the gripe

The impact of what's off screen


Entertainment reporters are becoming more like sports insiders or political pundits with each passing season. Polling has overtaken show biz; opinion has overwhelmed genuine emotion or analysis. The trend has reached a new peak of absurdity with the pre-release dissection of Mission: Impossible III. Journalists have gone wild with speculation over whether Tom Cruise's defense of Scientology, his attacks on psychiatry and his jokes about eating placenta have shrunk the Mission Impossible series' female fan base.

Even the august Wall Street Journal devoted a column to Cruise's gender gap and quoted pop culture specialist Martin Kaplan, director of the Norman Lear Center for the study of entertainment and society, on the subject. With an air of unquestionable authority, Kaplan pinpointed Cruise's woman problem to his disparagement of Brooke Shields after she took drugs for postpartum depression. Kaplan says that's when Cruise "moved from the realm of acceptable eccentricity to something scary and cruel."

But Cruise's attack on Shields came with the release of War of the Worlds, and it didn't keep that movie from raking in $591 million internationally. Does that mean the women who showed up approved or even tolerated Cruise's statements about Shields? Maybe they're just better than "experts" at separating illusion from reality and the pseudo-reality of talk shows, slick profiles and "scientific" data.

And if women end up jamming the theaters for M:i:III, will it mean they condone Cruise's approaches to childbirth?

Maybe it just means they know that M:i:III is only a movie.

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