In many cases, the initial thought a person has upon hearing the name Shia LaBeouf is Transformers. That probably occurs 88 percent of the time.
For the remaining 12 percent, he may be associated with his Disney Channel start, Even Stevens, his first film appearance in Holes or even that weird Youtube video “Actual Cannibal Shia LaBeouf.”
But as of recently, LaBeouf has been making a conscience effort to make his name more prominent. No, he hasn’t been starring in countless award-winning movies, he isn’t making a guest appearance on Food Network’s “Chopped” and he’s not opening his own restaurant in New York City.
With his latest social media stunts, such as #AllMyMovies, #TouchMySoul and #Elevate, LaBeouf, and his creative partners Nastja Sade Rönkkö and Luke Turner, have utilized performance art as an attempt to blur the line between celebrity and real world relations.
Despite the bouts of heat and criticism he’s received for his perceived insanity—and even pretentiousness—I commend him. I truly do.
It all started back in February 2014 when he wore a brown paper bag over his head to the premiere of Lars Von Trier’s “Nymphomaniac: Part 1” in Berlin with “I’m Not Famous Anymore” scripted in Sharpie on the front. Some saw this as a plea for attention, but that has never been LaBeouf’s mantra.
Rather, this event highlights the first stage in his evolution from actor to artist. He, unlike the majority of Hollywood’s stars, doesn’t want to be seen as the characters he has portrayed on the big screen. In reality, he wants to be seen as a person: something all of us can relate to.
I’ll skip to the #AllMyMovies project last November, where LaBeouf sat in New York’s Angelika Film Center for three days, watching all of his movies in backwards chronological order.
He wasn’t dressed in anything extravagant. He didn’t have an entourage. There were no bodyguards. No limousines. No special treatment. He was just an average Joe wearing a hoodie, eating popcorn and watching movies.
And that was exactly the point.
In that environment LaBeouf was a part of a community, as he later said in an interview with Entertainment Weekly. He was sharing in the emotional reactions to his films—both good and bad—with the rest of the attendees, and that’s all he wanted.
A month later in December, LaBeouf launched his four-day #TouchMySoul campaign, when he and the two other members of his creative team sat at the Foundation for Art and Creative Technology in Liverpool, taking phone calls and asking callers if they could “touch their soul.”
The conversations held were recorded on a running Google Doc for the world to see, and the responses received varied greatly in content and emotional reactions. Last week, a video compilation was released highlighting the best responses generated from the project.
Some callers gave in-depth insight as to what it meant to truly touch a person’s soul, while others tried their best to send good vibes through the phone lines. Still others (probably the majority of callers) found themselves at a loss for words having been surprised to actually have LaBeouf on the other end of the line.
Though few, some called to criticize LaBeouf for his “nonsense.”
One in particular, which was included in the video, asked LaBeouf why he is interested in these “social media stunts,” accusing him of being stagnant in a world desperate for human aid: “I suggest that, instead of sitting on the phone and talking to people and asking them to touch you, you should make a difference and touch someone else. You’ve got millions of people following you. Why don’t you start a trend of aiding other people?”
This, unfortunately, brings up a good point. In fact, it probably brings to the surface a series of questions we’ve all been asking ourselves: What really is the purpose of these projects? How are they benefiting society as a whole? And, most importantly, what is LaBeouf thinking?
Before doubt of LaBeouf’s character had enough time to filter into my mind, these questions were answered in his concise response.
LaBeouf retorted, “Do you think people need to be listened to?” in which the caller responded “Uh, of course they do,” clearly taken aback.
LaBeouf further prodded, “So, what’s going on here?” The caller responded, “Uhh you’re listening to me?” surprised to hear his own response.
All LaBeouf said next before the conclusion of the call was, “Have a good day.”
That’s when the lightbulb went on for me.
I’ll admit that perhaps I’m reading too far into this. Maybe I’m giving LaBeouf too much credit. Who’s to say, really?
Regardless, LaBeouf is accomplishing—or in the process of accomplishing—a great feat. A feat never before attempted.
By becoming more approachable to the public, he’s pulling celebrities down from their pedestals. He’s blurring the lines between the average person and the actor, actress, or pop star. He’s bringing to the surface the idea that we as humans are equal to one another and share in the need of kind, human interaction, an idea that is often times neglected and thrown under the radar.
This is the purpose of these so called “social media stunts.” This #TouchMySoul conversation, though simple, explains LaBeouf’s entire purpose, which put simply, is to listen; he wants to give others an outlet for the thoughts they are hesitant to share.
A day after the video was released last week, LaBeouf and his team kick started their #Elevate project, in which they stood in an Oxford University elevator for 24 consecutive hours, just talking and listening to the strangers who entered.
No one knows really what’s up his sleeve, but all I can say is that whatever it is, if it impacts a single person in a positive way, it was a success in his book—and mine.
Featured Photo Credit: Courtesy of Wikipedia Commons.
Jordan Stovka is a freshman journalism major and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.