by: Nico Lang
Dear Tom Cruise,
You don’t know me, but I’ve known you for a very long time. I’ve known you my whole life. I remember watching Legend, Cocktail and Far and Away with my mother when I was little, who apparently didn’t get the message that those are some of the worst movies in your catalogue. I used to go on the Days of Thunder ride at my local amusement park over and over again and pretend to be you when I drove that car around the racetrack. I wanted hair that swept in the wind like yours, and a girl who looked like Nicole Kidman waiting for me as I finally crossed the finish line. I grew up in Cincinnati, and I would always hear anecdotes about locations the movie, Rain Man, was filmed in, or people who allegedly ran into you or saw or almost saw you. As far as metropolitan areas go, Cincinnati is a small town, and having a movie filmed in it six years before was still all anyone talked about. You were the greatest thing that had ever happened.
And as I grew older, I stayed kind of obsessed with you. It wasn’t like a Lena Dunham-Jimmy Fallon thing, where I wrote plays where we would body switch and then make out with each other, but I must have watched The Firm and Vanilla Sky at least twenty times each, and I didn’t even like The Firm very much. (Full disclosure: I still watch Vanilla Sky regularly, and I am not ashamed.) Sometimes I think I’m the only fan you have left, because I genuinely believe in the quality of your acting, when your personal life isn’t getting in the way of that. In particular, Valkyrie evoked uncomfortable laughter from the audience I saw it with, because you playing a Nazi onscreen was simply too poetic not to guffaw at. Even though I knew your role in Rock of Ages — playing a cartoonishly masculinized rocker — would be similarly meta-licious, I begged people to see it with me. I knew you would be great in it, because you played a similar character in P.T. Anderson’s masterful Magnolia, which I still think you were robbed of an Oscar for. However, I couldn’t convince a single person to go with, even when I promised them we would get drunk beforehand. And it wasn’t just that they thought the Rock of Ages would be bad, which, of course, it was going to be; they didn’t just want to see you in it.
The same problem plagued me when I tried to get someone to see the latest Mission: Impossible with me, and the only way I got someone to go was by promising that you wouldn’t be in it that much. I told them that because the ads were hiding your face in all the promotional materials for the film, your role was being downplayed in favor of Jeremy Renner, who “rumor has it” would be taking over the franchise. However, I was full of feces, lying harder than you lie to yourself. The real reason the posters covered up your face was that your own franchise was ashamed to be associated with you; they didn’t want people to remember you were in it. And it worked. It’s your only movie in recent memory to gross anywhere near $200 million domestically. The last one? War of the Worlds, which was released seven years ago.
There’s a reason for that: people think you are “crazy.” Ever since you made the fateful decision to wear shoes on Oprah’s couch in 2005 — because no one tracks mud all over her Ashley furniture — everyone I know has thought you are completely off your rocker. In fact, if you Google “Tom Cruise crazy,” it pulls up 9 million hits, and “Tom Cruise insane” brings up another 3 million entries. There’s even a website called “IsTomCruiseNuts.Com,” in which the resounding answer seems to be “yes.” And you can’t really blame them. Between the couch incident, the Matt Lauer interview, the infinite rumors about your orchestrated courtship with Katie Holmes and that time you told GQ you wanted to eat your baby’s placenta, you haven’t exactly won the Atticus Finch Model of Mental and Emotional Stability Award. In fact, you’ve done almost everything in your power to help the Internet talk more crap about you. Sometimes I think you might be emailing Ted Casablancas and Page Six directly with your own Blind Item suggestions.
So, of course, when you and Katie Holmes broke up — which only shocked Rick Santorum, who still isn’t quite sure who you are — the Internet rumor mill went into overload. Of course, the marriage contract myth resurfaced, and many are saying that the reason the two of you broke up is because Holmes chose not to renew. Daily Mail, The Mirror and Jezebel reported that Katie Holmes may be being stalked by the Scientologists–as they are worried she might pull a Sarah Palin and go rogue on the divorce. The Huffington Post went even further: You dumped Katie Holmes because she’s 33 years old and your “religion” mandates that all of women of said age must be either divorced or sacrificed like a goat. It sounds ridiculous that we are even talking about this, but we just expect this kind of behavior from you.
However, you have the power to change the conversation, because there’s one thing the Internet talks about much more than how “crazy” you are, the thing that pulls up almost 200 million hits when I search it on Google. You really like to play volleyball. And that’s okay. Everyone I know knows that you love to play volleyball — because we all saw that scene from Top Gun and aren’t headless — and almost no one I know cares. When Anderson Cooper, who enjoys the sport so much he’s practically an Olympian, admitted to Andrew Sullivan his love for spiking balls this week, do you know who cared? No one. Absolutely fucking no one. Almost everyone I know is ecstatic with the news, and Anderson’s announcement is the only thing they are talking about on the Huffington Post right now. Coop managed to eclipse your divorce, Lauryn Hill pleading guilty to tax evasion, the death of Andy Griffith and the birth of Adele’s first child, an infant who may up being the second coming of the baby Jesus and herald the Mayan apocalypse at the end of the year. Talk about a conversation changer.
It’s not that we are shocked by the revelation — far from it. It’s just that everyone I know has been waiting so long for Anderson acknowledge the thing we all already knew. We wanted him to play volleyball openly and proudly — because we just wanted him to be who he was. We wanted him to be happy. When I finally acknowledged I was a volleyball player in high school, my mother told me that the only thing that upset her was that I felt the need to hide it for so long. And I told her that I didn’t keep that secret from her because I didn’t love her. I wasn’t ready to admit it to her, because I wasn’t ready to be honest and open with myself. But one day, I looked in the mirror and I knew I couldn’t hide anymore. I was ready. It was time for me, just like it was for Anderson.
And I think it’s time for you, too. You can keep denying it like John Travolta, or make like Ryan Seacrest and pretend to play Cornhole with any girl desperate for the tabloid attention. You can sue anyone who ever brings it up, or even makes any insinuation about it (just like Liberace did before he declared he was a staunch volleyballer) and make it clear that you don’t want to even be associated with the word “volleyball.” You can continue to imply that volleyball and playing volleyball is “defamation” and is not okay. You can further perpetuate a culture of silence, hatred and volleyphobia, where young volleyballing kids are bullied and killed for being on the volleyball team you deny membership to. However, being called a volleyballer isn’t defamation, and the fact that you believe it to be so shameful is disgusting and hurtful to the millions of Americans who live openly and honestly every day, who are proud to be the person you are ashamed to be.
Instead of continuing to hide when no one believes you, you can simply open up and talk about it. You can use your voice to start a dialogue on being a volleyball player in Hollywood and join the ranks of those who have talked about the game publicly in the past year — to either polite applause or gentle shrugs. For instance, when Jim Parsons told the world about his preference for volleyball, it almost didn’t make headlines. As Mark Harris of Entertainment Weekly explains,
“Last month, another star of a popular TV comedy went public with his [volleyball prowess.] But the news that The Big Bang Theory’s Emmy winner Jim Parsons is [a volleyballer] was reported with such matter-of-fact understatement that my first reaction was a quick Google search to see if maybe he was [known to play volleyball] already and we’d all just failed to notice. Parsons did not seek out any magazine covers; in fact, he turned down several offers. Instead, the ‘big reveal’ about his [volleying] came in the 33rd paragraph of a Times profile about his return to Broadway this summer in Harvey.”
Similarly, Matt Bomer and Jodie Foster both did so without the need to address it on magazine covers, and both matter-of-factly addressed the issue by casually thanking their volleyball partners in acceptance speeches. Foster’s was so subtle that most people I know still don’t even know she ever admitted to playing on beaches in the summer. When I remind them that she did, that fact doesn’t change how anyone feels about her. The only thing anyone says it that they knew she loved the volley all along, and they didn’t care. In fact, Jodie Foster’s honesty makes us respect her more, just like Anderson Cooper’s Olympic status reminded us all why we loved him to begin with. It hasn’t hurt any of their careers. If you’re Ellen Degeneres or Neil Patrick Harris, it’ll help make you into a media darling.
So, Tom, remind the world why they used to love you, before your transparently fake personal life became your own headline, before you ruined your career by trying not to ruin your career. Think about it this way: after the abject failure of Rock of Ages, there’s no way could possibly hurt your career any more. You don’t become “box office poison” overnight. At this point, it can only help humanize you to a public that thinks you are a Nazi, an alien, a volleyballer or all of the above. When you do, no one will have any reason to call you a volleyball player in the tabloids or crack jokes on Jay Leno about it — because it’s hard to make fun of someone for the thing that they openly acknowledge, for being honest and saying: “Yes, I am.” When you do, there’s no way it won’t make major headlines, and you’ll have to go back on Oprah’s couch, do some explaining and tell us why you felt you needed to hide it for so long. When you do, you’ll have to act like a human again, and you’ll have to finally be yourself and finally be not crazy. It just might be the role of a lifetime.
P.S. Please don’t sue me. I don’t have any money.
Nico Lang is the Co-Creator and Co-Editor of In Our Words and a graduate student in DePaul University’s Media & Cinema Studies program. Lang is a Change Coordinator for LGBT Change, the Co-Founder of Chicago’s Queer Intercollegiate Alliance and a columnist for HEAVEMedia. At HEAVE, Nico writes a column on film called Found Footage and talks about nerd stuff on a weekly podcast called Pod People. Elsewhere in podcasting, Lang hosts Broad Shoulders, a monthly podcast for Chicago’s Live Lit community. Nico is also a contributor at Thought Catalog and the Huffington Post and has been featured in the Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, LA Times, The New Gay, The Guardian and on their mother’s refrigerator. Follow Nico on Twitter @Nico_Lang or on the Facebook.