Friday, August 25, 2006
Jumping the Casting Couch
There's so much to cry about this week. With death everywhere I look, I'm at a loss knowing what to do with all these conflicting feelings. Grief is a funny emotion; it grabs you by the back of the throat, rams your brain in reverse, lunges at your heart, rupturing your tear ducts. At least, that is the measure of the emotional crisis I experienced yesterday when I heard that Tom Cruise was being sacked from Paramount Studios.
Yesterday afternoon I walked through Greek St, Glebe, past that big Church of Scientology, just hoping some young devout believer would stop me in my tracks, share the mysteries of the faith and more importantly lead me to where Tom might be hiding out. But no, it didn't happen. Apparently Tom Cruise hasn't been back to Australia since John Polson started making films in the US. (Potential-Screw-Loose-Cruise-Factoid No 1: Back in 2000, Tom sweated hard up-selling Polson's debut Siam Sunset to all the studio bosses in the US, when everyone else in the world acted more appropriately through indifference, or for those who actually saw it, sobs of abject vomit).
But, let's get back to the point. Grief is a funny emotion when it's mediated entirely through popular culture. Media and cultural studies academics everywhere got really self-congratulatory years back when Princess Diana's death afforded a lexicon of "globalised grief." Earlier this week when paying tribute to JonBenét, I was forced to negotiate the bittersweet signification of baby's breath: a wreath-like bouquet for the hair, baby's breath's symbolic innocence, virginity and bridal anticipation is no more suggested than in pictures of a beauty queen trapped in an image that doesn't breathe. But my grief for stars like Tom Cruise, and to a lesser extent Mel Gibson, is centred around postmodern fatigue and embedded in a lost image economy harking back to the Hollywood Studio System. I look at the mess poor Tom has made of things, and I wonder what Rock Hudson is thinking, looking down on Tom with a wink from that amyl-soaked Castro Street disco in the sky.
The Hollywood Studio system flourished between the 1920s to the early 50s, when the large motion picture studios of the day made movies with their carefully manufactured stars under long-term contract. I think Debbie Reynolds might just be the last actor alive from this era – it's a hunch, so don't quote me on that. But if the Hollywood Studio System, which really was a Star System, petered out some five decades ago, why does Tom Cruise's public shaming by Paramount actually feel a bit old-school Hollywood? Without a major studio, we just know that poor Tom may not survive. Action heroes divorced from the creatures comforts of a major studio are like fish out of water. So that’s why I went looking for Tom – or at least a kind believer willing to explain Tom to me – at Scientology Churches in Sydney yesterday.
I sat down on a couch with one very kind man of the Sciency brethren. (With due respect to Privacy Law, let's call him called "Max"). It was actually a couch not unlike the one Tom famously rode like a Brokeback rodeo on Oprah. Being so into terms, I decided to share with Max the impact Tom has had on the popular culture of our time. I told him how Tom's televised chair dancing antics spawned a term - "jumping the couch," which UrbanDictionary.com defines as, "The defining moment when you know someone has finally lost his or her marbles. Inspired by Tom Cruise's behavior on Oprah when he jumped up and down maniacally on her couch, while professing his undying love for actress Katie Holmes. Reportedly much easier to accomplish than going off a 'deep end.'"
Max didn't care for my knowledge of pop culture minutiae, and certainly didn't seem to care for his celebrity elder. Max preferred I answer this whole swag of questions about mismatched numbers, words, ideas, sounds, and the like. That's far too fucking conceptual for even me. The only words of any true meaning that could come out my mouth at this stage were classic Cruise movie quotes. When I locked gaze with poor Max and said, "Respect the cock and tame the cunt," he called security.