“The comments are necessary. If everyone just likes you, you’re mediocre.” – Shia LaBeouf at 5:16 PM EST with occupants who asked how he felt about negative comments about his performance art.
Shia LaBeouf yet again has committed himself to another performance art exhibition, this time at Oxford University, where he and his collaborators are spending 24 hours in a lift/elevator as part of an address he will give at the university. During this time, the lift experience has been hashtagged as #Elevate, is being live streamed (Click HERE for the live stream), and also during this time Shia has encouraged fans, pedestrians, and students to occupy the lift with him and discuss whatever they would like. The project is quoted as saying guests of the lift may “address the artists, the debating chamber, and the internet, so that their collective voices may form an extended, expansive and egalitarian Oxford Union address.”
While many people may find Shia LaBeouf to be eccentric, perhaps even crazy, I have come to respect and somewhat admire the fact that he is different and outside of the norm. We live within a society that everyone is expected to conform to the normal, be normal, and remain normal. Even the very word ‘normal’ has connotations that denote both control and an expressed wish to retain anything that may be outside of what others find to be acceptable. This doesn’t go to say that one should be repugnant and obnoxious, like some of our recent politicians have decided to be like. The subject of deviating from normalcy is not about debunking the worry of ‘saying the correct thing,’ it’s merely about having the courage to speak openly about oneself and what oneself might find to be relevant to talk about.
We as a society have decided that we can only talk openly about the pleasant. We bury our fears, our depression, our anxiety, our troubles, even our irrational thoughts. Often we do it because we do not want to be a burden to another individual. It’s only in those rare circumstances with those we truly trust that we sometimes open up, but even those experiences have a shelf life. After a while, the same fears and the same irrational thoughts become an annoyance to those listening and they eventually exclaim ‘you should get over it.’ Back in December, after Shia’s #ALLMYMOVIES performance art, he was quoted as saying, “But this is a genuine fear of mine. I think people hate me. That’s just what goes on in my head. And all I want to do is be liked. Men, women, people don’t really want a lot. A person to talk to, and not have problems with nobody, I think it gets really simple when you get to the bottom of it.” Taking this quotation into context with #Elevate, it shows Shia clearly presenting his irrational thoughts outwardly. He is doing the very reverse of what people expect of a normal individual.
While #Elevate may have a self-serving component for Shia LaBeouf with fans wanting to take selfies with him or simply hang out with the actor-turned-artist, this exhibit is really about humanity and what is within a person. Looking at Shia’s tweets days prior to this exhibit, we see something interesting:
In these tweets, Shia is directly questioning how we view “Moving,” “Seeing,” “Being,” “Feeling,” and “Hearing;” all basic human components. The answers are astonishing. Being = within. Feeling = distant. Hearing = You. Firstly, this is a simple yet brilliant method of gauging how we, individually, feel. But more importantly, what do these polls insinuate? It crafts the image that we, on an individual level, feel alone and isolated and further feel that our voice is lost. Instead, we try to preserver and look to a future that is hopefully positive. Yet as the poll numbers indicate, this sentiment is not solitary. Collectively, many of us feel the same. Therefore, we shouldn’t be scared to openly discuss our worries and troubles and thoughts. Why do we limit ourselves? Are we worried about offending others? Here’s the reality: If your words offend someone, that person isn’t worthy of your time and words. You have a voice and even if it is pessimistic worry, celebrate it. You never should cage your voice.
But what is the bigger implication with #Elevate? Shia has taken a social norm and flipped it. How often are we surrounded by people and don’t say a word? Normally when we get on an elevator, even if there’s only one other person with us, we either look up or down and remain silent. We avoid eye contact and often we hope nobody says anything. Think about it. Whether it’s on a bus, train, plane, wherever it’s simply you amongst others, we do not say a word. We have desensitized ourselves from being connected to others. We are only comfortable with our inner circles and even there are we are so careful. #Elevate is encouragement to converse where it is normally taboo to converse. The content of conversation that occurs throughout #Elevate is irrelevant. It doesn’t matter because this is simply about being open with another, more specifically, being open with a stranger. It’s about forming a connection. Even that, though, is a mere simplicity. It’s just a conversation. As Shia has said during this exhibit, “We’re not trying to change the world. We’re just in an elevator.”
It’s when we restrain ourselves that we feel alone. Social isolation isn’t solely linked to social anxiety because we all are guilty of it. In a world where we try to tell others that we are united and should look out for each other, we individually step backwards. It’s only when we are surrounded by a group that says ‘yes’ and is moving forward that, we too, step forward. It’s like a group of students waiting outside of the classroom in the hallway because nobody wants to be the first person to walk into the empty classroom on their own. It’s only when one person does it that it becomes socially acceptable and others walk in as well. This metaphor can work in the context of conversation. We worry that our interests will be seen as irrelevant and usually wait until it is socially acceptable to talk about them. But ask yourself, what is the harm in allowing others to be aware of what your interests are? In fact, you might realize that quite a few people might actually share your interest. You won’t know until you talk about it.
When watching the livestream for #Elevate, we recognize how simple it is. How mundane it is. How pointless it is. Yet if all these adjectives apply, then why are we so afraid to have a conversation with anyone ourselves? Already during this exhibit Shia has openly discussed his life qualms, his perceptions about the world, his views on celebrity, and even admitting his performance art is somewhat ‘silly,’ yet nonetheless he is discussing these topics because it is conversational. People are willing and interested to know, therefore his internalized worries of ‘do people hate me’ or ‘does anyone care about what I think’ are no longer associated as a negative. He can openly discuss himself because the social taboo of ‘only talk pleasant thoughts’ have been diminished. Many of us could learn from this.
#Elevate touches on some social commentary components and whether you are willing to call Shia LaBeouf’s work “art” or not, one cannot deny it is still thought-provoking.