Recently, Shia LaBeouf has been fascinating the entertainment world with a series of stunts that range from alleged plagiarism of the work of cartoonist Dan Clowes in his film “HowardCantour.com” to his recent decision to remove himself entirely from the public eye.
This culminated on Sunday with LaBeouf attending the premiere of his most recent film, “Nymphomaniac: Volume I,” wearing a bag on his head that read, “I Am Not Famous Anymore.”
The actor’s antics have caused many to wonder if he is on the verge of having a Spears-sized breakdown, but on the contrary, if one looks a little deeper, it appears as though he knows exactly what he is doing.
Christy Carlson-Romano — LaBeouf’s TV sister from his days on the Disney Channel series “Even Stevens” — has been quoted in Entertainment Weekly defending him, stating that LaBeouf has “always just honored his artistic instincts … so this is him experimenting with his artistic instincts. This is not just some breakdown, like some other child actors. This isn’t some emotional neediness. This is something that he’s actively doing.”
I have to agree with Romano. LaBeouf is attempting to make a comment on the irony of the restrictions that surround art, despite the fact that art itself is meant to be cathartic, expressive, visible and thought-provoking.
When an artist creates something and gives it to the world, he or she still wants it to be theirs. An artist still, both understandably and selfishly, needs the world to know that even though it was created for everyone’s enjoyment, it still ultimately belongs to its creator.
Enter appropriation, or the act of taking something — a piece of art, a chunk of text — for your personal use, without asking the original artists’ permission.
A very popular method of appropriation is called “erasure” and entails an author taking a previously published text and crossing out letters, words, sentences or entire sections, leaving only phrases that are typically in protest of the original work.
The banner on LaBeouf’s Twitter account currently features this method of appropriation in the form of text that has been blacked out and now only reads “he must stop all efforts to create.” This is what the actor has been hearing lately. He does not create in the way that we have constructed artistic creation. Therefore, what he created is not “valid,” is not considered a true artistic effort.
By placing a bag on his head, LaBeouf was essentially performing erasure on his own public image. He was, in a way, blotting out certain aspects of the way we have come to understand him and showing us that there is more to a person then what we interpret from TV shows and interviews. It is not his intention to retire or to take his physical self out of the public gaze, but to reveal the flimsiness of his perceived persona.
By putting themselves on television and in movies and in magazines, celebrities essentially give themselves to the world, and in this moment, we do not see them as owning their actions, decisions, or thoughts. What we see and read in People Magazine, for example, is an erasure of the lives of celebrities from the perspective of its writers.
LaBeouf is showing us how simple it is to change the popular opinion of one person; of one thing. On the outside, appropriation seems sinister, but look at the point an artist is trying to make, and suddenly the evidence of their criminality begins to melt away, as easily as it arose in the first place.
Popular opinion would tell LaBeouf not to take the ideas of another artist and make a film from it without that artist’s consent. LaBeouf has responded by doing so and surviving, thus proving to all of us that the world spins on regardless of what others think, of what others tell us to think about ourselves and what others tell us we did or did not create.
LaBeouf, despite opinion to the contrary, has actually created quite a lot of art and potential realizations. We just need to look at them in the right light.