I will never watch another Tom Cruise movie again

It’s not the couch-jumping thing—that was charming in its spontaneity. No, it takes a special kind of arrogance, of intolerance, to appear on the Today Show to promote your movie, and patronize your host with statements like, “Here’s the problem. You don’t know the history of psychiatry. I do.” Missed it on TV? Watch it now.

I have enjoyed Tom Cruise’s movies. I was looking forward to seeing “War of the Worlds” when it came to cable TV. I loved “Minority Report.” I hated “Jerry Maguire”, mainly for reinforcing that “You complete me” poppycock about marriage. A truly healthy relationship involves two whole people, not two half-formed personalities needing each other to function as adults. Codependency ensues. ANYway, “Top Gun,” “Risky Business,” “Interview with the Vampire,” and probably others I’m forgetting, were all movies I enjoyed.

I can’t enjoy them any more. I can’t support a man like Tom Cruise, or see him as a hero, after the displays he’s put on this past year.

Here’s one for you, Tom Cruise: You don’t know the non-celebrity underside of your own religion. I do. Your religion has a separate track for celebrities, and I’d be surprised if you haven’t visited your share of Celebrity Centres. In my life I’ve witnessed the non-celebrity track. I’ve seen it rend marriages and families, use and break people. I’ve known it to drive a person to take their own life. I’m not talking about the well-publicized intimidation campaigns your organization has conducted against its critics; these people were believers.

Here’s another thought for you. I, too, have studied the history of psychiatry. Like many of today’s sciences, it descends from uncomfortable, even embarrassing beginnings. Franz Mesmer and his misguided notions of healing mental illness with magnetism or a wand is an example. How do stories like that differ from medicine’s early belief in blood-letting, or the Hippocratic theory of physical illness stemming from an imbalance of the four biles, or, as recently as the early 20th century, the common diagnosis of “hysteria” in women, which was relieved by an M.D. in a medical procedure we would today call, “masturbation of a patient to orgasm?”

My own religion also has a history of oppressing ideas and emerging sciences it perceived as a threat to its hold on its consumer base. Astronomy is another branch of human research that in earlier centuries had many ill-concieved or superstitious ideas masquerading as science. One such “pseudo-scientist,” Giordano Bruno, was burned at the stake in 1600 by the holy Inquisition for agreeing with Copernicus, and disagreeing with the church, that the Sun and not the Earth was the center of God’s Universe.

So it seems rather typical that human knowledge often begins with many missteps, sometimes by individuals, sometimes by large, well-respected organizations. Does that justify the blanket invalidation of any such field, based on its history, as you say? Medicine, astronomy, psychiatry, and other sciences have early, foolhardy ideas and woefully mistaken “truths” to thank for the genuine good they offer humankind today, as evidenced by the success stories we know of or experience in our lives. That you or anyone else does not hear or chooses not to accept those successes does not diminish them. Shame on you.

Do you walk your talk? Would you deny your loved ones or yourself the benefit of modern medicine, such as a life-saving antibiotic or operation, because the history of medicine contains so many flawed ideas? Do you travel by airplane, or does the old newsreel footage of early, wrongheaded attempts to fly prove that aviation is a pseudo-science, again based on its history? Are there any sciences you do believe in and benefit from? Other than the branch of light-sensitive chemistry pioneered by M. Daguerre? And how do their histories differ from that of a so-called pseudo-science? You say that, “Ritalin is a street drug,” and level other criticisms against psychiatry because of the abuses it potentiates. Are there any sciences, or products of science, that cannot also be abused for illegal or immoral purposes? Does that also qualify them as pseudo-sciences?

This is not to say we have fully mature sciences today–they will doubtless continue to progress into the yet-unknown. I believe in the centuries to come, we will look back on the present day with incredulity, wondering how we could possibly have believed what we now take for granted.

Matt Lauer asked you an excellent question, regarding Brooke Shields and her postpartum depression: “But Tom, if she said that this particular thing helped her feel better, whether it was the antidepressants or going to a counselor or psychiatrist, isn’t that enough?” You answered, or rather avoided answering, with an ad hominem attack on Mr. Lauer’s knowledge. I believe the correct answer is Yes. That also applies to any belief system, including religions. It doesn’t matter if your guiding principle is a god, another higher power, L. Ron Hubbard, snake handling, secular humanism, or what have you. What matters is what your belief system gives you in your daily life. Which is why I would never begrudge you your core beliefs, and why I think you owe everyone else the same thing.

I’m reminded of new research into the placebo effect. It has been shown that imaginary medicine can sometimes cure what no actual medicine can. Doctors are now pondering how to incorporate the placebo effect into treatment regimens. Would you, in your studied wisdom, advise these patients that they should not heal because they’re just taking sugar pills, and that science doesn’t understand how a placebo can achieve the impossible? Or would you tell them that yes, they may be healed, but only because your spiritual beliefs can explain why?

One last thought for you, Tom Cruise. A famous thought, to consider at those moments when you’re sure you Know The Answers, and feel the urge to publicly belittle people who disagree:

Eppur Si Muove.

And… In the future, when you get up on the soapbox? Bring some compassion with you, and leave the rude attitude at the door. Thanks.

Update 7/26/06: From the “By Way of Example” department: According to a local TV news program, a filmmaker in Clearwater, FL who was making a documentary on Scientology, is now the subject of a smear campaign. Posters are being placed throughout the city with the man’s picture, identification details, and a large red “WARNING” banner. The posters alert the public that the man is a sex offender who is harassing people in Clearwater, and to call the “Cleveland Street Safety League” for more information. Do you think there might be a connection between this campaign and the recent incident where a Scientologist assaulted the filmmaker on-camera, and was subsequently jailed after police reviewed the film?

The opinions expressed in Steve’s Peeves are intended to entertain and uplift. They may not be appropriate for young readers or the satirically challenged. Parental supervision is advised.

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