February 12, 2014

Shia LaBeouf Is Braver Than The Internet

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I have put down my pen, my clipboard, and my petition to put a stop to “think pieces” so I could write this “think piece.” It was tough decision to do this, as we were breaking ground and had nearly 20 signatures, but I felt I needed to say something that would in turn make you think my exact thoughts and feel my exact feelings. Because you, yes you, deserve to know the truth. So, yeah.. congrats.

At 11AM Tuesday morning, the first press release for Shia LaBeouf’s new art exhibit #IAMSORRY came out. I had been following his story since his departure from the Broadway play “Orphans”, and thought none too highly of him. If you don’t know the “Orphans” story, basically he quit a Broadway show that he was starring in alongside Alec Baldwin, and wrote insane tweets about it like an insane human. I cut him a little bit of slack for this because Alec Baldwin is a dump truck of a guy and I’ve known at least 12 gaffers that Mr. Baldwin has personally driven to suicide.

After that came Shia’s plagiarized short film. Then the plagiarized letters apologizing for said plagiarized short film. Then he plagiarized Lena Dunham which is the one thing you cannot do on the internet. Then the paper bag over his head that read “I AM NOT FAMOUS ANYMORE”. And then 11AM came. I remembered a time in my life when I admired Shia. A time in my life when I was obsessed with a young Amanda Bynes. The talent they were endowed with was undeniably unique and powerful. And now they have been driven to mental hospitals, and even worse, performance art. But my first impulse about these latest Shia developments was relief because I thought this “art project” meant he was pulling a Joaquin Phoenix in “I’m Still Here”. And look at Joaquin, he’s doing great! Seriously proud of that dude.

I immediately screenshotted the article and sent it to my friend, a journalist, who I knew would get a kick out of it. “I don’t want to go to this, but I really want to go to this,” I said. He replied in seconds. “I just have to shower then I am headed over.” So I made it official with a facebook status that read, “I’m about to have Shia LaBeouf apologize to me at an art gallery off of La Brea and honestly I feel great about it,” (55 likes and counting!) and I headed over to that art gallery a little past La Brea, which is statistically the most popular area in LA to say, “No, I’m going to take it easy tonight,” when you are invited there.

When I arrived, there was a group of huddled sweatshirts dressed up like people waiting in line. My friend had already gone in. He saw me walking and pulled me aside. “I just went in. They make you go in alone, one by one. It’s really intense. They have a bunch of props on a table, like a bottle of whiskey, a rope, some cologne. I took the pink ukulele because, why not.” It already sounded way too much like a bar mitzvah, but my friend’s face was flushed and his eyelashes were damp, so I listened on. “I asked him if he wanted to talk, and he said no. Then he just stared at me, so I started playing the Ukulele. That was when he started to cry.” My friend whom I trust seemed moved and shaken up by the experience. He told me to go in and tell him everything that happened to me. I said okay. He left.

In line, there were about 12 or 14 people who all knew each other. They were all from the same online publication that happens to be very successful. I won’t say the name because I know they have a great legal team over at Buzzfeed. Oh, shit. I didn’t mean to… And now my delete button on my keyboard is broken! Fuck!! Buzzfeed. It was Buzzfeed.

I observed the sweatshirt people carefully and closely because I wanted to hear what the writers of one of the snarkiest websites out there had to say. I have never been a fan Buzzfeed because I find it not critical, but instead very ill-intentioned and unfair. So I stayed quiet, waiting to hear what genius prose would come whirling out of their mouths. Much to my surprise, the only things I heard were “I’m nervous!” and “This seems weird!”, which sounded familiar and then I realized they were just quoting Shakespeare. Word on the street we were standing on was that you would actually have to be present with another human being! This was a huge change for these people who hide in their shiny new office and write lists of hateful things about a 16 year old actress from “Homeland” that is just trying to do her job, or comparing faces of celebrities to faces of animals. COMEDY! (It turned out their office was conveniently located across the street, again, a little past La Brea.)

Someone asked two of the Buzzfeed writers why they were there.

“To ask him to remake Even Stevens.”

“No, really, what do you think of this whole situation?”

“No, really, I’m just here to ask him to remake Even Stevens.”

There was a “journalist” from another publication mocking the security guard about his job with obviously false friendliness. “Yeah? Maybe I’ll hire you someday!” Everyone around me was being horrible and saying things like, “The world should fire him.” I even heard a “He deserves death” in a joking voice. And for the first time, I not only felt bad for Shia, I wanted him to win. Win against the internet. The internet that created a projection of him and other struggling celebrities out of their own lack of humanity. As I watched these people fumble over words in normal conversation, stand with folded arms and hunched backs, and belittle hard working security guards, I questioned how I had ever taken anything on the internet seriously.

Then it was time for the sweatshirts with faces to go in. First up, a quiet girl. The people ahead of her had been inside from four to seven minutes, but no more than 20 seconds later, a knock on the door from inside. It was time for the next person. I was confused to why it ended so quickly. Did she say something wrong and got kicked out? Did she try to take the bag off her head? She left out the back door, and walked directly back to her office. Next up. 20 seconds, door knock. I had no idea what was going on. She comes out and says, “It was so awkward! I had to get out of there!” One by one, they went in, and one by one, every 20-30 seconds, another would follow. Each coming out saying, “That was stupid,” or “I’m so uncomfortable right now.”

It occurred to me that these people could not sustain a half a minute of eye contact. They were deeply uncomfortable with human interaction. And these are the humans that we are trusting with judgement calls on other humans? These shallow, scared people are allowed to tell a celebrity they are ugly from the safety of their desks or even beds, but they don’t know how to look at eyes?

Next was my turn. Basically enraged by my line waiting experience, I took a deep breath and went in the room. I decided to choose a flower. The woman running it handed me the whole bouquet, but I asked for just one. I entered the next room, sat down, put the flower on the table between up and said, “I’m not like them.” He started crying instantly, so did I. I don’t know if he was acting or not – he cried with my friend, too, and others – but what I saw was real pain. Pain that I had experienced. Pain that we have all experienced. He was sharing something with me, fake or not, and I wanted to say so many things. I wanted to say that I appreciated this moment. I wanted to say how much I hated Buzzfeed. I wanted to tell him that we all fuck things up when we are scared, but most of us don’t have to read lists about our failures and inconsistencies, and that I understand why he would act out. But I didn’t say any of that. All I said was “I’m sad too,” touched his arm and walked out. He was shaking crying when I left.

What he did in that room showed more courage than a list, a review, even, dare I say it, a think piece. There will be speculation of course about this art project of his. I’ve already read some articles and tweets about how “he just sat there!”. And yes, true, usually when I sit across from a bag of flour in a flannel, I am not moved to cry either. People will say, “He was probably just fake crying. He is a good actor.” But what I saw didn’t feel fake. It felt scared. It felt full of pain. It felt sorry.

When I walked out the back door, there was another journalist waiting for me. She had actually been nice in the line, so I talked to her. I was teary eyed and she looked at me and paused. “Do you think it’s pronounced LaBOOF or LaBUFF?”

Jordan Firstman

Jordan Firstman is a writer, filmmaker, and comedian. His essays have been seen live at Comedy Central’s “Sit N …

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