Why Has Tom Cruise's Reputation Faltered? Pshh, Because Of The Internet, Of Course!

from the nice-journalism-you-have-there dept

We gather here today to mourn the passing of one Tom Cruise, gentleman and movie star undone by, you guessed it, the damned internet. As this, ahem, article by Amy Nicholson notes, Tom Cruise has been “destroyed” by YouTube and internet journalism. He was also, apparently, our “last movie star.” Oh, and he never jumped on Oprah’s couch, either. Confused? Get ready, because this is going to be a strange, strange ride.

Nicholson, writing for the L.A. Weekly News, starts off her expose on how the internet killed Tom Cruise by sending us down memory lane.

You can probably picture it in your head: Tom Cruise, dressed in head-to-toe black, looming over a cowering Oprah as he jumps up and down on the buttermilk-colored couch like a toddler throwing a tantrum. Cruise bouncing on that couch is one of the touchstones of the last decade, the punchline every time someone writes about his career. There’s just one catch: It never happened.

It’s a breathtaking discovery to find out that this is all apparently some kind of CGI mega-conspiracy to dethrone a man who is still quite alive and very much still making big budget movies.

That video, which shows Tom Cruise jumping on Orpah’s freaking couch, never actually happened apparently. The mind reels knowing that, as Nicholson states, just like “Humphrey Bogart saying, “Play it again, Sam,” Tom Cruise jumping on a couch is one of our mass hallucinations.” That video, according to her, single-video-edly destroyed Tom Cruise’s still-ongoing-career. Honestly, I don’t even know where to begin with an article that starts off with two so clearly incorrect premises.

Nicholson’s idea for continuing the article consists of two pages about how awesome Tom Cruise is that would be better described as adoration than prose. The only mildly interesting bit in the whole section consists of how well his publicist at the time, Pat Kingsley, controlled the press.

She was adamant about keeping Cruise out of the tabloids. At press junkets, she demanded that journalists sign contracts swearing not to sell their quotes to the supermarket rags. Then Kingsley expanded her reach and insisted that all TV interviewers destroy their tapes after his segment had aired. Reporters were exasperated, but there wasn’t much they could do about it. Kingsley had a slew of other big talents (Meg Ryan, Sandra Bullock, Al Pacino) on her roster. Thanks to media consolidation, she was able to keep the media on track by making only a few phone calls threatening to cut off access.

Well, she sounds like a real snuggle bear, that one, but Nicholson’s point is made later when she describes the villain in this story: the internet. Oh, and us, too. We’re totally to blame for Tom Cruise’s reputation taking a turn.

With gossip sites mushrooming like a nuclear cloud, Kingsley’s fear tactics no longer worked — in fact, she wasn’t even around to wield them. She’d spent a decade and a half shielding Cruise from questions about his religion. But as Scientology increasingly drew fire from the media, Cruise seemed to have decided to be more vocal about defending his beliefs. When he sought to promote Scientology on his press tour for The Last Samurai in 2003, Kingsley later told The Hollywood Reporter, she told him to cool it…When their faster, meaner formula worked, the old guard was forced to follow suit. In May, People’s blog, then a half-hearted affair, ran seven stories about Tom Cruise. In June, it ran 25.

In other words, the explosion of internet blogging nixed the need for access to celebrities, because the audiences didn’t really want to hear interviews, they just wanted gossip. Nicholson argues that the timing for this explosion coincided almost perfectly with the timing of Cruise’s Oprah appearance in which he did, but didn’t, jump on a couch. She argues that if we had all seen the entire interview instead of simply watching YouTube clips, we would have understood not only that Cruise never jumped on a couch, but that his behavior was perfectly in line with the atmosphere of the show, because there were screaming women everywhere. One wonders how the Beatles managed not to jump on all the things every time they got off a plane, but I digress. I have watched the entire interview and Cruise isn’t saved by context (Link to Part 2 of the YouTube series, and one jump happens about 45 seconds in, but you can find all parts there to watch the entire thing). Things only got worse when people decided that having a sense of humor was kind of fun.

A week later, [Andy] Baio hosted another funny video he found on a private sharing site, a short mash-up of Star Wars: Episode III: Revenge of the Sith and Cruise’s appearance on Oprah, two pop culture jokes from that May. Dubbed “Tom Cruise Kills Oprah,” the movie star cackles in slow-motion as he blasts the talk-show host with a jolt of Jedi lightning. Baio thought the video was “awesome.” He put it online and, just as “Star Wars Kid” had before, it blew up. This time, however, it wasn’t just the geeks linking to his video — it was MSNBC and USA Today.

Parodying famous people? Oh, what new horrors the cruel internet always seems to bring. Never mind that this kind of thing was done for fun and profit since around forever, this is on the internet, so it’s totally way worse. When Saturday Night Live did it all those years ago it was fine, but now the simple creatures of the citizenry think they can have fun? At the expense of our Lord Tom Cruise, whose name we exhault and upon whom we heap our praise? Please. And remember, that couch jumping thing never happened. Cruise was just, you know, er, standing on the couch. Seriously.

The distinction between standing and jumping is small but significant. We imagine Cruise bouncing on the couch — we can even picture it — because the Internet convinced us it happened. The echoing blogosphere screaming “Kills!” and “Jumps!” rewrote over what little of the actual episode people saw.

Except the he did jump on that damned couch, I’ve seen the video of it, you can’t deny it, and oh my god why are we freaking talking about this? What Nicholson hints at, but never allows her article to realize, is that the Oprah appearance and the internet’s reaction to it have played such a tiny role in the downturn of Tom Cruise’s reputation that I don’t even really know how she got to focusing on it. If we’re going to be blunt, Tom Cruise’s reputation fell when he told the world about Scientology and people became interested enough in it to find out how absolutely horrifying it is, when he told the public that they shouldn’t take prescribed antidepressant’s and that you could combat suicide with his most odd of religions, and when he appeared strange and manic on a whole series of appearances, rather than just Oprah’s. Hell, the Oprah interview isn’t even his strangest. I’d argue this one, extolling the virtues of Scientology did far more harm to his reputation than any other single thing out there.

But my larger question is why are we so busy defending Tom Cruise and demonizing the internet. And why are we saying stuff that happened didn’t? That’s just weird.

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Comments on “Why Has Tom Cruise's Reputation Faltered? Pshh, Because Of The Internet, Of Course!”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Funny

That’s what it was for me. If I learn that an actor involved is in that cult I boycott the film.

Even more depressing than how horrid that cult is, is that a term which might logically mean worship of science is now instead a sad joke of a scam that sucks in far too many people. At least traditional religions tend to have good sets of morals as their official codes of conduct and are intended to have peer pressure to encourage following those codes of conduct (not that it’s stopped the abuse of those religions either).

aldestrawk says:

Re: Re: Re: Funny

I don’t think the literal meaning is as important as the context of the core of the name, “science”, being used as a label for a belief that is meant to replace religious belief. Thus, it’s fair to say scientology is intended to be a kind of worship of science. Well, except that their belief system is just pseudoscience. Scientology completely misses the core of the philosophy of science which is a process of creating theories which are testable and using test results to alter or negate those theories.

Missouri Noodler says:

Re: Re: Funny

Me and th’ Missus decided to not give Cruise a single dime after watching the weird Scientology video of him on “Gawker”. We’ve pretty much kept to that decision, except that I sneaked a Netflix viewing of “Ghost Protocol” when she was out of town, and that only because Brad Bird directed it. Cruise was quite insufferable in it, and I’m ashamed to have watched it. “KSW, KSW”, indeed.

Anonymous Coward says:

Why are you legitimizing this crazy talk by commenting so deeply on it? The factual inaccuracies speak for themselves.

You’re arguing against crazy, and that’s as ineffective as it is unnecessary. People either have the rational capability to see that Tom Cruise is a nut – or they are nuts, and an emotionally charged counter-argument will only entrench their insanity. Either way this article just seems weirdly out-of-place, like the Wall Street Times commenting on a homeless man’s gibberish.

JNevill (profile) says:

Re: Re:

“Perhaps Ms. Nicholson is involved with Scientology herself, attempting to assist Cruise’s handlers in rehabilitating his image as his new film is out?”

This seems pretty reasonable given how the “Church” of Scientology operates. They’ve all been warped enough to think that the public is as gullible as they are.

Anonymous Coward says:

But my larger question is why are we so busy defending Tom Cruise and demonizing the internet.

Film stars, like politicians, like to put themselves forward by creating a false impression of themselves. As they expect the public to believe the fiction that they create about themselves, they are also scared silly that the public might believe other fictitious stories about them, even when they are clearly labeled as fiction or parody.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

I do not think we have the same definition of journalist.
This is obviously someone in need of medical attention for a mental defect of some sort. Denying what her own eyes can see and proclaiming it isn’t her but everyone else who is wrong most likely has a chapter in that diagnosis book thingy.

Maybe stop looking for Xenu, and into some anti-psychotics would be a well advised course.

Anonymous Coward says:

Ugh, come on Tim, who’s being snarky now? The Beatles? Yikes.

I thought she made an insightful point regarding the way internet culture can alter our collective memory of events. If asked before watching the actual clip again, I would have said he bounced up and down repeatedly on the couch. Arguing “but he did jump” is a childish way of ignoring the point.

Yes, Cruise and his Scientology crap is beam me up crazy. But as the author points out, we’ve demonized the guy’s work because of it and other things he’s done off the screen. Countering that point by implying that the author is nothing more than an adoring fangirl just demeans both of you.

Ima Fish (profile) says:

Re: Re:

I think she attempted to make an insightful point. But she failed for three reasons.

First, she said this: “Except Cruise never jumps on a couch” and argues that he only “stepped” on a couch.

Second, he did in fact jump on the couch. You cannot step on something with both feet at the same time. That’s not stepping. That’s jumping.

Third, as pointed out by Tim and others, this was not Tom’s downfall. His numerous discussions of Scientology were. So Amy’s focusing on the jumping as the downfall is simply idiotic.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

And most people still enjoy and go see his films because they are for the most part good. People don’t demonize his career. As Tim points out. HE STILL HAS A CAREER. It’s the other stuff and if he would just would’ve learned to simply STFU, people would probably been demonizing the sleaze writers instead of him but instead of listening to his publicist’s advice, he had to pick up a shovel.

Richard (profile) says:


The real issue is that we keep confusing fame for one thing with general wisdom.

There is absolutely no reason why an actor should have any skill, intelligence, knowledge, wisdom or virtue beyond that which is required for acting.

Add to that the fact that the requirement for film acting extends little beyond a certain physical comeliness and you will realise that the fact that he is even on the Oprah show is in itself an indication of misplaced values.

We can see him do his job as an actor in whatever film he is in – but we should no more expect to see him given prominence anywhere else than we would expect to see the man who drives the school bus.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Huh

…and yet Ronald Reagan would not have become President of the USA had it not been for his publicity via his prominent acting career.

This isn’t to say that he wasn’t qualified, it’s just to say that it was his acting career that got him elected, and nobody really got to see his actual qualifications until AFTER he was elected. And even then, they more saw the qualifications of his advisers.

So what we see here with the article is that someone is bemoaning the fact that TC’s reputation isn’t as pristine in the public’s eyes ever since they saw a side of him that wasn’t what had been presented through his acting.

My reading of the article is that she was saying that the video was the beginning of his expanded publicity in areas of his life outside of his acting career — while other information was available before that, it didn’t become as widely distributed. After that, these other parts of his life were open for public conversation, and so the public conversed.

It’s a good lesson to apply to digital privacy actually; only put on the internet what you want the world to discuss about you, in perpetuity.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Huh

“…and yet Ronald Reagan would not have become President of the USA had it not been for his publicity via his prominent acting career.

This isn’t to say that he wasn’t qualified, it’s just to say that it was his acting career that got him elected, and nobody really got to see his actual qualifications until AFTER he was elected. And even then, they more saw the qualifications of his advisers.”

You forget he was Gov of California after acting career.

Ima Fish (profile) says:

I understand what Amy is trying to do. Like the myth that Will Smith said “Welcome to Earf” to the crashed alien in Independence Day. We can hear him say it, even though he actually and clearly said “earth.”

But check out the video here at 1:17. Did he step on a couch? No. He clearly jumped on a couch with both feet. You can’t step with both feet at the same time. It’s impossible.

zip says:


This story might be of interest to some of you:


Dear Tom,

It’s time for you to start talking publicly about Scientology again.

Your religion is in serious trouble.

In 2005, you ended a longtime policy of not talking about the church by suddenly bringing it up in interviews. Most memorable, of course, was the way you challenged Matt Lauer, telling him that you had a superior understanding of the evils of psychiatry because of your Scientology training. Some wondered if you’d gone off the deep end, especially after the episode involving Oprah’s couch. Soon enough, however, you clammed up about Scientology again. But in 2008, a video of you the church had made four years earlier surfaced, and it had a huge effect, both on your reputation and the church’s. For better or worse, your strange words about, for example, how only Scientologists can help out at the scene of a car accident cemented in the minds of many that you were not only the truest of true believers in L. Ron Hubbard’s unusual religion, but that you had become, in fact, its public face.

And that’s why, today, you must come forward and speak for a church in crisis.

Tom, last week I was in San Antonio, and I saw with my own eyes the sworn court testimony of someone you once knew and respected.

Her name is Debbie Cook, and for 17 years …


OldGeezer (profile) says:

I personally think Tom Cruise is a great actor. Can you be a great actor and off screen be a total whack job? Absolutely!! You would almost think it is a requirement for the job. Just look at he number of examples award winning actors whose personal lives are a total train wreck. Doesn’t keep me from enjoying their movies and TV series. I don’t care if Charlie Sheen blows coke until it comes out his ears. I still laugh my ass off at his comedy.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Isn't Tom a slaver?

It depends on what you mean by “held against their will” Technically, they are not held against their will. They can leave at any time they like. Scientology is, however, a vicious cult and will harass them, turn their family against them, and retaliate in every way they can. But technically, they can leave.

zip says:

Re: Re: Isn't Tom a slaver?

“Technically, they are not held against their will. They can leave at any time they like.”

You obviously have much to learn about Scientology, John. Scientology’s Sea Org is about as close to outright slavery and/or imprisonment as it can possibly be.

There have been countless people who have reported that they were physically held against their will – often for weeks, months … even years. In order to leave the Sea Org, a member must pass though what they call a “routing out” process, which involves intense and exhausting interrogation (under a lie detector) that lasts for many weeks or months, in which they must do everything they are told and are under extreme pressure to recant.

Basically, people are not allowed to leave until the cult gives them permission to leave, which in essence means that the cult has given up all hope of trying to make them change their mind about wanting out. Then as a final step, they are forced to sign a stack of draconian legal documents, one of which is agreeing to pay back “feeloader debt” – typically over a hundred thousand dollars – charging them for their time spent there (i.e., the privilege of working 100-hour weeks for pay of $25 – $50 a week)

This is why most people wanting to leave prefer to escape – which is in itself extremely difficult.

aldestrawk says:

Nicholson I think is correctly pointing out that technology, blogging and viral videos in particular, have greatly diminished the ability of a publicist to control the public image of a star. She points out that Cruise’s publicist, Pat Kingsley, was an especially strong choice for a publicist. Kingsley was able to control media image of Cruise, the propaganda, by using her connections to unfairly force mainstream media outlets to kowtow to her wishes. This (Geigner’s) article misses the point though that Kingsley was fired by Cruise in March, 2004. Cruise hired his sister, who is also a Scientologist, as a replacement. The couch incident occurred in May of 2005. Nicholson is pointing out that Kingsley was no longer in the picture. Tom’s sister wasn’t able to control the negative impression of Tom Cruise pushing, not unlike a drug, Scientology. There are several reasons for that. She may not have had either the desire or ability to keep Tom from doing that. She, as any publicist did around 2005, lost the ability to control Tom’s image with the rise of blogging, vlogging, podcasting, memes, and viral videos. Despite the potential for negative image distortion from those new types of media, Tom Cruise, himself, is still greatly responsible for pushing his views involving a rather controversial religion/cult. I agree with Nicholson that this affected his film career after 2005. A star of his caliber doesn’t have nearly the number of films his peers have starred in during that period. She does exaggerate his talents, and I really don’t understand why she considers him “the last movie star”.

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