This morning I read that Shia LaBeouf had opened an art installation in Hollywood. And the art installation turned out to be him, in the flesh. You can read up on the specifics here, but basically I heard the news at 1:30 pm and I had a class at 2. By 2:23 I had parked my car off Beverly Boulevard and stood squarely outside the exhibit waiting to see what would happen.
When I first got in line there were only 15 people ahead of me. A mix of young and old stretched out in front and eventually to the back of me, although I’m sure I was the youngest one there. I stood waiting for about an hour and a half. I heard some people comment Isn’t this weird? and others gab to their friends about what they might say to the Shia.
We were allowed to go inside the building one at a time, and a bodyguard with a headset regulated the crowd. Although I had come prepared to do homework while I waited (I’m a student, after all) I spent a lot of time timing the gaps between the last person in and the next person out. Some people took several minutes, some people less. One girl went through and came back around after about two minutes (you enter from the front then leave through the back of the building) and said she felt so nervous and awkward that she had to leave immediately. I told myself I would sit there for longer than a minute. I had waited more than an hour. I would get my fair share of Shia.
After the body guard had looked through my bag and asked me if I had anything in my pockets, a knock was heard from the inside of a building and the bodyguard turned to me and said “You ready?”
Of course I was.
When I entered the building, a small woman with an accent stood behind a fold out table in the entranceway. On the table were several objects: a whip, flowers, candies, a bottle of cologne and so on. I had known the whole time that I would choose the whip because Indiana Jones meant the most to me when I was growing up, and I felt I could at least come up with that much of a narrative when I finally sat down with him.
I asked the woman if this was the actual whip from Indiana Jones (not that it mattered much) but she just looked at me and smiled. I don’t think she understood what I was saying. Later I’d learn she was one of the artists Shia collaborated with on the exhibit, but at that moment I just thought she was a petite brunette woman who knew more than I did.
After I picked up the whip, she ushered me behind a black velvet curtain and there he was sitting, palms face down on a tiny wooden table, the now infamous I AM NOT FAMOUS ANYMORE paper bag over his head.
He’s small, Shia LaBeouf. You would’nt know it… but he’s small. His shoulders looked like they were about my width and when we faced each other they came up to about mine as well.
I sat down and put the whip on the table, and then I just sat there for a long time. I don’t know if it was because I was hoping I would get him to crack or because I was just waiting to summon up the courage to speak, but I sat there for… I don’t know. 5 minutes? 10 minutes? In the LaBeouf vortex you kind of lose track of time. Regardless, we were silent for a large portion of my stay.
Sometimes I’d stare at him, just as he was staring at me, and other times I’d look at his hands, which were swollen and had the nails chewed off to the roots. I’m a hands person. One of the first thing I notice about a person is their hands. He had a tiny tattoo on each hand. They looked like stars or something. We probably could’ve held each other’s if I wanted, but his seemed so mangled and gnarly I didn’t really want to go there.
After some time in silence, I think he smiled. I say I think because the bag was still over his head, but it moved upwards with his cheeks a little.
Finally, I said to him: “You aren’t going to talk, are you? It’s okay.” The bag moved up again. I smiled. I didn’t talk immediately afterwards but then I pointed to the whip. Slowly, words formed.
“I chose the whip… because I lived in Oregon when I was younger, and one day in middle school I did a double feature with my best friend. We went the to the neighborhood Cineplex. I paid for Indiana Jones. I didn’t pay for What Happens In Vegas, even though we saw both.”
I don’t know why I chose to unveil my small, illegal moment as a seventh grader almost six years earlier to one of the biggest and most controversial stars in Hollywood today. I felt like he would enjoy it, I guess. And he did, or at least, the bag moved up with his cheeks once more.
A little while later, after I asked him a bevy of silly questions he didn’t answer (Is that the same suit you wore in Berlin? Is it yours? Who’s is it? Who’s the girl back there?), I told him this:
“I heard a quote about Amanda Bynes—not that I’m saying you’re Amanda Bynes—that basically said: she’s either insane or she’s singlehandedly deconstructing Hollywood from the inside. With you, I really hope it’s the latter.”
Writing it down later it seems really brazen— and some would say rude—that I would say such a thing to him. I was either calling him certifiably crazy or a genius. Part of me was hoping he would answer. Most of me knew he wouldn’t. And sure, it’s a little presumptuous to say such a thing to someone, but then again it’s a little presumptuous to unveil an exhibit in which you are the sole art piece.
I had heard through the grape-vine that people could get him to take off the bag, so eventually I asked him. After a moment, he did. I felt like this would be the true defining moment. I had come here for the truth. I didn’t want to read it online filtered through somebody else’s words. I was going to crack the Shia LaBeouf case once and for all. Not that I wanted to be some great investigative journalist (the thought to write all this down hadn’t even crossed my mind until I left) but I needed to know… for me.
When he took off the bag… well, I don’t really know what my face looked like. All I know is that I looked into some of the saddest eyes I’ve ever seen. Sure, I know he’s an actor. But I grew up around actors. He had either taken some sort of drug right before he started this mad charade, or it was real. I sat and looked at him for a little bit more. I talked a little more too. I don’t remember what I said, because I don’t think it mattered. All that mattered was the truth: was this all real or not?
Eventually, he started to cry. He made a couple of noises and adjusted his hands and sorta bent his cheek to catch the light just perfectly as I watched one single tear, and then another, role down his immortalized face. And let me tell you, seeing Shia LaBeouf cry right in front of you, in a room with just you two in it, is about the oddest thing you will ever encounter. His eyes sort of rolled around in his head and he just sat there, crying.
After a while, I think I said something else. Something like “you shouldn’t be sorry, I’m sorry…” (as if THAT makes any sense), thanked him and then left through the black velvet curtain on the other side of the room. The bodyguard at the end of the hallway stopped me before exiting and said: “Wait. There are media people out there. I just wanted to let you know.”
And I said it was okay and walked out of the small building where Shia LaBeouf sat alone crying in a small room, and into the open, bright daylight of the alleyway out back. I answered a couple questions for some reporters who were chomping at the bit and then got in my car and left.
Now, it’s over and I’m sitting in my dorm, writing this for you to read. I had hoped I would come out of there saying: “It’s alright everyone! It’s just another Joaquin Phoenix! It’s only a comment about celebrity! You can all go home now.”
But, really? I am no more sure than the girl who skipped class four hours ago and got in her car in to drive to Hollywood in order to glimpse one of Tinsel Town’s seemingly brightest and biggest train wrecks of 2014.
What I am sure of is this: media people were everywhere. They asked me silly questions like “What do you think this about? Is Shia joking? What if it weren’t a joke?” just so they could mash up a story with some sound bytes and send it to their editors. I must’ve witnessed every form of press there; Mashable, Buzzfeed, CBS, and TMZ all had representatives. Everyone was looking for someone to talk to. In some cases it was me. In other cases it was the blond in line behind me, who also turned out to be a reporter for some online news outlet. But in every case, I just sort of shook my head internally and wondered why they couldn’t just leave Shia alone. And yet, I knew I was apart of the big bad beast of the digital era. The beast that requires an up to date news feed every minute of every day. A beast that is consumed by the movements of the seemingly rich and famous. I felt like I was apart of that, because there I was, waiting in line for an hour and a half, ignoring a ton of reading and writing I needed to do for school, all so I could get The Story. Yet, Shia himself created The Story. He wanted people to come and see him. He was the art.
Even so, the evil that is present here isn’t black and white. Sure, maybe Shia is narcissistic for creating an exhibit, calling himself art and requiring people to come in and stimulate him while he sits in silence. But we, the consumers, are no good either. We’re the ones that supply his ego or his emotions or whatever the hell this is. In some ways we’ve caused it, too.
Is #IAMSORRY a comment on celebrity? A comment on art? On plagiarism, considering this exhibit itself is another rip-off of Marina Abromovic’s The Artist is Present? Is Shia sane? Is he a genius? Is he actually sorry? Is he single handedly dismantling Hollywood from the inside? Like I said, I have no clue. I went to see this with my own eyes so I didn’t have to read it from somebody else’s, but I still don’t have an answer. Except that Shia LaBeouf is a real person who can cry in a room and is letting people just like you and me watch. I am simultaneously disgusted and intrigued by the whole thing. But mostly, I’m glad I went.