Is It Wrong to Feel (Slightly) Bad for Shia LaBeouf?
I have no idea what to make of Shia LaBeouf. The controversy swirling around the young actor continued when on Friday, LaBeouf tweeted that he would forever be retiring from the public eye. Why would such a young up and coming actor/director do such a thing? To catch you up, LaBeouf was accused last month of plagiarism.
LaBeouf "wrote" and directed a short film, called HowardCantour.com, that was later found to be a complete rip-off of the graphic novella Justin M. Damiano by artist Dan Clowes. Apparently there are parts of the film literally lifted out of the novel, leaving very little reason to believe that LaBeouf didn't know he was plagiarizing the work.
When it came to light, at first LaBeouf was reluctant to apologize or to say anything about compensation for Clowes. He merely said he was truly inspired by the work of Clowes, and what's so wrong with that? But inspiration and blatant copycatting are very different. Naturally, Clowes has filed a lawsuit against the actor, which moved the entire story into the public eye. At first LaBeouf didn't say much of much, unless you count his random acts of tweeting as forms of apology, which many people do. (My favorite tweet from this period is #original.) But he did eventually say sorry various times to the artists, again via Twitter, and admit his mistake.
On New Year's Day, LaBeouf took it one step further and hired a skywriting company to write, "I am sorry Daniel Clowes" across the Los Angeles skies.
CLOUD: - vapor floating in the atmosphere - remote servers used to SHARE DATA - to make LESS CLEAR or TRANSPARENT pic.twitter.com/jw9JlEi791— Shia LaBeouf (@thecampaignbook) January 1, 2014
It might have been nice for Clowes, except he lives in San Francisco. But seemingly skywriting an apology didn't help at all, as one might think it would, and so LaBeouf has folded his cards and told the world that he's done with everyone. He even, once again, expressed his sentiments in skywriting with the phrase #stopcreating splayed across the sky. I wonder if he has some kind of discount club card with a skywriting company.
Quite a few people, some celebrities including Patton Oswalt and Lena Duham, have taken to the interwebs to publicly lambast LeBeouf for his immaturity and bad apology skills. Call me crazy, but I feel slightly bad for him.
The actor got his start on the Disney Channel portraying Louis Stevens on the hit show Even Stevens. Unlike some of his other Disney comrades, he shook the moniker off pretty quickly with a series of film roles. Also unlike some of his Disney colleagues, it never felt like LeBeouf needed to prove that he wasn't Disney anymore; he just wasn't, and he never bashed Disney either. He has always credited his success to the company. His film roles have waxed and waned, from the critically acclaimed Holes to the moneymaking Transformers series to the not that awful Wall Street sequel among others.
This story continues on the next page.
In 2009, LeBeouf teamed up with rapper Cage and directed the music video for "I Never Knew You." The video is haunting and rather well-done, and at the time I recall thinking, "Well that's kind of awesome that Cage and Shia LeBeouf are friends." It gave me a new respect for the actor-turn-director. He went on to do a few other videos with Cage as well as rapper Kid Cudi.
I even enjoyed his role in the 2012 bootlegger movie Lawless, although I might be in the minority. Regardless, I was shocked by this whole LeBeoufgate (It's OK to use the term "gate" for everything now, didn't you get the memo?).
This incident is not his first offense in plagiarism, however, and perhaps everyone slamming him is right to do so. More than anything, I think Shia LeBeouf has less of a copycat issue and more of a juvenile crisis management issue. Don't get me wrong, taking the work of someone else and slapping your name on it is one of the worst offenses I can think of for a creative person to do. That being said, celebrities do awful, terrible things all the time and for some reason they eventually are forgiven. We keep letting Mel Gibson walk around and his transgressions top the chart.
But how do you get yourself out of this mess now if you are LeBeouf? He said he quit, which again is a rather immature response to spending a few weeks in a negative light.
I think the real issue is LeBeouf's age and that he thought taking someone else's work was no big deal. I would guess that being a child actor has something to do with it --thinking you deserve anything that you want -- but even more than that I think that our current state of popular culture has more to do with his issues. We're at this point where tweeting apologies in 140 characters is deemed a good response to crisis management. The interconnected society loves snark and our modern version of irony; what's snarkier than saying you're sorry via skywriting? It's bound to get attention and maybe even a laugh that leads to a "Oh that Shia! He's a good guy," which I assume was the response he was looking for. Celebrities don't really say sorry, they have people to do that for them.
I hope that LeBeouf learns a valuable lesson from all of this that the world is not yours for the taking without asking permission and that you are not immune to being cast out, but I hope that he after a few months he comes back and does something better -- something that he actually created himself.
Get the Theater and Arts Newsletter
Exclusive discounts and announcements to Houston theater shows and art events