With baby Suri, seeing is believing

/ Source: msnbc.com contributor

There it is, after months of chatter and speculation, on the cover of the new Vanity Fair: a photograph of the world’s biggest movie star, that girl who used to be on “Dawson’s Creek” (no, not the surprisingly good actress with the Oscar nomination, the other one) and an actual human baby.

Inside the magazine there are 22 more pages devoted to the trio, and while some space is handed over to Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes discussing their surprise and frustration with the gossip surrounding little Suri Cruise, it’s Annie Liebovitz’s photos of the infant and her famous parents that are the real draw.

With enough hair to join a Beatles tribute band, Suri bites her father’s nose (while Cruise seemingly poses for the “Jerry Maguire” poster one last time), gets kissed by her mother and stares out from under the leather jacket holding her close to daddy’s heart. It looks for all the world like a happy, newly expanded family.

It’s an image that at least two of them desperately need to project right now. Holmes has been accused not only of being a weak-willed puppet who Cruise effectively auditioned for the role of his wife but of being his second choice (following, so , a failed attempt to woo Scarlett Johansson). Cruise, meanwhile, has recently capped off a year and a half of abominable publicity — couch-jumping, on-air spats with Matt Lauer, a curiously underperforming “Mission: Impossible III” — by having his production company very publicly abandoned by Paramount in a move that some speculate is a message that the studios are trying to crack down on out-of-control stars.

The photos would appear to be damage control (though not from the Paramount fallout, since they were taken in July, a month beforehand), finally capitulating to the constant and deafening requests to see the baby, already.

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Tom Cruise

So now that we’ve finally seen actual photographic evidence of Suri (those thinking “ ... or a reasonable facsimile” can go sit in the corner now), now that we’ve finally gotten the answer to the question, “When are we going to see pictures of the baby?,” maybe it’s time to answer another question that was sitting right next to it, being drowned out, the entire time: Why is any of this our business?

Because from every important angle, it’s not. Perhaps Cruise opened the door when he conducted an extremely public courtship of Holmes, but he had every right to slam it shut again when it became clear that those he’d let in were determined to make themselves obnoxious houseguests. When someone calls you a zealot and your wife a docile pet before peeing on the furniture, the last thing you do is break out the baby book for them.

And yet, Jane Sarkin’s Vanity Fair piece suggested that that’s what Cruise and Holmes, whose entire courtship happened aggressively in front of the cameras, had always intended on doing anyway.

Sarkin wasn’t a journalist with a hot scoop, she was effectively a glorified PR agent on a press junket run by the couple’s handlers, covering Suri like she was Cruise’s latest project. (Which, well ... ) But her ability to deliver a story that was handed to her on a tightly controlled plate is being treated as though she actually broke hard news. On the “Today” show, Matt Lauer literally high-fived Sarkin for landing the interview and photo shoot. It was a disarming moment, especially in light of Lauer’s contentious interview with Cruise last June. The subtext was that even the man who has been praised for being one of the only people to challenge Cruise’s ravings directly could join in on the public celebration and announce, seemingly without irony, “We did it.

There’s a way in which the entire situation parallels the trajectory followed over the past year or two by “Snakes On A Plane” and its attendant hoopla. The public caught wind of something outside of which it has traditionally stood (the filmmaking process vs. celebrity birth announcements), managed to write itself into the story (Samuel L. Jackson’s famous fan-written “I’ve had it with these motherf------ snakes on this motherf------ plane!” line vs. the demands to see pictures of the baby and the subsequent rumors for why none had appeared) and then cheered itself with a few hearty way-to-gos as it witnessed the fruits of its handiwork.

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Katie Holmes

See the actress rise from "Dawson" pal to Tom Cruise's former leading lady.

But there’s a funny thing about this phenomenon: There’s a point at which the public’s involvement in the process makes the product itself irrelevant. “Snakes On A Plane” was over practically the moment it opened, pulling in a tepid $15 million its first weekend and limping to a total box office in the $40 million range (which may, admittedly, be better than what its prospects would have been without the Internet buzz).

And after all of the demands to put Suri Cruise on display for the world to see, the public got its wish despite Tom and Katie having every right to deny them what they were asking. The results are underwhelming: nothing more than well-photographed images of a baby girl with her father’s eyes, her mother’s nose and her privacy violated by a mob that ultimately cares less for what it’s calling for than for the sound of its own voice.