the 16th paragraph, where this lurch takes place:

“His recent conduct has not been acceptable to Paramount,” Redstone told the [Wall Street] Journal.

Though Cruise has been a Scientologist since 1990, when he was introduced to it by his first wife, Mimi Rogers, he has risen in recent years to the upper echelons of the organization to become a kind of world ambassador for the religion. Eyebrows began wagging as he explained how he helped wean addicts from drugs by promoting vitamins and when he set up tents with Scientology information on the set of “War of the Worlds.”

Then came the TomKat union. Within months of meeting actress Katie Holmes, 16 years his junior, Cruise trampolined on Oprah’s couch and declared his love for her. Then Cruise let loose on actress Brooke Shields for using antidepressants to treat her postpartum depression, and followed up with a rant at Matt Lauer on the “Today” show, chastising the host for promoting Ritalin and not understanding the evils of psychiatry. (No. 2 Cruise ex Nicole Kidman, whose father is a psychologist, maintained a pained silence through all.) Cruise also challenged the rebroadcast of the “South Park” episode “Trapped in the Closet,” which satirized Scientology. Then in April, he announced to the world the birth of his and Kate’s first child, daughter Suri, who was reportedly birthed in silence as prescribed by the Church of Scientology.

Well now. The “Trapped in the Closet” episode was a satire of Scientology? That’s what that was all about?

I do not envy the reporters who end up covering this story. It’s going to be very hard to keep this religion ghost, well, in the closet. It’s going to be hard to find people who can speak on the record for Cruise and his followers. It’s going to be hard to deal with the big issues, because of all the rumors. Maybe the story will just go away? Maybe?

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • Gutenberg

    Redstone: Shame Upon Our Industry

    In a town that awarded an Oscar to Roman Polanski, still hiding from his conviction for drug-raping a 13-year-old girl, Redstone’s rant about Cruise’s “personal behavior” doesn’t pass the snicker test. Hollywood morality is as clean as its gum-covered sidewalks. It forgives and rehires batterers and midnight-movie masturbators. Redstone’s citing Cruise’s behavior only verifies the exec’s diminishing creativity.

    As movies become commodities, Redstone foresaw Paramount’s inability to continue the high comp plan into which Cruise-Wagner had out-negotiated Paramount lawyers. Understandable as a monetary decision. Redstone’s missile was a petty and preemptive PR strike to discourage other stars from seeking alternate energy sources as Paramount’s reserves run low. Not the first in Holly-history.

    But Redstone forsook his last shred of decency and community by putting Hollywood in the position of punishing actors for exercising their right of free speech. Thanks, Viacom. How can we now defend our industry from that most horrible accusation. You’ve made it true. We demand free speech, yet we punish it.

  • http://www.geocities.com/hohjohn John L. Hoh, Jr.

    Maybe the story will just go away? Maybe?

    Fat chance. With three 24-hour cable news channels, radio and free-air news coverage, blogs galore, a plethora of entertainment magazines–well, no story just “dies,” unless the public tires of it. Look at poor JonBenet Ramsey suddenly exhumed from the files in the last week.

    Like Governor Romney, this story has traction because lurking in the shadows is a faith not in the mainstream of American consciousness. What would happen if a Quaker (or “Friends”) ran for national public office today? When Richard Nixon, a Quaker, ran for president, was his faith ever an issue? Likely not in 1960 as the electorate fixated on the Catholic JFK.

  • James Davis

    Terry, I’m not sure where you’re going with this. Are you suggesting that reporters somehow connect Scientology with Tom Cruise’s erratic behavior? Aside from classic guilt by association, that wouldn’t account for the lack of erratic behavior by Kirstie Alley, Kelly Preston and John Travolta. I know that writers often pull such tricks on conservative Christians. But we should be shunning and exposing that, not practicing it.

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt

    JAMES:

    No, reporters are just stuck covering the story and the issue of Scientology cannot be buried or hidden.

    That’s why I led with the bigotry question. The PUBLIC is passing judgment on Cruise’s actions and his image. It appears that Paramount, for reasons that can be debated, thinks he is no longer a sound financial risk.

    Cruise has rights.

    The public has rights, when it comes to ticket buying.

    The press ends up having to interview people on both sides about the connections.

    Like I said, I do not envy reporters who have to try to get people to talk about what is going on here.

  • c.tower

    It’s Cruise’s public actions that have “damaged” his image, not his religous beliefs, per se. That said, I think Paramount is just using it as an excuse to free themselves from an aging movie idol (since Cruise’s success is entirely based on his looks, it’s best to dump him before those looks start to go…).Thing is, weren’t MI3 and WAR OF THE WORLDS huge international hits? Despite all the fuss, Tom Cruise is STILL hugely bankable.Maybe there’s more going on behind the scenes than we know…

  • Pingback: This Side of Glory » Blog Archive » A post about Tom Cruise

  • MattK

    tmatt, you got to stop writing columns and just do head lines. This one had me laughing so hard my little boy ran into the room to see what was so funny. Its been, what, 10 or 11 years since that Seinfeld episode aired? Man, you kill me.

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt

    MattK:

    Well, I’ve only seen one full Seinfeld episode in my life and that was the finale. Google is an amazing thing.

  • http://KJVPresents.com Kameron J.

    Interesting piece. I’m glad you asked the initial question of being a bigot. I too have asked that question many times recently in regards to this situation with Cruise (and scientology for that fact).

    Some would try and have you believe that doing this act “against” Tom is bigoted. But then again – those people believe that Xenu is trapped in a moutain for blowing up volcanos a long long time ago.

    I think the reality of it is – no one is going to tell me where to spend my money. I use to like Tom. A long long time ago. I don’t anymore. I can’t see myself spending any amount of money to sit in a darkened movie house (or even picking up a DVD to watch in the comfort of my pajamas) if Tom Cruise is in it. Not gonna happen.

    And no one has any position to tell me doing so is bigoted. If someone else wants to spend their money on him…fine. That’s their money. I prefer to keep my money away from Tom (and subsequently scientology) if I can at all help it.

    Anyway…good piece (oh…I already said that. nevermind!!)

  • Maureen

    Two questions here:

    If any celebrity person was doing creepy stunts on Oprah and keeping another celebrity person away from her parents, wouldn’t that be abundant reason for people not to feel like watching him?

    If someone has beliefs which he or she expresses in public at every opportunity, and other people don’t like said beliefs much, are those people obliged to give that person their business, or do they have the right to take it elsewhere?

    Free speech is a right, yes. But other people have the right to respond with their own free speech, their vote, their wallet, or their feet.


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