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.