I think there's a form of honesty, because I used to be very honest with the press, and then it backfired on me, and I understood it.
– Shia LaBeouf
Shia LaBeouf screams at the audience with a green screen behind him. In recent years he’s become a bizarre character instead of the humble yet brilliant Hollywood star we hoped he’d become.
“Make your dreams come true.”
He tells us to fulfill our dreams, to no let anything get in our way. And yet we can’t help but burst out laughing and continue awkwardly watching this actor’s exaggerated expressions. We fail to understand what is happening. This speech has been repeating time and time again with different backdrops such as Dragon Ball, Interstellar, Master Chef, and plenty more.
But this is no accident or leaked video. It was all a planned performance. A strange concept that is also one of the best executed metamodernist works out there. "Metamodernism" is a term we don’t hear too often, yet we see more and more of examples of it out there.
“Error breeds sense” is one of the pillars of this “antimovement” that can be found in the manifesto written by Luke Turner. This premise believes itself to be a response to modernism and postmodernism. It takes elements from the former and distances from the latter, attempting honesty under the guise of something that appears silly. By being fully aware of the ideas of artistic pretension and creations, Shia LaBeouf’s antics could actually be providing us with an honest creativity the world has forgotten.
To exemplify the process of metamodernism, we can look at several animated series. Hey Arnold is a modernist work because it chooses to portray beauty and human potential in a simple way, while always keeping a happy ending. A postmodern response was Ren and Stimpy. It broke with the precedent to become a full-on farce. It shows its characters in a negative light, which had not been done before.
Rick & Morty is a prime example of the metamodernist sensibility. With purely nihilistic plots and the incoherent imagination of postmodernism, they are more honest than anything we’ve seen before. It speaks in a very existentialist way on our own insignificance, while also making us see beyond this ridiculous context.
Shia LaBeouf is closer to that than we think. By keeping with the manifesto, his performances are purposely ridiculous. The façade is so ironic and postmodern that all seriousness is thrown out the window, making the audience blind to the artist’s true meaning. By creating a fake medium the artist has complete independence to show his true face and be blatantly honest.
The media seems to ignore LaBeouf’s connection to metamodernism. He collaborated with Luke Turner’s manifesto and has given several talks on the subject. The caricature the entertainment business has created of LaBeouf has only lent itself to this art form. The artist has also chosen to mock this perception while expressing his resentment towards the industry that made him famous.
His performances began through his Twitter account. Then he appeared on a red carpet with a paper bag on his head that said “I’m not famous anymore”. The internet’s reaction was quite violent given such controversial situations he’d been involved in which included a car accident and a plagiarism case. He was seen as pretentious and a wave of hate from both the press and the public was soon on him.
Not long after, he presented his most representative work #IAMSORRY. This consisted in Shia sitting in front of a table and several objects placed nearby. The audience was invited to take a seat and look at him or make use of the objects, not unlike Yoko Ono and Marina Abramovic had done in the past.
Shia cried several time while he heard comments accusing him of being a loser, failure, and failed artist. Critics soon arose pinning the performance as childish as well as a blatant copy of Abramovic’s The Artist Is Present. But the public’s reaction as well as Abramovic herself were completely opposite. The actor created a connection and had a successful exhibit.
The last point of the metamodernist manifesto claims that it should be deined as “the mercurial condition between and beyond irony and sincerity, naivety and knowingness, relativism and truth, optimism and doubt, in pursuit of a plurality of disparate and elusive horizons.” Shia has a clear understanding of what this goal implies: a self-recognition to go further while continuing to oscillate.
The actor did not wear a mask when he sat through several hours watching his filmography. His eyes were always visible as well as his honest reactions. His boredom, happiness, and melancholy was there. But most of the spectators did not see this, since they felt it was ridiculous, narcissistic, and indulgent, which was partly the purpose of this experiment.
Shia LaBeouf might not be an artistic genius, but he’s a pioneer of this genre (still refusing to call itself a movement) that might soon take over pop culture.
As an actor, he’s simply a normally talented performer. As a person, his bizarre traits can be perceived as arrogant, and at times criminal. But as an artist, he allows us to see beneath the façade Hollywood placed on him. His humanity reveals more than any actor of his time and tells us we can no longer fail to observe. Hypocrisy is no longer an option and metamodernism is the future of creation.
Translated by María Suárez