It’s absolutely baffling that, in this day and age, religious discord still exists around the world. Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, Christian, Wiccan — if there’s one religion to which we all adhere, one altar at which we all worship in common, it’s that of the celebrity. We live in a moment where membership in the cult of celebrity is at an all-time high and, thanks to modern technology like Twitter and Instagram, its deities pervasive. Celebrities influence society’s taste in fashion and in style, they color people’s views on important issues with their own opinions (informed and otherwise), they find themselves leaping off of tongues and into ears as they invade the daily conversations that make up our lives. Like the devoted acolytes we are meant to be, we turn our heads when they speak. And when one of them puts on an art installation, we drop whatever it is we’re doing and rush to temple.
Earlier this month, actor Shia Lebeouf put on a week-long exhibit in a Los Angeles gallery entitled #IAMSORRY, in which he sat in a room with a paper bag over his head reminiscent of the one he wore to the premiere of his latest flick Nymphomaniac at the Berlin Film Festival. Visitors to the exhibit, which ran from 11AM to 6PM Tuesday through Sunday, were allowed to say whatever they wanted to the actor and had props at their disposal for use, although in most cases the actor just sat silently, tears streaming down his face. We can’t say, definitively, whether or not this experience should be considered “art”; we like to believe that, like beauty, art is in the eye of the beholder. All we can say is that, like his apologetic tweets for plagiarizing cartoonist David Clowes turning out to be themselves plagiarized from other celebrities, been there, seen that, Shia.
While the exhibit alone would have been unsettling enough for most, what was happening outside of it was just as bizarre. People, queuing in a line that wrapped around the block, were waiting hours (yes, hours) to get in to the exhibit, apparently at the expense of important responsibilities. Youtube channel ScreenJunkies captured footage of interviews with hopeful exhibit-goers while host Hal Rodnick waited for his turn to come face-to-face with Louis Stevens. One interviewee claimed that he waited five hours in line, only got to be in the room with Shia for two minutes, and didn’t even know how he felt about it after it was over. Another, when asked what she would be doing if not standing in line, said that she “would probably be home taking care of [her] girls.” One even came back after she was turned away the day before, dedicating a total of ten hours of her life to this experience. This didn’t even occur on the day of the exhibit’s opening; the wait was hours-long until the very last day of the installation.
These acts of curiosity/interest/devotion leave us with a burning question: why? Why exactly did people rearrange their schedules, call in sick to work, and drop their kids off at the babysitter’s to wait in line for an experience that lasted two minutes with a person they’d likely never meet again? Why is society clinically obsessed with celebrity, with the lives and actions of a few people who are relevant today and forgotten tomorrow? Why is it that you can slap a celebrity’s name on anything and instantly make it relevant and popular? And why does it feel as if, underneath the paper bags and the tears and the apologies that never belonged to him in the first place, Shia Lebeouf is secretly laughing at us?
Come to think of it, we would be too, if we were him. After all, he didn’t wait all day in a line to watch someone cry for two minutes.