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20 Years of Love & Sex
20-Year Timeline: From the beginning of AIDS awareness to outed cartoon sponges.
Love Is a Drug: Once the realm of poets, artists and philosophers, love has been exposed as biochemistry.
When Porn Wore Sideburns: In San Jose's golden age of smut, real fans converged in the dark at theaters like the Burbank, the New Paris and the Pussycat.
Gay Nineties: Twenty years of queers in the South Bay.
The Joy of Mix: Want a real window into the soul? Don't look into the eyes—look at the CD collection.
Victims Gone Wild: How feminism has messed up relationships.
Borderless Dating: In the valley, young couples aren't afraid of diversity.
Twenty Years of Tom Cruise: What were we thinking?

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Twenty Years of Tom Cruise

What were we thinking?

By Vrinda Normand

FOR TWO DECADES, Tom Cruise has been the man whose smile made our hearts beat a little faster; the man whose cocky smoothness caught our breath; the man we fell in love with onscreen and the hope we fell for in real life.

Who could forget his whitey-tighty-clad ass in Risky Business, the 1983 hit that made him famous? As in most of his films that followed, Cruise's character flirts with danger, in the form of a beautiful woman, and comes out having learned a lesson.

This description might as well apply to his role as Maverick, the hotshot jet pilot in Top Gun, the 1986 movie that became the classic, testosterone-pumped commercial for the Navy. The scenes with Cruise and Kelly McGillis (remember moonlit lovemaking to the theme music of "Take My Breath Away") ignited America's infatuation with this well-muscled man-child.

What followed was a legacy of fantastic (yet unrealistic) portrayals of romance that Hollywood is partly to blame for. In Far and Away (1992), Cruise plays an Irish immigrant-turned-boxer who pines after a high-class broad (Nicole Kidman). In the end, he gets her, along with his little house on the prairie.

The ultimate Cruise to croon over came in Jerry Maguire (1996), the award-winning movie that spelled out pop culture's definition of love. Cruise plays a high-strung sports agent who grows a conscience and then fumbles through a relationship with a single mother (Renée Zellweger) before he realizes that she is "the one." Zellweger's character, the prototype of American female ideology, follows her heart from the beginning, making extremely impractical decisions that eventually pay off when Cruise hits her with the line that made everyone (yes, everyone) sigh: "You complete me."

The tingly feeling and dumbfounded expression that come with a moment like this are part of a media package called "soul mates." This myth, perpetuated by Cruise and countless other Hollywood hunks, is exactly what a few smart Jesuits at Santa Clara University are trying to debunk.

At about the same time that the Cruise affair began, Father Theodore Mackin started a class called The Theology of Marriage, in which he attempted to open his students' eyes to the realities of adult relationships. Ironically, Mackin stopped teaching 20 years later when he left his Jesuit orders to marry a former nun whom he had fallen in love with at a religious-studies conference.

Now, professor Robert Brancatelli teaches the course, which has become one of the most popular on campus. In a nondogmatic way, Brancatelli cuts through the cult of romance that so many young people have fallen victim to. More so, he says, in the past 10 years with the development of communication technologies like email and blogging: "People are expressing themselves to the point of nausea."

The Cruise fantasy, he points out, is a holy grail. What are the chances that "the one" is within three to five years of your age and lives within 10 miles of you? For all we know, he or she could be someone who lived in the past century. As to the idea that you can't be complete without your soul mate, Brancatelli responds, "You can't put that responsibility on someone else. The goal is to become a free, full individual first."

In other words, the idea is to complete yourself, and then you'll have something to work with. Because relationships are work, as unromantic as that sounds, and involve less-glamorous moments than the glimpses we see of Cruise with his onscreen lovers.

Erin Ashford took the course last quarter, with no religious background, and had no idea what she was getting into. Brancatelli shocked her out of her old mind-set. "What the hell was I thinking?" she says now. But far from being discouraged about love and marriage, Ashford has learned to look past the materialistic facade of romance.

"Once you find yourself," she says, "It's a lot easier to find what you're looking for."


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From the February 9-15, 2005 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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