Shia LaBeouf, Plagiarism, and Performance Art - Guest Post from Author Scotch Wichmann


Shia LaBeouf, Plagiarism, and Performance Art


I've been doing performance art for 23 years.  I've snorted lines of shaved mouse fur, put razor blades in my underwear, eaten broken glass, performed testicle puppet shows...you get the idea.  I've performed at galleries, museums, and fringe festivals from L.A. to Scotland, and was even nominated for Best Comedy and Best Stunt at last year's Hollywood Fringe Festival.  So, I guess you could say that I've seen, done, and heard some crazy shit.

But here's something I never thought I'd find myself saying:
"I was plagiarized by Shia LaBeouf."

But it happened. In late 2013, LaBeouf was caught using plagiarized text in his short film, Howard Cantour; he'd lifted whole passages from the writing of Ghost World comic book author Daniel Clowes.  Defensive that he'd been caught red-handed, LaBeouf began issuing a series of sardonic—and, sometimes, if you can believe it, plagiarized—apologies to Clowes via Twitter, which triggered a sizeable public backlash against LaBeouf.

LaBeouf responded via Twitter that the joke was on the public; his acerbic "apologies" had simply been one big performance art piece.  LaBeouf then proceeded to tweet a very long string of statements about the history, power, and methods of performance art—statements, it turned out, that were lifted directly from a performance art manifesto I'd originally published in 2009.  I discovered this when an anonymous tipster sent me to an article on A.V. Club (see: 2p4m.com/shia), an entertainment website where a reporter had, by Googling Shia's tweets, determined that I was the latest in LaBeouf's line of victims.

At first I was a little flattered.  Wow!  Touched by a celebrity! Shia liked my writing about performance art enough to steal it.  Cool!  But then it occurred to me that, the A.V. Club article aside, the general public didn't necessarily know that Shia's tweets weren't his writing.  Even worse, I had a novel coming out in April about two performance artists who kidnap their boss, and a lot of the ideas in my book about performance art came from my manifesto, which I've been honing and tweaking for years.  In short, LaBeouf had lifted indirectly from my novel that wasn't even on sale yet.

Suddenly, I was pissed.

Shia's jocular plagiarism is, without a doubt, entertaining for its shock value, but the emotional impact when it's your writing that gets lifted is a completely different ballgame. I felt violated and a little sad that bits of my writing had been kidnapped and tossed out into the world—orphaned—as part of a cheap prank. A celeb who plagiarizes you will get to use your work to entertain the public, maybe make a splash, and then move on, the prank soon forgotten, while you're left to deal with your own emotional fallout.

But then in February, a gift appeared: I learned that LaBeouf was slated to perform an apologetic performance he was calling #IAMSORRY at the Stephen Cohen art gallery on Beverly Blvd. in Los Angeles, which was just a few miles away from my apartment.  LaBeouf!  In the flesh!  Just down the road!  Oh my god.  I was going to protest the hell out of him!

Even better (or worse, depending on your perspective), I discovered that LaBeouf's intended performance was plagiarized.  LaBeouf planned to sit in the gallery with a bag over his head.  A table would be set up near him with various props from his movies.  One by one, each audience member in line outside would be allowed to enter, pick up a prop, and "use it" on LaBeouf.  There would be bodyguards everywhere, of course, but this would be the public's chance to say whatever it wanted to LaBeouf—to look fame in the eye.

All of this, it turns out, was a rip-off of a 1974 piece called "Rhythm 0" by performance artist Marina Abramovic.  In Marina's version, her table had been covered with weapons—knives, a loaded gun, you name it.  She'd performed without a shirt or bra.  And she'd allowed an entire crowd (well, mob, really) to assemble without a single bodyguard in sight.  By the time her piece was finished, she'd been cut repeatedly, had a loaded gun held to her head, and other terrible things I won't even mention here.  It was brave and revolutionary for its time (or really, any time).  So LaBeouf's version, in comparison, was just plain impotent.

When Shia's performance began, I showed up at the gallery and was shocked to find 300 people waiting in line, with more arriving every minute.  Some had already been waiting 5 hours or more.  And reporters were out in force everywhere—Entertainment Weekly, TV cameras, you name it.

Taking a deep breath for courage, I duct-taped beef patties to my shoes (a reference to LaBeouf's last name, which is the French word for beef misspelled, thanks to his illiterate forefathers) and began a protest performance that literally lasted all day.  I waved around a massive sign that compared my manifesto to Shia's plagiarized tweets, stomped around with a paper bag over my head and my beef shoes, signed my name to pages of a graphic novel LaBeouf had written and tore them out as souvenirs, and most of all, took time to chat with the hundreds of people standing in line.  I wanted to put a face to LaBeouf's crimes (he has yet to apologize to me or Daniel Clowes in person), let everyone know that LaBeouf's #IAMSORRY was a flaccid rip-off, and hear the spectators' stories about their own encounters with plagiarism.

The crowd was incredibly supportive.  Several people who'd been waiting for hours even offered to let me take their places in line so I could confront LaBeouf directly. I was grateful, but I couldn't do it. In order for the #apology to be sincere, I felt LaBeouf needed to come to me. I'd notified the gallery that I would be outside, and that LaBeouf was welcome to come out and apologize to me directly—his army of bodyguards were welcome too!—but he didn't make an appearance.

The protest was ultimately cathartic. It also garnered some press. And the brush with fame has opened some doors for my novel that might not have otherwise been opened.  I was, I'll admit, conflicted over this last point; part of me wanted to take full advantage of my encounter with celebrity, but using my own victimhood to promote my novel seemed a shade opportunistic and hypocritical.  In the end, I ruled that any gains from all of this would be LaBeouf's payment to me for "borrowing" my writing.

I'd still welcome his apology, though.


About Two Performance Artists


Scotch Wichmann's debut novel, Two Performance Artists Kidnap Their Boss And Do Things With Him, is a caper comedy about two madcap performance artists in San Francisco who hate their jobs so much that they cook up the ultimate performance: to kidnap their billionaire boss and turn him into the wildest performance artist the world has ever seen.

A first-round finalist in the 2013 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Contest, Kill Radio L.A. called the book "possibly the funniest caper ever written...what you'd get if Fear and Loathing, Office Space, and Jackass made a baby."

On sale now in paperback and E-Books at bookstores and on Amazon!

For more, visit: www.2p4m.com

About Scotch Wichmann


Performance artist SCOTCH WICHMANN was launched into the American art scene 23 years ago with his debut piece, SNORTING MOUSE FUR, and he's been going strong ever since. Nominated with his performance troupe for Best Comedy and Best Stunt at the 2013 Hollywood Fringe Festival, his work has become known for its surrealism, physical endurance, and Dadaist comedy at galleries and fringe festivals around the world.


For more about Scotch, visit:
Website and blog: www.scotchcomedy.com
Twitter: @scotchwichmann


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Shia LaBeouf, Plagiarism, and Performance Art - Guest Post from Author Scotch Wichmann Shia LaBeouf, Plagiarism, and Performance Art - Guest Post from Author Scotch Wichmann Reviewed by Joshua Cook on 11:30 PM Rating: 5

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