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Reel Women: The Divorce of Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes and Media Opportunism

Katie Holmes and Tom Cruise
Alberto E. Rodriguez, Getty Images

This week it was announced that Katie Holmes is divorcing Tom Cruise. The usual tabloid suspects jumped on it so quickly you’d wonder if there’s some sort of press room offering free brunch and mimosas aboard that train wreck. But there was something a little too opportunistic happening — posts about Cruise’s career and the possible effects of this divorce on box office sales of ‘The Master,’ and even a magazine spread re-worked to appear as though it foretold the divorce. To all of which we say, seriously?

Divorces are messy. Hell, the end of most relationships are messy, and yet every time we pass the tabloids at the check-out counter of our grocery store, we’re transfixed by the latest population updates in Splitsville. We’d never want someone to document our break-ups (if anyone found out about our weird bathroom habits or that time we picked a fight in the middle of IKEA over which Blurgenstolden chair is better because YOU NEVER LISTEN — we would die), but we’re obsessed with celebrity relationships in decline. It’s fine, when you consider the primitive reasoning — it humanizes those whom we idolize and perceive as slightly inhuman, thus making us feel better about our normal, non-famous lives.

But just because someone is famous shouldn’t make their lives any more open to scrutiny, unless they’re, you know, hurting people. Divorces aren’t just messy — they’re painful, whether both parties are amenable to the split or not. Two people were in love and shared their lives, and eventually that marriage fell apart, leaving a huge open wound. We don’t have any business gawking at that wound.

Manipulative media entities, however, know how much this gossip intrigues you and how much you’ve wrongly invested yourselves in information that is not yours to have. (Seriously, go enrich your mind with a crossword puzzle or something. Sudoku? Is that still a thing?) Elle magazine, for instance, interviewed Katie Holmes roughly six weeks prior to the divorce announcement, but that didn’t stop them from trying to frame some of her interview answers as possible clues to the impending divorce, with the obvious baiting headline, “On Tom, Suri, and What She Desperately Wants.”

Desperate, you guys! Women who feel desperately about things, according to the media:

  • Famous old women
  • Women who like cats
  • Jennifer Aniston
  • Women in the midst of a divorce or break-up
  • Famous women spotted “in tha club”
  • Famous women trying to lose baby weight
  • All the women who buy these magazines, obviously

None of this is shocking or new, though. We’re all very familiar with celebrity gossip culture and how lady mags prey on female insecurity, turning women against each other in a grotesque Circle of Life, where the circle is your fear of being alone forever and we’re all hyenas chewing on our own hides, occasionally snipping at each other and foaming at the mouth. Hakuna Matata!

There’s only so much opportunism to go around, so outlets had to find more interesting perspectives from which to approach the divorce. In some cases, that meant pondering the effects of the Holmes/Cruise divorce on the box office earnings of P.T. Anderson’s ‘The Master,’ a film inspired by the origins of Scientology and creator L. Ron Hubbard.

These people are getting a divorce, there’s a custody battle involved and the potential for years of mental/emotional/relationship distress that could directly result from said divorce, for all parties involved — and yet we’re questioning how this couple’s emotional suffering could influence box office take on a film that doesn’t open until the fall? By then we’ll be invested in someone else’s personal drama. Our attention spans are short. No one is going to be thinking about Katie Holmes during opening weekend of ‘The Master.’

Not that anyone seems to be thinking about Katie Holmes right now, anyway. Another article asks how the divorce will affect Cruise’s career — as if we should be concerned. This is a guy who jumped up and down on Oprah’s couch once and gave America a seizure, but our brain damage obviously wasn’t severe enough to keep us from buying tickets to his movies. He’s going to be okay.

The bottom line is that none of these conversations are particularly interesting or worth our time to be having. The most compelling element of the divorce is the possibility that Holmes will reveal more sinister information about the Church of Scientology — but even the articles which suggest this  seem to emanate from a bloodthirsty fountain of wishful thinking.

A divorce is no one’s business but the two parties involved, and no one really knows what goes on in a marriage except for those two people. A celebrity’s eating, mating, hygiene, and day-to-day habits are not of our concern. It is their job to entertain us in film, television, and music; when they step off that stage, they’re off the clock, and their personal lives are not an extension of that entertainment. We wouldn’t want someone following us around and blogging every time we order a coffee or eat carbs, and we certainly wouldn’t want our dirty laundry aired out for the world to read. And yet we feel as though — because these celebrities make money and have jobs that keep them front and center in the pop-cultural consciousness — we have every right to be nosy.

It’s that desire to humanize, but it manifests itself in disgusting ways. We put them on pedestals and we tear them down. We’re so concerned with their marriages and divorces and their babies, but did you bother sending them a birthday card or offering consolation when their parents died — since you know them so well and all?

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