Hey everyone, good news for people with short attention spans: I have the simplest news story in the world. You ready?
Shia LaBeouf got caught red-handed plagiarizing an artist named Daniel Clowes for his short film HowardCantour.com. Plagiarism is wrong, so he apologized, and people forgave him because he’s a celebrity. The end.
Okay, everyone, have a great day and stay warm in this cold weather!
Oh wait…you’re still here? Which means this story is neither simple NOR over?
Everyone take a deep sigh.
Unfortunately, LaBeouf’s response was not a humble mea culpa. (Then again, should we have expected that from someone who had no qualms about plagiarizing in the first place?) What follows is a brief recap of the entire situation for those who are new to LaBeoufGate. If you’re among those lucky few, let me remind you that you are well within your rights to stop reading now, turn away from the computer, and go on living a productive life never having engaged with this story at all.
You’re still here. I’m sorry. For both of us. But since we’re now committed, here’s the Shia LaBeouf Plagiarism Affair (coming in 2015, starring Ben Affleck) in point-by-point notation:
1. Shia LaBeouf made the film, which starred Jim Gaffigan, and which he plagiarized. And it wasn’t just the accidental subconscious plagiarizing to which artists sometimes fall prey. No, no—this was outright theft. LaBeouf swiped entire sequences of dialogue, the entire plot, and god knows what else from Daniel Clowes, an author/illustrator whose comic Justin M. Damiano was quite obviously the “inspiration” for LaBeouf’s film. (Unless Clowes stole the idea in advance from LaBeouf’s brain, which is a possibility nobody has really covered.) You can watch the film, which was taken down from its original site, here.
2. He was, of course, caught immediately. The notion that he might not have been caught, if it ever actually occurred to LaBeouf, was borderline insane. It also turned out, as Paste’s Eric Gossett pointed out, that LaBeouf had plagiarized before, in some weird email fight with Alec Baldwin. (In that case, he released the emails to the press himself, which seems like an odd thing to do when you’ve plagiarized some tripe about what it means to be a man.)
3. Unfortunately, he had earlier been quoted saying things that implied he wasn’t plagiarizing, including gems like, “as I tried to empathize with the sort of man who might earn a living taking potshots at me and the people I’ve worked with, a small script developed.”
4. At this point, having been outed as a fraud and a liar, he took to Twitter to apologize. Folks, Shia LaBeouf loves Twitter. Loves it. It’s his refuge, from which he issues his bizarre pronouncements. Again, you can see the tweets themselves in Eric’s post, but the gist is that everything seemed sincere, and it seemed like LaBeouf was actually holding himself accountable. (Aside from the occasional dodge, that is. For example: “I apologize to all who think I wrote it.” Hmmm…I wonder why people would assume something like that. Maybe it was…THE CREDITS?) He ended this tweet binge with a simple, “I fucked up,” and that was the end of the story.
5. Until it wasn’t. Because it turns out that Shia LaBeouf also plagiarized his apology, from a Yahoo! Answers page that was four years old. At this point, it became fair to ask if everything about Shia LaBeouf was plagiarized. Was his name original? His DNA? Was he a robot who had killed the original Shia LaBeouf and then plagiarized his body to live on earth as a plagiarizing super-human?
6. Things then got even weirder. He hired a plane to apologize via skywriting. He “debated” over chat with Rich Johnston at Bleeding Cool, making himself look like a fool with his repeated use of meaningless pseudo-intellectual digressions. The few dictums that made any sense were themselves plagiarized, from artists like Picasso and Duchamp. But in this case, what mattered more was the thrust of his argument, which is that plagiarism was the natural order of things, and that he couldn’t be blamed for what he’d done to Daniel Clowes.
7. Today, he posted a cease & desist letter sent to him by Clowes’ lawyer, which came about because of a LaBeouf Twitter joke: He was going to plagiarize Clowes again.
It’s clear from the way he’s behaved that LaBeouf (even his last name has become annoying to me over the course of writing this post) thinks he’s being hilarious. Maybe even artistic; you can imagine his smug smile as he responds to accusations of plagiarism with more plagiarism. Incisive commentary! So meta!
What’s really happening, though, is somewhat sadder. His entitlement as a celebrity has inflated his head to absurd proportions, and he clearly finds it insulting that anyone would dare take him to task for committing an obvious wrong. And it goes deeper than a desperate attempt to avoid our judgment; clearly, this is a man who lives in deep fear of ever confronting himself.
So he intellectualizes, and goofs, and generally tries to distract everyone from the heart of the matter, which is that he’s a shitty plagiarist. The irony here is that unlike writers and journalists everywhere, LaBeouf could have gotten away with it if he had just stuck to the half-truths that made up his original apology. Instead, he let his spoiled, petulant side win out. But no matter how many traps and diversions he lays along the way, it’s not had to arrive at the truth. Stealing is stealing is stealing is stealing, and more than anything else, LaBeouf has devolved from his previous status as an actor of immense talent. He shamed himself with his theft, sure, but the deeper disgrace is that he was too weak to look in the mirror.