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Tom Cruise, Katie Holmes, Anderson Cooper and the High Price of Privacy

There’s an industry that thrives on celebrity gossip and news -- so the need to control and manipulate it grows ever strong, especially when there are secrets those stars want kept in the closet.

 

Does this famously-charismatic, A-list movie star have a pretend ‘beard’ marriage arranged by his rumored-to-be cult of a church? Did his much-younger actress wife leave him in an orchestrated, almost-impossible spy-like mission in order to protect their only child from being brainwashed by members of that church? Is this hip-and-handsome cable news anchor really finally ready to give his audience an explanation on what his sexual orientation is?

The recent explosion in headlines about the disintegrating marriage of boldface names Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes shows just how interested the public is in celebrities who own significant real estate on the pop culture landscape. So too do stars from the world of serious news, like CNN’s Anderson Cooper, inspire curiosity in how they live and who they love. You know, enquiring minds, and all.

Even when the famous names aren’t right there in black and white, they still help the publicity and fame machines. Not-so-blind items like the juicy tidbits above are the bread and butter for tabloid gossip websites and mainstream news outlets because they help sell magazines and get page-clicks galore. The media trade in the currency of celebrity ‘infotainment’ news because it’s highly profitable. Having worked in the entertainment media world, I can attest that the market for inside info and celebrity scoop is only getting hotter and more revelatory.

But just because celebrities make their living based on their power to draw an audience, does that mean they aren’t entitled to have their private lives remain private? Are they beholden to spill their guts, to be completely open and honest with their adoring public just because they work in the public eye?

On the flip side, if their private lives aren’t necessarily in line with their public ‘persona,’ is it okay for celebs to feed us a smorgasbord of lies in order to paint a more flattering -- but completely false -- picture of their lives?

When news broke last week of the sudden split between Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes (TomKat, R.I.P), I wasn’t the least bit shocked or surprised. Their almost six-year marriage and preceding relationship probably set some Guinness Book record for speculation and gossip. She auditioned for the ‘role’ of his wife! They signed a contract that gives her $3 million a year plus a bonus for having a baby! Suri was conceived with Church of Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard’s sperm! It’s an arranged marriage so no one finds out he’s really gay!

Yeah, but if it’s out there in print, well it must be true, right?

Gossip, celebrity, ratings, box office -- what it boils down to is money. Movie stars’ images impact their box office power and earning strength, for themselves and for the studios that invest so heavily in them. They’ve all got financial motivation to keep the secrets hidden and the lies afloat.

Not as strong, but just as pervasive, there’s a black-market that trades on rumors, gossip, revelations and insider secrets -- a disgruntled employee willing to tell all can earn big bucks for ratting out the famous boss, or a publicist will offer a tidbit on another star if the muckraker keeps her client’s peccadilloes private. Let’s not even start to talk about the rat-pack paparazzi.

One significantly curious factor in the two stories I’m focusing on here is the mention of homosexuality. Both Cruise and Cooper have had the ‘gay rumor’ swirl about them for years. Part of the continued interest in talking about each star is the question of “is he or isn’t he?”

Shortly after news broke of Holmes’ surprise divorce filing, Cooper’s own news story broke when he let it be ‘quietly’ known that, yes, “The Fact is, I’m Gay.”  Actually, I should say that he let it be quietly known, publicly. According to media news circles and writers within the gay community, it’s never really been a secret, just something Cooper never chose to discuss in any interview or publicity he’s ever done. Part of what motivated him now to address it was a desire to correct any “mistaken impression” that he had something to hide or wise ashamed.

Is that the last bastion of titillation -- being a closeted gay?  Like Cooper, other celebs who have come out over the last couple of years without fanfare, gasps or repercussions to their careers are doing just fine, thanks. In fact, some of them have benefitted greatly, as I’m sure Ellen DeGeneres would agree.

It’s really only stars that are perceived to be living a life of insincerity and pretend that seem to get damaged with the revelation or what’s alleged to be true. Just Google “John Travolta gay scandal” and you’ll see how paralyzing and career damaging conjecture, innuendo and unsubtle hints can be.

"So how can I tell what’s really true and what isn't?" you ask.

It pays to remember that it’s called the ‘entertainment business’ for a reason:  it exists to tell us stories and keep us entertained. So whether you’re reading a story about the famous couple who fell in love on a movie set or a glossy profile of that plucked-from-the-cornfield starlet that debuted on the movie scene after her big break, just remember that there’s a lot that goes on in the background to make you think what you’re seeing is real.

Because even when the final credits roll, and the movie screen tells you it’s 'The End', the magic never stops.

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