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[Sunday Coffee Sipper] Shia LaBeouf and the Art of Plagiarism

[Sunday Coffee Sipper] Shia LaBeouf and the Art of Plagiarism

This past Monday, actor Shia LaBeouf released his directorial short film debut, Starring Jim Gaffigan, Portia Doubleday, and Thomas Lennon, it was an honest look at the behind-the-scenes world of online film criticism. Everything from the hierarchy of outlets during press junkets to the moral and ethical dilemmas we face when reviewing films from our personal heroes was illuminated in the amazingly shot, at times somber short. However, just as I was finishing and scheduling the post around 5:30pm, it had mysteriously been taken down. Short of the Week, an online site that curates and premieres short films, never takes videos down unless something happened.

As it turned out, something did happen, and it has rippled across film circles all week. When premiered at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival, it was critically hailed, with LaBeouf’s directing potential certainly looking promising. However, when the short debuted publicly, Badass Digest noted‘s almost text-for-text transcription of one of comic book artist Daniel Clowes’ shorts, Justin M. Damiano. However, no proper accreditation was made towards Clowes’ work. When questioned about the apparent plagiarism, Clowes himself told BuzzFeed:

“The first I ever heard of the film was this morning when someone sent me a link. I’ve never spoken to or met Mr. LaBeouf. I’ve never even seen one of his films that I can recall — and I was shocked, to say the least, when I saw that he took the script and even many of the visuals from a very personal story I did six or seven years ago and passed it off as his own work. I actually can’t imagine what was going through his mind.”

Now, this is where things take a surprising turn. Following an agonizing day of accusations, LaBeouf turned to Twitter to express his sincerest apologies and condolences… or did he?







All well and good, right? As it turns out, the first half of his “apology” was actually appropriated from a Yahoo! Answers post made over four years ago. Subsequent “apologetic” tweets aped everything from Tiger Woods’ apology over his sex scandal, Kanye West’s Taylor Swift apology, and more. I won’t put all of them here, but MTV has put together the relevant tweets for your convenience here. Further research has revealed that LaBeouf has been appropriating others’ words for his comic books, as well.

Now then, exactly what is LaBeouf’s play here? Is he simply exploring the art of plagiarism, pushing the boundaries of honest self-expression and re-appropriation of others’ works and words, or is he just being a total dick and making light of these very serious offenses?

First and foremost, plagiarism is one of the worst offenses anybody could make, especially in the art world. I acknowledge how one can feel inspired to create something similar to an original piece, but to blatantly take a piece’s word-for-word transcription and attempt to pass it off as your own is astoundingly wrong. There’s a blurry line when it comes to adaptations, especially when taking one form of art and recreating it in another medium, but at least accrediting the original artist is common sense.

Secondly, LaBeouf’s whole treatment of the situation is absurd. Early on, I gave him the benefit of the doubt. As one can easily tell from the multitude of LaBeouf-related posts I’ve written on Ruby Hornet (and elsewhere), I’m an honest fan of the actor. However, this whole episode has soured me on him and his artistic inclinations. If it turns out that his half-assed apologies are nothing more than some “performance piece,” the public would become even more infuriated. Give an honest apology to your fans, to the cast and crew behind, to Clowes, and leave it at that. To create a spectacle over this is typical “artistic self-expression” bullshit.

We all re-tread, re-invent, appropriate, adapt, remember, and are inspired by others’ works our entire lives. But to take somebody’s own art and attempt it to pass off as your own, then cover up any sense of guilt with an obvious lack of validity is self-serving and nihilistic. There is no art in plagiarism, Shia, and the idea of even making an attempt to spin this episode as nothing more than a public performance piece is the very reason why you aren’t an artist; you’re just an actor forever playing these roles created by others who truly understand art. Art is the creative representation of our self-expression, and you have made it abundantly clear that you have nothing of your own to express.

Geoff Henao is a writer/kinda photographer affiliated with the Chicago collective LOD. His interests include film, punk rock, cute girls, graphic novels, video games, and the Chicago Bulls. He’s funny sometimes.



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