Shia LaBeouf seems like a man who is running through the woods while on fire; his whole world building to an inferno as tears of flame trail behind him, igniting the brush. Maybe LaBeouf can’t see or sniff out the destruction with that bag on his head, but when he finally removes it after he’s done finding out what being on fire feels like, everything that he has made and been given may resemble a pile of ash because nothing is as flammable as fame.
This assumes, of course, that LaBeouf will remove that bag. That he will bounce back and not foul out of life as so many have before, but to assume that, we have to take a leap of faith that this all started out as a controlled burn and that LaBeouf didn’t spontaneously combust a few months ago when he released 50 unstoppable megatons of whatever-the-hell-this-is into the ether.
Personally, I don’t think that LaBeouf is crazy. I buy that this is some kind of bonkers artistic statement — from the anima of HowardCantour.com that he nicked from Daniel Clowes to the sky apology and this exhibition where he sat like the world’s most over-exposed Buckingham Palace Guard while people visually and verbally prodded at him as he unknowingly or un-caringly sat shiva over his career — but I really don’t think it matters because weird is weird, this is unquestionably that and it has been judged as such by the masses.
Last week, actor James Franco wrote an op-ed in the New York Times wherein he seemingly tried to explain LaBeouf’s actions from a distant but sympathetic viewpoint, with Franco admitting that his much publicized decision to briefly join the cast of General Hospital at the height of his film career was actually driven by his need to “dissociate” himself from his “work and public image”. Franco then went on to discuss the vicious “loop” that LaBeouf is stuck on presently. Here’s an excerpt:
Any artist, regardless of his field, can experience distance between his true self and his public persona. But because film actors typically experience fame in greater measure, our personas can feel at the mercy of forces far beyond our control. Our rebellion against the hand that feeds us can instigate a frenzy of commentary that sets in motion a feedback loop: acting out, followed by negative publicity, followed by acting out in response to that publicity, followed by more publicity, and so on.
Participating in this call and response is a kind of critique, a way to show up the media by allowing their oversize responses to essentially trivial actions to reveal the emptiness of their raison d’être. Believe me, this game of peek-a-boo can be very addictive.
Franco makes a lot of sense in his op-ed, specifically with regard to the way that the media fixates on even the smallest of things when it comes to celebrity, but it is an observation that will fall on deaf ears, just like LaBeouf’s campaign/tantrum.
Is the media absent conscience and sense at times? Are there too many websites and TV shows and magazines for the small amount of organically generated information that exists in the world? Are consumers of the information slop that is made from the loose bits — the speculation, the listicles on the best listicles, the articles on “Nip slips”, “Who’s Fat?”, “Who’s Thin?”, “Who Looks Worse Without Makeup?”, and “Who’s tucking and fucking and sucking” — even aware that they are ingesting brain and soul poison? Yes, and sadly, nobody seems to care.
People aren’t idiots, they know that great Russian literature is out there. They know that they don’t have to watch the results show for American Superstar Dance Off While You Diet and Dry Hump on an Island 19, a lot of people have heard of the Criterion Collection. We don’t need think pieces to tell us that the flood of information is bad and that we are too hard on our celebrities, demanding more from them as we view them through our magnifying glasses, judging their imperfections. We don’t need actors to tell us that our smothering kind of “love” and our thirst for gossip stresses them, same as we don’t need nutrition facts on the back of fast food containers — we recognize the damage that we are doing and we know that this shit is going to clog our hearts and our minds and maybe even our souls, but we like empty and easy things.
Easy things are masturbating and nuggets and shitty blog posts that say shitty things and reality TV — those things are great and also terrible, mostly terrible, but they serve a purpose. Are there better things? Should we aspire to be better people? Absolutely, but those things are hard, and while we strive for them because no one wants to drown in a sea of hamburger wrappers, sometimes we’re just a little too battered to reach. Sometimes we need a distraction and sometimes we need a night or a couple of hours of easy, this lazy and mindless and cancerous easy, because it is the only kind of easy that some of us know.
That brings me to the conclusion of this cynical ramble: there is no empathy coming for the rich and blessed from the poor and fucked. That’s unfair and it feels terrible to say — especially when we see celebrities talk about how the paparazzi has made their children targets — but it’s true. Celebrities entertain we little people with their ups and their downs, and while that may seem ghastly, the trade-off is that they get to live their dreams and they are often spared the stab of many of the real problems (but certainly not all of them) that plague those of us who live lives that don’t give us a chance to take a breath, much less re-position the world’s stifling perception of us.
In short and as much as I honestly hate to say it: if you are a celebrity and you don’t like the downside to fame, feel free to either suck it up or bow out without a whining op-ed, a public farewell tour, or a performance art installation. Because if you are looking at people to show concern for your mistreatment or remorse for their easy willingness to consume the media that targets you, you’re likely going to find out that many people are too tired from their shitty jobs, stressed out by their late bills, and unhappy from the lack of ease that they encounter to lend a sympathetic ear. Basically, the ants don’t care.