Written by --GASP!!!---a non-scientologist
It's not the celebrity, it's the subject
I can't believe I'm defending Tom Cruise.
But someone has to do it. Cruise has been criticized and ridiculed after a
heated exchange with "Today" show co-host Matt Lauer the other day over a
rather important topic: the possible overuse of prescription drugs that
supposedly treat depression or other forms of mental illness.
It all started when Lauer came to the rescue of Brooke Shields, who while
promoting a book disclosed that she had therapy and took antidepressant
drugs to combat postpartum depression.
Cruise doesn't believe in psychiatry ("a pseudo science") or antidepressants
("mind-altering, antipsychotic drugs"), and he said as much after Shields
made her remarks.
Lauer thought that Cruise was being judgmental, and that he should keep his
opinions to himself. He also thought Cruise should stipulate that while the
actor didn't approve of taking antidepressants those for whom the drugs
had worked should be free to take them.
Why should Cruise keep his opinions to himself? Shields didn't keep her bout
with mental illness to herself. She advertised it to sell books. Cruise is
entitled to his opinion, just like anyone else.
The problem isn't that celebrities have opinions. It's that the rest of
society is quick to treat them as experts. They're not experts. They're movie
stars with opinions. And they should be free to express their opinions, and the
rest of us should be free to discount them if they don't hold up.
But Lauer seemed to be saying that Cruise didn't have a right to his opinion
because many people like the millions of Americans who use prescription
drugs might find it offensive.
Cruise held his ground. He didn't just give in to Lauer's brand of "I'm OK,
you're OK" psychobabble. When asked if it was OK if drugs worked for Shields,
Cruise said, no, it wasn't.
"I disagree with it," he told Lauer.
Cruise suggested vitamins and exercise as a viable alternative and said
drugs only "mask the problem."
I enjoy a good fight. How many other celebrities in the same situation
would have caved in and said whatever they thought the interviewer wanted to
Instead, Cruise kicked off a debate over a subject that a lot of people
don't feel comfortable discussing: whether Americans are too quick to turn to
prescription drugs and whether their doctors are too quick to prescribe them.
Cruise zeroed in on "drugging children" with Ritalin, which is supposed to
treat hyperactivity or attention deficit disorder.
That's a hugely important discussion, and it shouldn't matter who gets the
ball rolling. Even if the push comes from a gasp celebrity, and one who
has links to gasp Scientology.
So far the public isn't buying it. According to an online poll by MSNBC, 69
percent of viewers said Cruise was "just plain wrong" on the role of doctors
and the use of drugs to alleviate mental distress.
Those people are naive. My friends who are doctors tell me that they are
constantly being lobbied by drug companies, trying to convince them to prescribe
some of this and more of that.
Could this have anything to do with the economic incentives and perks that
drug companies offer doctors and hospitals? What do you think?
That's the discussion we need to be having. And if it's finally under way,
it is no thanks to the scores of newspaper reporters and radio talk show hosts
who piled on Tom Cruise. After watching the interview and the reaction, I
felt embarrassed not for Cruise, but for many of my colleagues in the media.
All of a sudden, the issue went from being about drugs to being about
celebrity and Scientology. Talk show hosts in Southern California ribbed "Dr.
Cruise" for thinking that he knows anything about psychiatry. A writer for The
Washington Post joined in, asking: "Should we address him as Dr. Tom Cruise from
now on? Or will the Rev. Dr. Cruise suffice?" And how's this for a headline
from one online newspaper: "Tom Cruise 'Today Show' Scientology Rant Hurts
What Scientology rant? The guy was talking about or rather trying to talk
about our society's increasing dependence on mind-altering and
mood-altering drugs. And at no point in the interview did he even attribute those views
to his religion.
Do you suppose it's possible for an entire profession in this case, the
news media to suffer from attention deficit disorder? The problem is that Tom
Cruise raised a serious issue, one that deserves serious attention.