So yesterday I went to Shia LaBeouf’s #IAmSorry.
It’s right across the street from the BuzzFeed office in LA, and there were only a few people in line (this is before the word spread), so I figured why not.
This picture was taken while I was waiting to go in. Ha ha, I’m hilarious. At the time, I figured it’d be… I dunno. Just something. A mild amusement or momentary diversion. Something to see and shrug about and then get back to work.
I left feeling oddly emotional and affected by the whole thing.
After being patted down by a security guard, you enter (only one person at a time) and can choose from several items on a table. They didn’t say why. We’re supposed to make our own interpretations, I guess. To me, they were symbols of ways you can feel about Shia LaBeouf or something. A whip for punishment (or Indiana Jones), Hershey’s Kisses for forgiveness or love, stuff like that.
I was drawn toward a bowl of what looked like fortune cookie fortunes, and read a few. They were angry tweets, directed at Shia LaBeouf.
And that just kind of hit me, in a bad way. Like, I wouldn’t want to have all that hate directed at me. It’d make me want to die. And I wouldn’t want to direct all that hate at somebody. And there are probably hundreds of thousands of these tweets — this bowl is just the tip of the iceberg.
I actually didn’t want to carry that item, so I picked the copy of Daniel Clowes’s The Death-Ray (since I’m familiar with that book) and entered the next room, where Shia LaBeouf was waiting.
And here’s what hit me — and it seems obvious, but it’s way too easy to forget: he’s a person. Yes, with a paper bag over his head and doing some weird art stunt, but he’s still a human being, with thoughts and feelings and everything imperfect that goes along with being a person.
I noticed the tattoos on his hands and realized this is just some guy who’s dealing with a lot of ridiculous and stupid and difficult stuff (like we all are), a lot of which is his own fault, and I started talking to him.
Not about much, and I can’t remember the specifics, only that it’s a shame how human beings sometimes treat each other, and that we forget how we’re all mostly the same. I think that’s when the trouble starts — when we forget that. And it’s even easier to forget when we’re hiding behind a computer screen. Life is rough, and we sometimes make it rougher for ourselves, and in the end I just said, “Keep on keepin’ on,” and left.
I never would’ve expected to feel empathy toward someone whose name I can’t even pronounce, but there I was, choked up over the shittiness of the world. All thanks to some guy wearing a paper bag on his head.
Afterward I talked to some coworkers about the experience and it was amazing how everyone had a different reaction — from annoyance to confusion to bemusement to wanting to ignore it in the hopes that maybe he’ll shut up, and all of those reactions are correct.
Art’s what we bring to the table, after all (and here I wish I could post that Ad Reinhardt cartoon of an abstract painting saying “What do YOU represent?”), and for some reason I brought a lot of empathy. I was surprised. Maybe I’m more of a Buddhist than I thought I was.
I talked about it with my friend/coworker Ari later, and he filled me in on the whole Clowes/plagiarism debacle (I only knew a tiny bit of the story). He didn’t see the exhibit (or whatever you want to call it), but his reaction was much more critical.
He felt I was being manipulated, which is true. To quote Homer Simpson, “I AM the highly suggestible type.” And I think that’s true of art in general — it’s trying to manipulate people. Maybe in some specific way, or maybe to just get a reaction or experience.
Some people have to express themselves. Some people have to try and get a reaction. Sometimes these overlap traits overlap, especially with artists or people too used to performing or trapped in the Hollywood game or in the young and foolish
I’ll probably never know Shia LaBeouf’s intention for his whole #IAmSorry thing, whether he’s trying to make an artistic statement or if he’s having some kind of mental/emotional breakdown or if he’s truly sorry or if he’s a sociopath asshole monster (who is still a person) or if he’s doing an elaborate promotional stunt for another Transformers movie or if he just wants to get attention or reactions from people. It could be any of these, or all of these, or none.
I won’t know. But I do know what I got out of the experience.