Tom Cruise, Ayn Rand, and the Self-Made Man

Today’s Sydney Morning Herald contains this interesting ramble by Ruth Wajnryb about the power of remaking oneself in one’s own image:

[Tom] Cruise wasn’t always going to be Cruise. He used to be a gawky, orthodontically challenged, two-bit nobody. Then he had his teeth fixed, and who knows what else, and emerged looking as close as he could dream to being a latter-day James Dean in Top Gun. Then he was A Few Good Men’s hunk – the white-uniformed fledgling lawyer-officer with God on his side, a baseball bat in his hand and Demi Moore beside him.

Call me weird, but I actually carry around in my day-planner a very old picture of Tom Cruise – and I mean old. Before Nicole, before Top Gun, before the radical teeth work. It’s a before-pic, to which I’ve attached an after-pic; together they serve as a kind of talis(wo)man. They keep me grounded, reminding me that what we know of Cruise has been commodified to within an inch of his life. Grumpy old woman that I’m becoming, that’s nice to know. It is, well, settling.

And:

Yet face work and air-brushing only go so far. It’s really in the language that Cruise constructs his persona. He talks the talk masterfully. He’s the expert. A major part of talking the talk is massaging past biography into a version that’s congruent with the present. I read somewhere that Cruise said that when he was young he used to look about in the street for people he might help – little old ladies struggling to cross the road, others laden with heavy shopping.

Now hold this boy scout image against the code of the Samurai, which he will passionately explicate for anyone who asks, obligingly allowing his on-screen identity to bleed into him: “Be acutely honest throughout your dealings with all people. Believe in justice … To the true Samurai, there are no shades of grey. There’s only right and wrong. A life of honour, a life of honesty. These are things, the way I try to live my life. Doing things right, and treating people with respect.”

The ending:

My pictorial talisman started out quite personally – used to be something to glance at while waiting at the periodontist. Then I started showing the pictures to people and discovered their reaction gave me a buzz. Some, like me, were astounded at what cosmetic work can do for a face. But most have bought the Cruise line – dazzling success can be anyone’s, provided you really want it. It’s an Ayn Rand world: the rugged individual is born, has hopes and dreams, is single-mindedly ambitious, but also kind to old people, children and animals. All Cruise has done is embrace enthusiastically the pursuit of happiness that is everyone’s right.

Narro ergo sum. Loosely, I am my narrative.

See the full story for a bit more background.