The Report Card: Retiring an act


By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor

Formerly published in The Other Press. Jan. 21, 2014

Celebrities often go through transformations. Usually these changes happen on-screen or stage when they’re portraying scripted characters, but sometimes these metamorphoses happen in real life; their daily actions become the performance, and you don’t need to buy a ticket to watch. Sometimes it’s comical, sometimes it’s tragic, and sometimes it’s absolutely cringe-worthy, but it’s always entertaining.

Pass: Joaquin Phoenix

Faking retirement is often a good PR strategy to gain more fanfare. It’s akin to faking a death and seeing how much people miss you… or the idea of you. After gaining recognition as one of Hollywood’s top leading men, Phoenix stumbled into rehab and a car crash in 2006. A couple of years after the accident, Phoenix announced his retirement from acting—he was intending to pursue a career as a rapper.

It turns out that the retirement was a hoax, all a performance for a Casey Affleck mockumentary film entitled I’m Still Here. Some people claimed they knew it all along, while others shook their heads in disapproval of such a blatant ploy to attract media attention to a less than mediocre movie.

Still, Phoenix rose from the clichéd ashes and won back his audience. Not always an easy feat in an industry where the public will be more than happy to label you as a lunatic. Phoenix went on to work with legitimate filmmakers and star in highly acclaimed movies including The Master and Her. If he ever truly went away, this would have been quite a comeback. He played the role and he took chances. Sure, some said he embarrassed himself, but he did it for the sake of art. And that is worth some respect.

Fail: Shia LaBeouf   

As a fan (the word “fan” being used loosely) of Even Stevens, it’s sad to see LaBeouf’s current downward spiral in public media. Recent accusations of plagiarism for his short film Howard along with mockery from his peers have made the 27-year-old announce his “retirement from all public life”—whatever that means.

LaBeouf was bred to be a star. He could have been a respectable comedian, an adored action hero, or even just a modest dramatic actor. Instead, he wasted his Disney springboard to fame by getting himself into numerous legal issues including assault, trespassing, and driving under the influence. Yes, plagiarism seems minor compared to those other acts, but as an actor, all of this is suicide.

His last-ditch attempt to gain back his audience before going into social media reclusion was by writing his apology to Daniel Clowes (whose work he had plagiarized) in skywriting. Why he decided to choose that extravagant form of communication to express what should have been an embarrassing but private scenario, I’m not sure. What I do know is that LaBeouf is a performer and that he must get some pleasure from attention.

I have not met him, but I believe that his arrogance has gotten him into trouble more than once and such behaviour is a sign of immaturity. The same way a stubborn teenager would slam their door to their parents’ scolding, LaBeouf is slamming the door on us through Twitter. Sooner or later he’ll emerge, he’ll be all cried out, and he’ll be seeking our approval again. We’ll accept him, because we love entertainment. And we love to tease celebrities, so we’ll joke about his shortcomings again. It’s upon his reaction then that we’ll decide whether Shia LaBeouf has grown up or not.

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