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.
This 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?