Compassion: Impossible


I knew we were born the same year, Katie Holmes and I. It’s one of those facts that crop up in glossy interviews with young actresses. Natalie Portman went to Harvard, Claire Danes to Yale. Rosario Dawson was discovered on a stoop, Reese Witherspoon on Plymouth Rock. Gwyneth Paltrow loved her daddy, Heather Graham won’t speak to hers. I don’t ask to know these things, I just do. Now, in the tidal wave of gossip crashing down on Tom Cruise’s dubious adoration for Katie Holmes, I have been reading a lot more about my pretty Year of the Horse alum. The other day I came across this vital fact nugget: Katie and I have the exact same bust size. I was moderately appalled by the appearance of this information in print (a glorious example of the tabloids’ “Don’t ask, we’ll tell you anyway!” policy), but it quickly caused me to construct a lunacy-soaked logic proof in which Katie Holmes is walking around with my actual breasts. Whereas normally I’d feel flattered knowing that my mammaries are being well taken care of, draped in Carolina Herrera dresses and the like, I felt violated. I knew I was being felt up by a Scientologist.

Despite the consensus that their relationship is a grand mal publicity stunt, there exists the slim possibility of real love between Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes. Only two people blinded by passion would be able to see past the cheese factor of getting engaged at the Eiffel Tower. This is to say nothing of the international implications. If there’s one thing Americans enjoy lambasting more than Scientologists, it’s the French. Sadly it’s likely not you-and-no-other love so much as it is red-carpet love: We live in a televised world and she is a televised girl. At least this second media-friendly option is logical. We must face the timed-release genius of it: more mass exposure for her and more ‘tween demographic exposure for him right when their movies come out. If that weren’t reason enough, the charade of their union is ultimately validated by speculation that he would have dated Kate Bosworth or Lindsay Lohan if only either had been hard-up enough for the job. Neither of those ladies fits as well as Holmes. In her, he got both Bosworth’s girl-next-door quality and Lohan’s alleged herpes outbreak. (Though, like Nicole Kidman, the original fembot, none of these women are a truly perfect fit for Tom Cruise. This is a square-peg-into-a-vaginal-hole problem: His love life is best hypothesized with a man in it. And that man is not L. Ron Hubbard.)

At the end of the day it doesn’t matter what’s true and what’s not. Fame is like death: We will never know what it looks like until we’ve reached the other side. Then it will be impossible to describe and no one will believe you if you try. For now, all the conjecture is on our side of the media fence. And lately it has put Tom Cruise one spoke behind Michael Jackson on the freak wheel. But why do we hate him so? Because she’s 17 years his junior? Because he doesn’t want Katie even pretending to do drugs on-screen lest she wind up like that Brooke Shields woman? Because he sent psychic vibes to have his Scientologist minions kidnap her so that she missed pieces of April? Because he rudely jumped up and down on Oprah’s lovely sofa with his shoes on? There was a time when we worshipped Tom Cruise. OK, I. I worshipped Tom Cruise. Another similarity between Ms. Holmes and myself is that I too wanted to grow up and marry him. I just never said it in print.

And therein lies the problem. Discovering basic facts about celebrities that are also true of us gives the pleasant illusion of a straight line drawn between their lives and ours. It makes sense that in the age of “reality” television, our celebrities have become famous for their human qualities. “Stars! They’re just like us!” proclaims Us Weekly, with NFL play arrows pointing to Sarah Jessica Parker eating a carrot stick. Except they’re not just like us. They’re just like them, because (a) “us” is the whole country and the whole country is eating Twinkies, not vegetables, and (b) that’s an organic Dean & Deluca carrot stick you’re looking at and it’s going into a multimillion-dollar mouth. Unlike with us, every smaller-than-life thing they do gets recorded—adolescent crushes and bra sizes included. As a result, erasing the past is a luxury afforded to those who aren’t famous. While they do not deserve our compassion for their fame and fortune, they do deserve our recognition that they are no longer of this earth and no attempt by them or their publicists will be able to fix that. Yet we persist in trying. Tom Cruise is suddenly and profoundly flawed and human, he’s dragging Joey Potter down with him, and we can’t get enough. We hate him for sport. We hate him because we can. We don’t even hate him, really. We just like to be horrified.

There is a documented lineage to our horrification as complex as the Kennedy family tree. Picture it: North Carolina, 1998, on the set of a new WB series revolving around teenage lust and breaking and entering. Behind the scenes of this girl-next-door-lives-next-to-boy-next-door drama, a similar real-life romance is unfolding. Katie Holmes’s first love was Joshua Jackson. With cheek dimples full of equal parts innocence and sex she moved on to Chris Klein, who has about as much edge as a marshmallow but was certainly true to type. After a logical brief relationship with Josh Hartnett, she did the romantic equivalent of turning herself into a symbol à la Prince. Up until a few weeks ago—when she started smiling like a maniac in photos, like she’d won something—we were cool with Katie. Not so for Tommy boy. His love life has been spinning out of control like one of Nicole’s frizzy tendrils in Days of Thunder since that fateful film brought Cruise his long-term Australian beard. Throw in a little Penélope Cruz (the logic of that will be explained to us in the next life, when we are all cats), enough anecdotes about his sisters using him for kissing practice, a pinch of Dianetics, and blend. We know too much not to be shocked.

I suppose there might be a glimmer of hope for our girl. Hollywood engagements are made to be broken, and judging from their respective histories above, this one is no exception. Katie is from Ohio, where they make marzipan, preppy liberal arts colleges, and willowy brunettes. Tom is from New Jersey, where they make acrylic nails, big hair, and publicist-firing egomaniacs. It can never work. The harder they scream, “We’re in love!” the less equipped we are to believe them. It’s all so mind-numbingly transparent. Sure, this has all been a nice distraction from Brad and Angelina, which was a nice distraction from . . . I can’t remember, of course. But this too shall pass, and we will target another set of celebrities with major motion picture releases on the horizon. It’s a little sad, really, knowing that I don’t have Katie Holmes’s bust literally or metaphorically. She was always famous in a good way, but now she’s been sucked into a celebrity orbit so bizarre that she can never return to earth.

I am acquainted with one young actress who has appeared in the same magazines as Katie. She has that deer-caught-in-the-flashbulbs look about her that celebrities get, but is otherwise a fairly normal and intelligent person. Once, at a private but crowded party, I walked in on her peeing. She laughed and I laughed and I suggested that she consider locking the door next time. I knew what she was thinking—precisely what we’ve programmed her to think. She should lock the door because a photo of her squatting with her pants down would look great on Page Six. Because people speculate enough about her as it is. Because peeing is a smaller-than-life thing and because people are marveling about her famousness. She would have had a right to her paranoia, but as we walked to the bar together, all eyes trying not to be on her, I couldn’t resist making her human again: “Because you’re a girl.”

Sloane Crosley’s last Essay was about being a vegetarian.

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