If you ever needed proof of how celebrity culture has changed in the last nine years, we direct your attention to an insightful LA Weekly article titled ‘How YouTube and Internet Journalism Destroyed Tom Cruise, Our Last Real Movie Star’. In the well researched piece, writer Amy Nicholson recalls Tom Cruise’s infamous appearance on The Oprah Winfrey Show and argues that his couch-leaping interview marks a tipping point in the pop-culture landscape.
Cruise filmed his 2005 Oprah interview in May, just weeks after YouTube posted its first video. That same month, Huffington Post launched and the world was introduced to celeb-smearing blogger Perez Hilton. As Nicholson notes, “The Internet finally had the tools to feed us an endless buffet of fluff, chopping up real events to flashy — and sometimes false — moments that warped our cultural memory.” Tom Cruise was the first celebrity to stumble into the snare.
Prior to his Oprah interview, Cruise had a reputation for being guarded with the press, never revealing too much about his personal life. His longtime publicist, the formidable Pat Kingsley, was fiercely protective of her client and worked to build an impenetrable fortress around him. During their 12-year relationship, Kingsley scrutinised every media request, withheld access to her other clients to secure cover stories for Cruise, and forced journalists to sign contracts that banned them from selling any stories to the tabloids.
As Nicholson explains in her article, with the advent of YouTube, the explosion of gossip websites and armies of camera-toting fans capturing every celebrity’s misdeed, Kingsley’s tactics no longer applied. Rumours spread faster than publicists could contain them. Videos went viral and makeup-free photos of celebrities destroyed the façade of perfection. For Cruise, clips of his couch-leaping antics were taken out of context, or altered with sound effects, making him appear unhinged, shattering his ice-cool persona. “You lose control of something so fast,” Kingsley later lamented. “Publicity in my day was all about control.”
Cruise’s latest sci-fi blockbuster, Edge of Tomorrow, opens this week. And while Tomorrow will no doubt perform well at the box office, it’s unlikely to attract as much attention – or as many viewers – as his much-ridiculed 30-second YouTube appearance.
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