Depending on your perspective, it’s either the best or the worst fake news story since the Jude Law debacle: Tom Cruise has finally knocked up fiancee/purported hostage Katie Holmes. Presumably, this will end speculation that he tapped her merely as media-watchdog arm candy to promote a pair of his-and-hers blockbusters. Presumably, this will end decade-spanning rumors that Cruise uses his poster-boy marquee status to hide the fact that he’s actually a reticent closet case. Presumably, the next we will have to hear about TomKat will be when they name their all-American spawn after something deeply buried in the L. Ron Hubbard archives.

But if we’ve learned anything in the greater scheme of celebrity-insider schlock, it’s that presumptions involving any sort of logic will get you nowhere. But maybe this is expecting too much. It’s up to you whether you think it’s acceptable that this type of story shares front-page status with, say, a Pakistani earthquake that killed something like 20,000 people.

No, this is the sort of story that will be with us for months (years?) to come. Our obsession with movie stars and what we think we know about their lives predates the reality-TV age and most of the stars that now make headlines. We balk at the intrusions of tabloids but casually browse them on supermarket newsstands, roll our eyes in disgust at what an unconscionable douche Donald Trump is, yet keep “The Apprentice” on the air for four seasons – and the list goes on. It’s all part of a closeted entertainment culture that most of us indulge in, even if we won’t admit it to other people, much less ourselves.

There is, of course, nothing really wrong with this. We all have our thing. I had to fight off an almost primal urge to use this space to speculate on Julie Cooper’s fantastically conniving intentions with that pseudo-rehab Trekkie (if you have no idea what I’m talking about, that’s probably to your credit). There’s such a never-ending supply of “Laguna Beaches,” National Enquirers and other so-called “guilty pleasures” that it has almost become its own subgenre – and judging from the viewer response, it isn’t going anywhere.

The problem comes in when our infatuation with the glitz and glamour begins to overshadow the medium that brought them into the spotlight in the first place. Too often the movie-going, TV-watching, Us Weekly-reading public at large no longer looks to the movie or show itself but to what the gossip rags tell them about it – a sort of litmus test to screen their choices in entertainment.

Take for instance the case with Cruise. After the narcissistic couch hopper became Public Enemy No. 1 early last summer, even politicians such as New Jersey Gov. Richard Codey issued official statements urging Tom Cruise to “stick to acting.” The way I see it, there are two problems with this: First, do we really need a state governor to publicly join the tabloid culture? And why should movie stars be expected to keep their mouths shut when reading about everything they say is a national pastime? There’s an absurd condescension in the suggestion that an actor can’t have an opinion on things outside Hollywood because “all they do is make movies.” What does that even mean?

Then there’s the fact that the astonishingly pervasive anti-Cruise bandwagon led to online petitions and other movements designed not to voice their opposition to him but to boycott “War of the Worlds,” a movie of which he was only a single participant. On one website in particular, www.petitiononline.com/Tomkat/, which as of this writing has collected 17,235 signatures, the letter is not even addressed to Cruise but to director Steven Spielberg. Meanwhile, “War of the Worlds” was an assured, creepy-crawly spectacle that many people skipped out on for no good reason.

Granted, this works to the advantage of the film or TV show in question as often as it does against them – Brangelina sold “Mr. & Mrs. Smith” to the tune of $180 million – and many stars of the Paris Hilton breed no doubt bring most of the negative buzz upon themselves. But there comes a point where we have to draw the line. There are indeed some legitimate reasons to avoid a movie or show because of something other than the actual work itself, but when we have a smear campaigns against things most of the protesters haven’t even seen, it comes to the point where enough is enough.

 

-Bloomer is still trying to find the Goose to his Maverick. Help him out by e-mailing him at bloomerj@umich.edu.

 

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