What's Up With The 'Poor Katie' Narrative?

Katie Holmes, now 33 years old, started modeling at 14, and landed a part in Ang Lee's The Ice Storm at 19. She went on to turn down the lead role in Buffy The Vampire Slayer and auditioned for the part of Joey Potter on Dawson's Creek via videotape. With a hit TV show, a smattering of flicks and a fashion label under her belt, she's been in the public eye a long time, and is, as far as anyone can tell, a grown woman who chooses her choices. So how come she's painted as a victim?

In a New York magazine piece detailing the rise and fall of TomKat, Benjamin Wallace writes that Katie Holmes was an "apple-cheeked innocent" when, at 26, she met 43-year-old Tom Cruise. She "seemed more like his daughter than his lover," Wallace claims, "cute and childlike to the point that MSNBC repeated a British tabloid claim that she was still a virgin."


But Katie was not a child bride. She was a 26-year-old woman who'd been acting for at least 10 years and had already been engaged to Chris Klein. Even if their meeting was a setup, an "audition" (as Wallace points out, "It's not like Cruise is going to meet someone in a bar or on OKCupid"), Katie didn't have to marry him, wasn't forced to get pregnant. But their narrative has been reported as though Katie was a hostage. Wallace writes:

In the tabloid/Internet telling, even Holmes's pregnancy was a font of sinister implications. When Cruise bought an expensive sonogram machine for home use-not all that crazy for a celebrity who has to worry about a nurse's aide selling out intimate prenatal secrets-bloggers pronounced him the next Wacko Jacko. "Silent birth," a Scientology practice, was something Cruise was "forcing [Holmes] into … on a boat" (Star), and the couple's derelict failure to cough up Baby Suri for the hungering cameras in her first several months led to ominous speculation (birth defects?): "Baby Mystery. Where's Suri? Inside Tom & Katie's Big Secrets" (Us Weekly). The tabs, regarding Holmes as a brainwashed zombie, reveled in publishing hostage photos of Stepford Wife Katie Holmes, her "dead eyes" proof that she was being held against her will.

"Against Her Will" was an acual headline. We were supposed to believe that poor Joey Potter had been sucked into an older man's sick sad world, complete with freaky religious ceremonies and some kind of brainwashing (another headline: "Under Tom's Spell.") Why are we so quick to believe that Katie was a passive party in her relationship? Is it because we see her as young Joey Potter, sweet and delicate and dreamy? Is it because she's not falling out of cars drunk and exposing her vulva for the paparazzi? Is it because she's Catholic? You know who else is 26 and Catholic? Lindsay Lohan.


The point is this: While Tom Cruise may have seemed batshit crazy — Scientology, couch-jumping, doing his own stunts, and remember when he got braces? — wouldn't you expect people to say that a woman who'd marry that guy would have to be even crazier? But instead of seeing Katie as a starry-eyed psycho superfan (as you'll recall, she told Seventeen magazine she wanted to marry Tom Cruise before they met), we think of her as a helpless, confuzzled thing, lured into beard-dom by the big bad allegedly gay movie star. We don't accuse her of being a gold-digger, even though she's spent oodles of Tom's cash during the marriage while her own career fizzled. (True, she reportedly won't get a dime of Tom's fortune — the $10 million he will pay out gradually is just for Suri.)

As Wallace puts it:

If Holmes felt trapped, it may have just been in someone else's movie. Promised above-the-title billing, she never managed to move beyond a supporting role. Where at 26 she found Cruise's monster life "exciting," at 33 it just made her feel smaller. And it doesn't require any overt or conscious cynicism on Holmes's part, or mean she wasn't genuinely smitten with Cruise when they wed, for her also to have expected the union to be a boon to her career.


But perhaps the most telling line in the entire piece is this one, which may not sound like the Katie we know through TV interviews or tabloids, but certainly could explain a lot of her behavior, from the marriage to the parading Suri around town with a smirk on her face to the bombshell divorce news:

"I'm convinced that she's the most fame-hungry person the world has ever seen," says someone who's worked with Holmes.


An Inquiry Into the Very Public Private Marriage of Katie Holmes and Tom Cruise [New York]

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