THE last few weeks have been a Lollapalooza when it comes to our unending fascination with strange celebrity behavior. Just consider: Russell Crowe has been on an apology PR tour after heaving a telephone at a hotel desk clerk. Lindsay Lohan has been reduced to denying reports that Disney had her much-gossiped-about breasts digitally reduced to avoid offending families coming to see "Herbie: Fully Loaded." Brad Pitt took "Primetime Live" sob-sister Diane Sawyer all the way to poverty-ridden Ethiopia to avoid talking about Angelina Jolie, only to find himself inundated with insinuating queries about his busted marriage. Jolie had her lawyer warning interviewers about discussing her personal life. Christian Slater managed to get arrested for allegedly groping a woman's bottom on a New York street corner.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Tuesday June 14, 2005 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 34 words Type of Material: Correction
"The Mirror" writer -- In the Big Picture column in some copies of today's Calendar section, the writer of the script for "The Mirror" is misidentified as Scott Silver. His name is Scott Smith.
And all this against the backdrop of the carnival-like Michael Jackson molestation trial in lovely Santa Maria.
But when it comes to melting down in the spotlight, no one can hold a candle to Tom Cruise. His public displays of affection for new gal-pal Katie Holmes have appeared so breathtakingly weird that even the most casual showbiz observer now assumes that, whatever the reason for all this jumping on talk-show sofas, it couldn't possibly involve real romance.
Somewhere at the intersection between aberrant star behavior and insatiable audience voyeurism, we've created a new entertainment form: celebrity reality TV. Our obsession with eavesdropping on people's private lives, combined with our fascination with the inner workings of showbiz, has created a new rogue genre in which celebrities act out their own reality show, free from the constraints of a network time slot or a staged setting, like a boardroom or a desert island.
Take Tom Cruise, please. Who would've imagined that the world's biggest movie star would jeopardize his $25-million-a-movie mystique by acting like a contestant on "American Idol" -- in other words, like someone who'd lucked into his 15 minutes in the spotlight? Racing from one media event to the next, always on camera, Cruise has conjured up a hybrid of "The Bachelor" (his lovey-dovey "Oprah" appearance), "The Apprentice" (his "Access Hollywood" chat in which he said of his split with uber-publicist Pat Kingsley, "If I don't feel that [my people] are doing what I need from them ... hey, I fire them!") and "The Contender" (his interview with Aussie journalist Peter Overton in which, after one too many Nicole Kidman questions, Cruise silenced his interviewer with an icy challenge: "Peter, you're stepping over a line now.... I'm just telling you right now, put your manners back in").
Everywhere you look, celebrities are acting like reality TV wannabes, to the point where it's impossible to tell the difference between an episode of "Britney and Kevin" and the real escapades of Tom and Katie. Is it any wonder reality TV producers are having trouble coming up with a hot new show? How could "The Swan" offer anything as deliciously strange as Lohan, who has so radically transformed her image in the last few months: When she scampered up to Brad Pitt at last week's premiere for "Mr. & Mrs. Smith," he had no idea who she was. (His publicist was seen on TV whispering to him, "Lindsay Lohan.") The effect is only accentuated by the way tabloid rags such as US Weekly run unflattering paparazzi shots of stars leaving the nail salon or installing their kids' car seats, leaving the distinct impression that they're even less glamorous than the average participant on "Survivor."
I'd been counting the days until the debut of Bravo's new celeb-reality show, "Being Bobby Brown," figuring it would be a meltdown of epic proportions, but it's hard to imagine that it could top Cruise's mad-scientist interview in Entertainment Weekly, in which he doggedly contends that the drug methadone was originally called adolophine because "it was named after Adolf Hitler." Or try deconstructing this: While Brad and Angelina vehemently deny they're a couple in real life, saying the media is confusing their steamy movie behavior in "Mr. & Mrs. Smith" with their chaste real-life relations, they pose for an elaborate 60-page photo spread in the new issue of W pretending to be (ahem) a suburban married couple.
In the case of Cruise, most observers believe that if his unhinged display of puppy love was meant to make him seem more "real" and less manufactured, the strategy backfired. "I don't see how Tom gets out of this," says Bumble Ward, longtime publicist to Quentin Tarantino and other filmmakers, who recently closed up shop to work on a novel. "When you reveal everything, you have no mystique left -- everyone feels like you're fair game. The problem with too many stars is they have no sense of reality. They believe that the world revolves around them, so anything that they do, the world should harmoniously follow them."