I am normally not one who lingers on disaster. I don’t feel the need focus on failure or tragedy. It just does nothing for me. When confronted by something terrible or embarrassing I can usually just let it pass by; if there is nothing I can do to help I don’t wish to get in the way and I take no vicarious thrill in the pain of others.
Take car accidents for instance.
I happen to live near a stretch of road that is the 6th most deadly in the U.S. People crash a lot. Everything from fender-benders to multi-car pileups. I notice these things of course but I also know I am not trained to help so the best thing I can do is to get out of the way and let the professionals do their job. Not everyone feels this way. People slow down to see, they rubberneck. I have seen people taking pictures and video on phones. There is a part of me that understands – it is unusual, different, bizzare and grotesque – you simply can’t look away. I just don’t have the desire to do this.
Most of the time.
Once there was a truly terrible accident. It involved 12 cars and a semi-truck. There was crushed metal and broken glass and the smell of burnt tires. Fire trucks and police cars and paramedics swarmed while helicopters circled overhead. It was horrific. Remarkably, although there were many injured, no one died. But traffic was stopped in both directions and I was stuck on the side of the road watching. I wanted to look away but I just couldn’t. I thought to myself, what can I do to help? How can I make this tragedy end? Helpless, I stood and just watched the destruction and its aftermath; an unwilling observer to a devastating event.
Which brings me to Shia LeBeouf.
Much like automobile accidents, I don’t pay much attention to celebrity news. So much of our American obsession with celebrity seems to be based not on admiration of talent but on anticipation of failure. An artistic triumph is not celebrated nearly as much as an admission to drug rehab. Who dumped who is big news while a messy divorce is even bigger. And if there is a public psychological breakdown? By God let’s tap that goldmine for entertainment value. Britney Spears shaved her head, Miley Cyrus did some rude dancing, the Kardashians did whatever the fuck Kardashians do on a regular basis, and on and on and on…it means nothing. And I pass it by, I pay it no mind.
Most of the time.
Shia LeBeouf is an actor (in the strictest sense of the word) and has been in public breakdown mode for what seems quite a while now. He has engaged in questionable behavior and said strange and borderline offensive things. He has plagiarized and was forced to apologize. He then plagiarized the apology. He wore bags over his head proclaiming himself not famous while trying to make himself famous. He then attempted to explain this behavior by claiming it was some kind of performance art piece. All the while I attempted to not give a shit and just ignore this ridiculousness.
But sometimes you can’t look away.
Last week Shia LeBeouf live streamed himself watching all of the movies he’s ever appeared in and actually – apparently – really believed this could somehow change people’s opinion of him. It did not work. What it did do was make me, a man who tries desperately to distance himself from celebrity moronic behavior, ask with all sincerity – How far up one’s own ass does one’s head have to be to actually do this kind of stupid crap? And, unlike a car crash, where are the professionals? how can we end these tragedies? What can we do to make it stop?
The answer is we don’t. Unfortunately.
It is unusual, different, bizzare and grotesque – you simply can’t look away. I get it. I’m seduced by it too, however hard I try not to be. The lure of tragedy, of public failure, of famous disgrace; it can be a boost to ego or a way of just feeling better in your lot in life. If a star can be brought low then maybe I’m not so far down as I thought I was.
If we took the time to venerate success, if we celebrated greatness rather than failure, then maybe we would ask our celebrities to be as great as us, not settle for them to sink to where we think we are.