Arts, Column

Transformer: A New LaBeouf

Shia LaBeouf has been issuing quite a few apologies lately, but instead of clearing things up, he seems to have been confusing people even more-so much so that James Franco wrote a New York Times Op-Ed piece this week trying to defend and explain the Transformers star’s behavior.

At the end of December, LaBeouf was accused of basing his film Howard not so loosely on a story by graphic novelist Daniel Clowes. He apologized on Twitter, admitting that he had “neglected to follow proper accreditation,” but the odd thing is, the tweet itself was plagiarized too. Now, there’s a mistake no form of remorse and no number of hashtags could ever fix.

LaBeouf claimed, in an attempt to justify his actions, that the whole thing was for the sake of performance art-as if calling plagiarism art makes it acceptable (that’s an argument for another column, though).

Pushing the boundaries of art even further, LaBeouf arrived at the premier of his movie Nymphomaniac in Germany at the beginning of the month wearing a brown paper bag on his head. The words “I AM NOT FAMOUS ANYMORE” were scrawled on it in sharpie and two holes were cut out for his eyes.

Getting caught plagiarizing is humiliating, but accessorizing with an oversized lunch bag at a black tie affair is neither a smart “critique,” like Franco called it, nor a wise solution. So, if this was LaBeouf’s way of proclaiming his aversion to, or his attempt to separate himself from celebrity culture, it failed miserably-because, ironically, LaBeouf is more “famous” now than he ever was before. Had he really wanted to “show up the media” and had the lifestyle he led truly bothered him, he would have been more successful if he just left Hollywood, rather than making a scene-talk about counterproductive.

The most recent of LaBeouf’s stunts, however, took place a week later when he opened a controversial gallery in LA. Titled #IAMSORRY, the exhibit featured him sitting silently in a chair with the now infamous bag covering his face. Viewers were allowed to sit before him and stare.

Like LaBeouf’s actions leading up to this performance project, #IAMSORRY begs the question: What is LaBeouf trying to do? And like his statement on the red carpet, it seems to be a giant, perplexing contradiction. After all, what is he apologizing for? For plagiarism? For his poor red carpet manners? For the project itself, which some argue rips off of someone else’s artwork? If LaBeouf’s purpose was any of the above suggestions, the exhibit seems to stand opposed to all of them.

If it wasn’t a social critique or an apology, maybe #IAMSORRY was actually a work of art. But that’s debatable, too, since it could be plagiarizing Marina Abramovic’s The Artist is Present, a piece in which Abramovic sat in the Museum of Modern Art for 750 hours-a living, human exhibition. For art to be art, it should be more or less original. Where does that leave #IAMSORRY, then?

While he supports it, even Franco isn’t 100 percent certain. “I think Mr. LaBeouf’s project, if it is a project,” he wrote, “is a worthy one.” He believes it’s LaBeouf’s effort to “reclaim his public persona,” but he doesn’t eliminate the possibility that the actor could be plain reckless or simply crazy. He’s no Louis Stevens anymore. Like former child stars Miley Cyrus and Britney Spears, he’s grown up, and retrospectively, his actions don’t seem to be too different from theirs. Look at Cyrus’s provocative performance at the VMAs last year or Spears’ decision to shave her hair off in the 2000s. How is the public supposed to interpret these things-as art, commentary, or insanity? Or were these celebrities just taking back their “personas?”

Whether LaBeouf’s #IAMSORRY signals a psychological breakdown or an artistic breakthrough is still a contested topic-if nothing else, though, it proves that LaBeouf should’ve been clear about his intentions, at least if he wanted the public to take him seriously. If LaBeouf meant to apologize for his plagiarism, well, then he should’ve done that, but if he meant to make art, he should’ve made art. As of now, no one really knows what LaBeouf did, or has been doing, these last few months, but whatever the point of it all was-he should’ve left the hashtags out. #sorryiamnotsorry.


February 23, 2014