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“In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes”*
– Andy Warhol, program for a 1968 exhibition of his work at the Moderna Museet, Stockholm, Sweden
Have you ever wondered how future generations will look at us?
Experience suggests their judgment will be grim. Not because of anything we did or didn’t do, but simply because feeling superior to your ancestors is as American as a caramel macchiato.
Consider how unkindly we view past generations – if future generations hold as much distain for us as we hold for our ancestors, it will be deserved. Pride, inevitably, is punished.
Enter Shia LaBeouf.
The one-time Even Stevens child star turned “next big thing” movie star has startlingly succumbed to a narcissistic coma so deep and dark not even Optimus Prime can save him.
The internet has not been kind. Our collective cultural diagnosis is that – to put it in clinical terms – Shia has lost his $h!t…
Like Britney Spears and Joaquin Phoenix before him, the case seems settled: Shia is an attention-starved party monster mutilated by a warped pop culture that worships then destroys celebrities, wash-rinse-repeat. This shell of Shia now gleefully sacrifices his artistic dignity for the cheap high of “Trending” during a slow news day.
Yet the devil who resides on my shoulder begs the question – is Shia LaBeouf actually crazy? Or is he actually a mad genius? A psycho savant. A modern day wizard stirring up a thick solipsistic slop within the shallow crevices of modern America’s pop cultural cauldron?
Consider this – if art is truth, then what piece of “art” has been more true to its time than Shia LaBeouf’s #AllMyMovies? If I were to save any one relic from 2015 in a time capsule , it would be this.
#AllMyMovies, for those not in the know, was a three-day film festival in which Shia LaBeouf watched all of his movies, in reverse chronological order, filming himself the entire time and streaming it live over the internet. Viewers were allowed to join the “conversation” using the hashtag #AllMyMovies.
2015, in all her nightmarish, narcissistic glory, was in full bloom here – the obnoxious need to hashtag everything; the social media “conversation” between anonymous strangers; the marathon binge-watching; the live-streaming; and, of course, the celebration, no the deification, of the Self.
The jealous god “Me Myself I”, has been made man in the form of Shia LaBeouf, here not to be sacrificed for our sins, but showcased for our amusement. Shia LaBeouf is no mere mortal, but the living embodiment of our time, a self-absorbed centerpiece residing in a parallel digital universe of his own Creation, one in which the rest of us just happen to live in.
#AllMyMovies is uncharted territory of transcendently shallow exhibitionism – yet the fault, dear Brutus, lies not in our movie stars, but in ourselves, for we are vain.
Shia LaBeouf has, (unwittingly), exposed this self-absorbed strain inside all of us. Like Andy Warhol, he has exposed the shallowness we see, experience, and take completely for granted on a daily basis. He has raised the hollow to the hallowed, making his vain act of exhibition…dare I say it…art.
We may say that his actions are nothing if not audacious acts of self-absorption…but isn’t that what art is?
Now the little devil on all of our shoulders is asking some more questions:
Are we are horrified and repulsed by Shia’s actions?
Or are we entranced by the audacity, and perhaps even envious of the attention?
After all, if we had content of ourselves to exhibit before a worldwide audience, wouldn’t we?
What is Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, (and this podcast), but our own personal #AllMyMovies? Here is me, my life, my world, and not only that, but here is my opinion about all of the above. Watch me watch myself #lmao. The only difference is when Shia LaBeouf does it, people pay attention. We wish we had the kind of attention, so desperately do we want to be a part of something, anything, that trends.
I began this little essay with a quote from Andy Warhol, which like the children’s game of “Rumors” has mutated into the now ubiquitous phrase “15 minutes of fame.” Through the internet everyone can be famous (Time magazine named “You” the “Person of the Year” as far back as 2006), though not for 15 minutes. More like 9 and a half.
Celebrity is no longer a reward for merit (if it ever was), but its own achievement, and it’s never been easier to earn it, and all its commensurate perks. Hell, we have one celebrity, reality star running for President, who is hoping to replace a sitting President who won the office based on the success of a book tour, and only after receiving the sacred blessing of the Pope of Pop Culture, St. Oprah!
Celebrity is it’s own currency, and anyone can get filthy rich overnight. The only way Shia LaBeouf – a remarkably talented young actor, at least once – can get even more of that sweet nectar called fame is to go crazy in front of the entire world and live stream it over the internet.
Sure, he might have destroyed a blossoming acting career in the process, but so what? #AllMyMovies is a greater cultural achievement than Indiana Jones and The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull or Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen.
So perhaps we should admire, even thank Shia LaBeouf. Though it was almost certainly unintended, his #AllMyMovies is a totem of our time. It embodies better than anything I can think of how future generations will judge us.
And how, pray tell, will future generations judge us?
I suspect our proverbial great-grandchildren will see us as competing tribes of preening, attention-hungry, wannabe-celebrities, wanting both to belong and to be special, who whiled away our days staring at ourselves in the darkened, empty theater called social media, and expecting, hoping, demanding that the rest of the world stare back.
“Watch me watch myself.”
That is, I suspect, how how our great-grandchildren will see us…that is if they aren’t too busy watching themselves.
* The origin of this quote is disputed. Photographer Nat Finkelstein claims he coined it when photographing Warhol in 1966. Warhol supposedly remarked that everyone wants to be famous, then Finkelstein replied, “Yeah, for about fifteen minutes, Andy.”
IS SHIA LABEOUF A MAD GENIUS OR A SPOILED STAR?