2008 is a bad PR year for Tom Cruise.
“Being a scientologist, when you drive past an accident, it’s not like anyone else when you drive past. You know you have to do something about it because you know you’re the only one that can really help”.
This odd and chilling Pythonesque indoctrination video that was leaked on the web lit the touch paper to give permission to the web community to take up what the traditional media had failed to do – take apart Tom Cruise’s image and his chosen religion. It spurred a flurry of “indoctrination parodies” The latest forward is Clinton & Cruise: On the Campaign Trail
a cleverly observed and well edited piece which identifies that there is a growing tide of antagonism towards Cruise from the web which creates a real danger. It’s one in a series of videos that are made to look home spun but aren’t. Like water on stone, they are picking away at Tom. And below is the latest batch of those reacting to the original video.
It is clear that the web community is out to destroy Cruise’s finely tooled PR image as well as that of Scientology. A cluster of activity began after a German historian compared Cruise’s hyper intense oratory
to that of Joseph Goebbels, the Nazi propagandist, and the weekly if not daily video offerings signpost the burgeoning anti cruise material. Undoubtedly this trend to belittle Cruise and Scientology has been heralded by the failure of the traditional media, previously neutered by L. Ron Hubbard’s legal muscle (or sheer immoral or illegal means) that the Scientos have employed to crush any unfavourable publicity.
Take for example Paulette Cooper, a U.S. author who is best known for activism against the Church of Scientology; she was the recipient of nineteen lawsuits filed by the Church. The situation culminated in the Church itself sending forged bomb threats purportedly from Cooper, using her typewriter and paper with her fingerprints on, to the US government. They were eventually uncovered by the FBI, but according to Hubbard, she had been “fair game”.
It seemed that any critic of the Church have, at some point, found themselves the targets of vicious silencing campaigns. Paul Barresi the celebrity sleuth was harassed repeatedly for claiming he’d slept with John Travolta (a scientologist) and Graham Berry, an LA based lawyer who found flyers all around his neighbourhood saying he was child molester. In the satirical world of television, the Scientologist’s “operating Thetans” were ridiculed in an episode of South Park in 2006. At that point Cruise put pressure on Sumner Redstone, the head of Viacom, which owns Comedy Central (home of South Park) to pull any repeats of that episode.
After resignations and indignation, the episode was pulled. In early January came the news that Cruise was going to sue the publishers of Andrew Morton’s unauthorised biography prior to its release. It claimed amongst other things, that Suri Cruise was sired using sperm from the late L. Ron Hubbard. Not surprisingly Cruise denies this and other claims and Scientology lawyers have drawn up a seven page document damning Morton and are seeking $113 million in compensation from Morton’s publishers, St Martin’s press.
Any great viral campaign needs three things – there has to be fantastic content that has virality, it has to be contagious and it needs time to develop. This campaign has all those facets. Without doubt, people have thought that Scientology is just a crazy club for rich Hollywood weirdos, but with this constant web exposure, that view is changing. Mensnewsdaily.com claims that secret documents have been popping up all over the place http://digg.com/odd_stuff/More_Scientology_Secret_DOX, and a hacker group called “anonymous” has already managed to shut the official Scientology website down for a 24 hour period and is hell bent on laying waste to the church’s entire organization.
The emphasis here is that celebrities are in fact fair game on the web. The existing spin machines are labouring in their clumsy attempts to halt this guerrilla activity. This campaign is a PR precedent and illustrates how bankrupt the celebrity wranglers are and how powerless they are to contain this reputation damaging creep. Countless carpet baggers are trying to peddle snake oil solutions to this type of campaign.
The hapless Hollywood spin community is naively buying this futile counsel. The key issue is that the organisations fail through their hubris to understand that these new consultancies do not provide the solutions to quashing these Tsunamis. Clearly this Cruise campaign suggests that celebrities have to consider their authenticity. My suspicion is that if this succeeds to destroy Cruise, the web community will move on to the next deserving candidate.