News Analysis

Tuesday 2 September 2014

White smiles and puff interviews – how Tom was in Cruise control

Published 11/04/2013 | 17:00

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Ryan Tubridy greets Tom Cruise last week

TWO television interviews with Tom Cruise last week reinforced the media's need to reconsider its Faustian pact with celebrities, under which access is granted in return for guaranteed fawning.

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Oh, you think maybe fawning is a harsh description? Let me pause, re-play the interviews, and see if anything kinder comes to mind. No, I've just sat through both TV appearances for a second time, and I'm cringing still at the gushing, courting and kowtowing before the Great God Cruise.

One interview was on RTE1 and the other on BBC1, so reverential treatment of stars is not simply an Irish problem. Both Ryan Tubridy and Graham Norton, on their respective chat shows, gave Cruise an open microphone to promote his latest action film (let's not mention its name here because he's had quite enough publicity already).

There wasn't a hard question in evidence. Not even a hard question in sheep's clothing – approaching a tricky subject in a roundabout way, as every journalist does occasionally to try and elicit information. Just: remind us how you came to be so wonderful, Mr Cruise, and let's run some clips from your fabulous films.

Is it possible Cruise Control stipulated conditions before agreeing to appear? Journalists regularly encounter attempts to limit the terms of engagement – not just in the entertainment sphere, where image manipulation is the alpha and the omega, but in all categories from sport to business. Refuse to abide by these no-go zones, and it's no dice for an interview.

Cruise's current publicity tour has seen him benefit from ego-massaging promotional opportunities wherever his entourage touches down. And it's a disturbing trend, not just in relation to the Great God Cruise, but to other celebrities.

The chat show hosts I watched didn't even appear to be soft-soaping Cruise as a charm offensive – cosying up in the hopes of a more revealing interview. No attempt was made to penetrate beyond the narrow representation on display. Not interviews, then, because that's a disservice to plain speaking – but a public relations puff. Audiences need expect no insights from such shameless promos.

Cruise, of course, is famously controlling. Back when he jumped up and down on Oprah's couch to declare his love for third ex-wife Katie Holmes, he made it look as spontaneous as running a marathon. This week, in Germany, he mentioned the lack of control he felt when Holmes blindsided him with last year's divorce petition.

All things considered, the chances of him doing a television show without pre-conditions attached are about as unlikely as his Scientologist friends ever proving they have ancient beings inside them called Thetans. Or that these aliens lived for thousands of years on other planets before arriving on earth by spaceship.

As regards his TV appearances in Dublin and London, Cruise was courteous and pleasant, if a little boring, and unleashed those white teeth regularly.

He allowed Tubridy to tease him about his abysmal Irish accent, and played along good-naturedly when Norton suggested calling an audience member's mother.

I have no problem with interviewers avoiding a guest's relationship history, and no desire at all to hear confidences about whom they might be dating.

It's none of our business, no matter how many cinema tickets we buy. As a society – and this is media-led – we take a prurient interest in famous people's personal lives. High time we stepped back.

But Cruise is closely linked with Scientology, a cult masquerading as a religion, and about which there have been persistent and disturbing allegations. For example, that it micro-manages the lives of members, and abuses them.

Cruise is its front man, arguably its most outstanding asset, and has appeared in a recruitment video produced by the so-called Church of Scientology discussing what membership means to him.

Now, I have zero curiosity about whether he believes there is life on other planets, or is convinced an ancient Thetan is living inside him, or even if he has demi-god status within Scientology. Here's what I care about.

The Great God Cruise has huge international celebrity status and corresponding soft power, with access to senior politicians. Which he doesn't hesitate to use. He has lobbied policymakers, both in the US and Europe, to have Scientology recognised as a religion – a move that would afford valuable tax-breaks and boost its reputation.

So, a valid question for Tubridy and Norton to have posed last week: will your current publicity tour include approaches to governments to campaign on behalf of Scientology? Have you set up meetings to further this end? If so, with whom?

Naturally, the star setting was adjusted to charm when he sat in 'The Late Late Show' and 'Graham Norton Show' studios. Everything was going his way. Not a whisper in the air about L Ron Hubbard, sci-fi writer turned cult guru.

There's always a warm-up process when an interview starts, with a few baby questions to break the ice. "Tell us about your new project blah-blah." But neither of the Cruise interviews graduated from there. Granted, if RTE and the BBC had refused him, other broadcasters would have snapped up the actor. Presumably they felt they couldn't take the risk.

But this media willingness to roll over and present tummies for tickling doesn't only apply to Cruise, nor does it apply only to RTE and BBC. It's all-pervasive. The media must stop letting celebrities avail of its platform without the trade-off of legitimate scrutiny.

Couldn't media outlets reach an agreement to break the stranglehold? The Great God Cruise is far from being the only one who likes to pull the wires.

Some interviews may be lost in the process. But while chat shows are entertainment-driven, they can't be blind or blinkered – such puffs do the public a disservice.

Irish Independent

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