Monday 1 December 2014

I Believe Shia LaBeouf

Shia LaBeouf, ex-Hollywood beefcake turned avant-garde performance artist hasn't featured on this blog before. But he does now and for good reason. If you haven't heard the story, he's alleged that he was raped during a project back in February. The exhibit, #IAmSorry, sees a paper bag-wearing LaBeouf silently sitting alone in a room with members of the public as they talk/cajole/berate him. On his bag is written the legend 'I am not famous anymore'.

According to LaBeouf,
One woman who came with her boyfriend, who was outside the door when this happened, whipped my legs for 10 minutes and then stripped my clothing and proceeded to rape me.
Yes, you read that correctly. LaBeouf claims he was raped. By a woman. His allegation is backed up by his collaborators on the piece who intervened to stop the attack. The presence of two eyewitnesses, however, are not good enough for Piers Morgan and his dissection of LaBeouf's account. Among the dross (carried by Mail Online - who else?) Morgan justifies his victim-blaming, noting that "If he’d wanted to stop this complete stranger supposedly ‘raping’ him, all he had to do was physically stop her himself or shout for help. But he didn’t. He just let it all happen."

Morgan wasn't there, so how does he know what did and didn't happen? And why does he feel entitled, from a position of complete ignorance, to adjudicate on whether LaBeouf was raped according to some ideal-typical model he carries in his fetid brain?

As it happens, I do have an idea where his bullshit comes from. In advanced industrial societies, gender is constituted/constructed in particular ways. There are masculinities and femininities as opposed to a single, definitive Masculinity or Femininity. Yet certain ways of performing gendered identities are more valorised than others. Archetypes of these strut about television programmes, litter video games and print publications, and use their idealised bodies to sell us stuff. It's not very often obese, conventionally unattractive women and men are used to market cars, cosmetics, holidays, new styles, etc. There then exists hegemonic masculinity and femininity, a standard reinforced and tweaked by the manipulations of marketing that projects whole sets of prescribed behaviours that covers appearance, conduct, lifestyle choices, and sexual behaviour.

Yes, sexual behaviour. Mainstream pornography for heterosexual male audiences condenses so many standard sexual scripts that condition the libidinal imaginations of many men. Women are basically objects to be fucked. It doesn't matter how one does it, hegemonic masculinity still valorises the guy who has sex with a lot of women - it helps explain why rancid trogs like Dapper Laughs and Julien Blanc find no shortage of defenders among some groups of young men. Putting it about, however, doesn't require an entourage of laddy lads to give your back a good old slapping. Manliness can be affirmed to one's own satisfaction too. The serial shagger, the overseas sex tourist, the married Tinder user, the kerb crawler - very different kinds of sex, very similar kinds of buzzes. It's as if virility can be measured in the equivalent of a transpotter's logbook.

A constant throughout this is that het guys on the hunt are the active participant. Their objects the passive. It is a gaze, a disposition, a way of orienting toward women that reduces them to sexy body bits. When a woman responds positively or, even better, initiates the beginning of what could quite easily lead into a sexual encounter well, it is the stuff of fantasy. Which is why so many porn scenarios has the female performer triggering the scene. No roses and Milk Tray needed. Whereas hegemonic femininity still encourages women to feel guilty about casual sexual encounters, hegemonic masculinity inculcates a sense of regret for opportunities passed up.

I do apologise for having to reintroduce Piers Morgan at this point. His tirade is draped in the assumptions and conceits of the hegemonic sexual script. He has profound difficulty with the notion that Labeouf was overpowered and raped by a woman, that a reversal took place in which he became an object to be attacked and violated. There's an unsavoury stain of nudge nudge wink wink there too. A bit of 'what a dawg/lucky bastard'. Caught with his pants down and his girlfriend nearby, surely he cried rape to mollify her anger at an episode he did not object to. And if it was anything other than consensual, why weren't the police called? Why haven't the police still not been called?

What a disgusting creature Piers Morgan is.

Unlike Piers, if someone says they've been raped or abused, then I'm inclined to believe them. "No you weren't" or "oh fuck off" are as crass as they are stupid. As we know the criminal justice system still has a difficult time ensuring rapists are detected, prosecuted and banged up. Making an allegation, going through the rigmarole of having it taken seriously by the authorities and (sometimes) friends and family can be deeply affecting and traumatic too. Small wonder rape remains underreported in Britain. Coming out as a rape survivor comes with significant costs. Hence why my starting point is belief.

When someone like LaBeouf says he's been raped, his claim comes with personal costs too. While his story will find sympathy in some quarters, because it involves a woman he will be a laughing stock in others. His image as a buff, some-time action man lies in tatters. The allegation was made in the full knowledge it will cost his future film career dearly. And yet he's done it anyway. That's why I believe Shia LaBeouf, and why you should too.


Anonymous said...

I think that a lot is being made out of a simple misunderstanding. In this performance art, he was playing the role of a passive victim who had consented to be publicly humiliated. She took this literally and raped him.

Either she was too stupid to interpret the art correctly or she was the greater artist. I think the latter. In fact, I reckon that Marcel Duchamp would have probably sided with her.

Anonymous said...

"he was playing the role of a passive victim who had consented to be publicly humiliated"

That is the usual excuse for rape, they were asking for it. I guess there is a very tiny twist of truth in this. (It doesn't condone it though)

I think we call all agree Piers Morgan is disgusting.

Sarah AB said...

tychy - would you say this if the artist was a woman, the alleged attacker a man?

Gary Elsby said...

What does the law say on a woman raping a man in the UK?

Anonymous said...

@ Sarah AB

Well, we'd first have to have arrived in a universe where it was possible for a female artist to perform something like #IAMSORRY. From then on, the rape's artistic merit would have needed to transcend its crassness as an act of sexual violence.

Anonymous said...

What is the world coming to when it's not safe to encourage strangers to whip you?