Freaky Friday

This past Friday morning, Today show host Matt Lauer interviewed Tom Cruise as the War of the Worlds star promoted the upcoming film. Which might not seem like a recipe for comedy -- but, trust me, hilarity ensued. While I’d normally hesitate to endorse the Today show (or, for that matter, any brand of journalism so unabashedly predicated on perkiness), I highly recommend that you watch a clip of the interview. The Cruise/Lauer convo -- by turns amusing, disturbing and just plain weird -- seems to show the actor in his true colors. And, from the looks of things, Cruise's Crayolas only come in shades of crazy.

The interview began with the typical morning show banter: the movie talk, the clichéd discussion of how the actor copes with all the publicity ("I'm just living my life," Tom oh-so-profoundly informs Matt), the even more clichéd discussion of the actor’s love life (as he probed Tom about the actor’s bizarre and controversial relationship with fiancée Katie Holmes, Matt tactfully avoided giving voice to the refrain of ew-gross-ew-gross-ew-gross that was likely running through his head). But then Matt threw a wrench in all the pre-coffee predictability: he brought up Tom's past criticism of Brooke Shields's use and advocacy of antidepressants to fight her very public battle with postpartum depression. (As a Scientologist, Cruise shuns psychiatric treatments as both ineffective and inhumane.)

With that, Matt had apparently uttered the Manchurian thespian's trigger word: at the mere mention of 'antidepressant,' Tom -- who just seconds before had seemed his typical, affable-if-a-wee-bit-odd self -- proceeded to FLIP OUT. Seriously, you could almost hear all the lost marbles crashing onto the set's polished floor. Among the many comedic gems of the ensuing Tomfoolery were: 1. Tom claiming he's an expert on the history of psychiatry; 2. Tom closing his eyes and shaking his head and mumbling a trance-like "Matt-Matt-Matt-Matt..." after Matt challenged something he said; and 3. Tom, fresh off his Rain Man-channeling, testily accusing Matt of being an irresponsible journalist. There was a moment during which I half expected the actor to morph into some tentacle-waving alien, Men in Black-style -- or for a dog who happened to be present to pull back an off-set curtain to reveal L. Ron Hubbard maniacally managing a motherboard of "Cruise control" joysticks, his omnipresent cravat absorbing the perspiration that flowed from his face in all the excitement.

The Cruise interview was funny in the way that daily Bushisms are funny: while you can’t help but laugh -- the revealed idiocy of a powerful figure demands derision in almost any context -- there's also something slightly troubling about laughing at someone whom society invests with authority. (And, like it or not, by virtue of the wide exposure the media give him, Tom carries considerable cultural clout.) The mockery implies a skewed hierarchy, a systemic fissure -- and when our social fabric gets torn, we are forced to look at the vacuity that generally lies beyond the upholstery’s neat seams. As much as I enjoy the image of Tom-the-marionette being controlled by the Wizard in the L. Ron Cupboard, the reality seems to be that Tom-the-interviewee, divested of his publicist’s airbrushing, reveals himself at his most essential: Tom the myopic philosopher, Tom the propagandist acolyte, Tom the indignant ethicist who proves unable to control his emotions (or, for that matter, to form a coherent argument when confronted with the not-always-towering intellect of Matt Lauer).

Which is mostly, when it comes down to it, sound and fury, signifying nothing: I frankly don’t care how many bulbs are on in Tom Cruise’s house, or, for that matter, how many neckerchiefed gurus and pre-apocalyptic aliens it takes to screw them in. As someone whose main contribution to society is his capacity to become people other than himself, Cruise’s personality and apparent eccentricity are beside the point. Had Rumsfeld had a breakdown with Tim Russert on Meet the Press this morning, I surely wouldn’t be so sardonic in my assessment of it -- because there’s something real at stake in the Secretary’s behavior and beliefs. Rummy’s character matters; Tommy’s doesn’t.

Like a Hollywood version of Watergate or Monicagate, though, the Cruise interview is a convenient reminder that our collective authority figures -- be their power rooted in politics or in Hollywood (and the line between those is quickly diminishing) -- are, for better or for worse, just as human as we are. And actors, whose lives are generally so far removed from our own, are among the most futile guidance figures out there. Tom’s wince-worthy flip-out seemed a real-life nod to Team America's Film Actors Guild (F.A.G.), which gleefully points out the lunacy of giving any real authority -- political, spiritual, and otherwise -- to people who are paid to pretend. We might literally look up to Tom when he’s flying a fighter plane or becoming a samurai or fighting invading extraterrestrials, larger than life, before us -- but we have no reason to do that figuratively. A Few Good Men’s oft-parodied line might actually have something to it: judging from his behavior on Friday, it seems that Tom really can’t handle the truth. And we shouldn’t expect him to give it to us.


Blogger Tri-Cup said...

Probably about 3 months after I was old enough to discover late night variety shows, I realized how depressing the celebrity interviews were. Even as an 11-year old, I would cringe to see which celebrity would be the next to reveal himself/herself to be a complete moron without the aid of an SGA-approved script written in hand. When I became older, of course, these “interview” session became hilarious when I discovered the delicious irony in the sheer idiocy of the conversations (this same sense of ironic humor now also fuels about 47% of my Wal-Mart purchases).

For all of this interview’s creepiness, you still have to give Matt Lauer credit for treating Mr. Cruise with such a deft touch. I can only assume that Matt (Matt, Matt, Matt . . . ) hadn’t seen TC’s earlier freak-out with Oprah (http://gorillamask.net/cruiseoprah.shtml), or he would have never agreed to sit so close to Tom.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005  

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