Shia LaBeouf + the Age of Selfies: #AreWeAllFamous
A few weeks ago, Apple released the newest iPhone software update. While people were lauding the new keyboard font, I thought the most curious thing was another subtlety – one subtle enough that it actually slipped by me until today. The new update includes a software generated folder titled ‘Selfies,’ which, as you can imagine, takes every front camera pic and puts them into a gallery to the horror, or pleasure, of many. I fall into the former category. Personally, to see myself posing in my ‘best angle’ to a whopping audience of myself makes me wanna throw my phone into the Hudson river, and I know I’m not alone in this. Which might be what captivated me the most from Shia LaBeouf’s performance piece at the Angelika Film Center in NYC, #ALLMYMOVIES.
For those of you who haven’t heard about it yet, LaBeouf’s latest foray into performance art is created in collaboration with Luke Turner and Nastja Säde Rönkkö (who also helped create #IAMSORRY). It revolves around the actor watching a non-stop, three day marathon of his movies in reverse chronological order, starting with the yet-unreleased Man Down, and ending this evening with the English version of the 1984 Miyazaki film Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind. The performance has a second level to it: it also includes a soundless live stream of Shia’s face as he watches his career trajectory, lending a level of voyeurism that is easier to access than physically attending the marathon.
There are many issues that arise from LaBeouf’s marathon piece. The first, as mentioned, is voyeurism, but I wanna come back to that later. Another issues it raises is self-reflexivity, which is prevalent more than ever in our current digi-age. Take the selfie folder, or selfie culture in general. While millenials are not the only ones who partake in the phenomenon, it’s mainly associated with us because we’re the generation first introduced to social media and to smartphones – a combination that makes it possible to filter our content and present/see our lives at our discretion…or indiscretion. But how much does control of our digital persona actually benefit our happiness and satisfaction with ourselves?
For one, “People who post selfies on social networks are more likely to exhibit what some psychologists call ‘the dark triad’ of personality traits, according to two recent studies,” Marketwatch reports. “This dark triad consists of narcissism (extreme self-centeredness), Machiavellianism (manipulation of others) and psychopathy (acting impulsively with no regard for other people’s feelings).” Sure, we all follow (and perhaps secretly envy) those social media “celebrities” that have become famous for being fabulously themselves, but as “former social media star” Essena O’Neill recently divulged, it’s mostly smoke and mirrors, constructed equally around narcissism as it is around self-objectification and low self-esteem. However, it’s not all bad – Marketwatch also says that “the ability to promote oneself with photos feeds narcissistic tendencies in those that are already very self-involved rather than actually turning selfless people into selfie-obsessed people.” Social media doesn’t create narcissists and psychopaths, it merely gives a platform of speech to those already possessing those characteristics.
In fact, when I conducted a survey amongst millennials through my own social media (is that meta enough for Shia The Beef?) I found that no one who replied presented such narcissistic qualities. I asked, “Do you feel the same sense of discomfort when looking back at media created under your control than when you see/hear a photo/video/recording of yourself that you weren’t in control of?” One person said no, four people answered yes, another four said “more a sense of discomfort when in control,’ and nine people simply liked the post (not sure exactly what that one meant).
Which brings us back to Mr. LaBeouf. With all clues leading me to believe that only those that don’t present traits of “the dark triad” feel uncomfortable engaging with media about themselves, where does this leave those whose jobs are based exactly around this? A plethora of actors, including Johnny Depp, Julianne Moore, and Joaquin Phoenix, have all said that they feel uncomfortable watching their own movies, so what exactly is Shia doing? While watching the live stream, we’ve gone from seeing a starry-eyed actor happy to be watching a movie, to an audience member who is engaging the emotions of a film, to a run down prisoner forced to stay up watching himself regressing (particularly painful to watch him watch Transformers 3). Is that the parallel? Is Shia more tired of seeing himself or just, plainly, more tired?
But Shia, just like all of us posting on our social media accounts, wants to share with an audience (another meta moment, as acting is already audience-based), which is why he invites people to join him in the theater for free, and why he chooses to film a live stream of his trajectory of self-reflection. In this day and age, isn’t the word ‘voyeur’ just another way to say sharing with strangers? However, Shia’s performance also became a social media op for those in attendance. The ones sitting next to or behind him were acting out their Warholian ideas of fame, with people making less than subtle eye contact with the camera, sneaking glances of the actor, and even, at times, gesticulating at the live stream. Outside the theater, in a line that wrapped around the block, there were people dressed up as LaBeouf (complete with anti-fame paper bags over their heads), and people were even taking selfies with the TV that broadcasted the livestream.
Was this level of self-reflexivity and meta-ness LaBeouf’s intention? Or is fame – his own and the one that the right moment in the right corner of the internet can give anyone – a monster that grows beyond anyone’s control? Will Shia, ten years from now, watch a recording of the livestream of him watching his movies and feel more uncomfortable, just like we feel uncomfortable watching old pubescent photos of us? Is the performance of watching oneself a representation of our obsession with ourselves, or does the tiresome aspect of a marathon show that there is a point where enough is enough, even (or especially) of ourselves?