In Defense of Shia LeBeouf

18 April 2016

shia laboeuf

Shia LaBeouf: more than just a meme.

In recent years, Shia LaBeouf has been collaborating with Luke Turner and Nastja Säde Rönkkö to create performance art pieces which the vast majority of people have relished in turning into memes and gifs across the internet.

Now, I love a good meme as much as the next person but in this case I think that they’ve began to distract from the artistic merit of LaBeouf’s work. Sure, marathoning your own movies does seem like a ridiculous concept at first and standing in an elevator for 24 hours could be seen as a trivial waste of time in the name of art. But when you actually watch and appreciate these projects, the artistic intent and value becomes clear.

Performance art rarely makes its way into pop culture and because people know Shia LaBeouf from films like Transformers, or as Louis Stevens from Even Stevens if you’re like me, I think they’re more prone to laugh off his attempts at being an artist. So I’m going to talk about three of LaBeouf’s different artistic endeavours in attempt to convince you that he is more than the meme he has become.

Just Do It.  


“Don’t let your dreams be dreams! Just do it!”

How many of you have sarcastically re-iterated Shia LaBeouf’s words to your friends when they’re feeling down. Your friend frets about whether or not they need a tenth coffee that day. It’s probably unnecessary, but you respond with an emphatic “Just do it!” The most intense motivational speech ever has inspired countless gifsets and Tumblr posts but are we missing its real purpose?

The video, when you get rid of the assumption that this is just one of LaBeouf’s crazy antics and start seeing it as a piece of performance art, can actually be quite inspiring.

When I stop laughing and really take in the words being spoken – or rather, yelled – in the video, I find that it actually leads me to question my own motivations and actions. Why do I hold myself back from things that I would enjoy? Why do people so often just let their dreams be dreams and nothing more? This is a piece that really makes you think and reflect on life, if you let it.

And the fact that it is shot on a green screen only enhances its accessibility. This project was done in collaboration with students from a London arts college called Central Saint Martins who released the video with a Creative Commons license. This means that they specifically licensed the video so that any one in the world could work with it for free, clearly intending for people to translate the same message in different settings that are personal to each individual viewer.

And isn’t connecting with the viewer and allowing them to interpret and understand the art one of the most important parts about artwork of any form? Sure, it’s a funny video as well but that doesn’t mean we should dismiss the value and meaning that can be found in the video as a piece of performance art.


As I’m sure many of you will remember, in November 2015 the internet exploded with an array of new reaction gifs courtesy of Shia LaBeouf watching his own movies. This piece of performance art was captivating and provided a commentary on several different things.

Firstly I think LeBeouf is reflecting on the very nature of films, in that their primary purpose is to evoke emotion in the viewer. He then goes an extra step by allowing us to see our own emotions reflected on his face. Or sometimes just through body language, as was evident when he watched Transformers: Dark of the Moon.


Yes, that’s him asleep.

One of the most heartwarming moments of the #AllMyMovies project was when LaBeouf finally made it to the one film that I had been waiting for: The Even Stevens Movie. And it didn’t disappoint.

Watch this video and tell me you didn’t smile. That is the face of pure child-like glee that can’t help but improve your mood! And isn’t that what art, like film, is supposed to do? It’s supposed to make you think and feel emotion as a response.

#AllMyMovies succeeds in eliciting raw emotions in viewers in a very satisfying way. This project seems to have been a turning point when more people began to respect LeBeouf’s approach to performance art, as is evident in the public’s reactions.

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That’s why I think there is so much value in this kind of performance art, beyond the fact that it provides the world with excellent reaction gifs. It allows viewers to really think about things like the nature of films, entertainment, art and humanity whilst provoking an emotional response as well.


#Elevate is LaBeouf’s most recent project which also featured Luke Turner and Nastja Säde Rönkkö as part of the performance. The premise of this project is very simple; LaBeouf, Turner and Rönkkö stood, or sometimes sat, in an Oxford University elevator for 24 hours straight simply talking to students. And it was all live-streamed.

As a viewer watching through the live-stream, I witnessed a variety of conversations, some happy, some upsetting, some philosophical, some musical and all of them thought-provoking. I enjoyed listening to the opinions of these students on topics ranging from the Lord of the Rings trilogy to refugees, as well as the artists’ reactions. It may seem like listening to a conversation between a bunch of strangers wouldn’t be that interesting, but it prompted me to think about a variety of different topics and issues and even altered my opinion on some of them.

One of my favourite moments was when two English Literature students entered the elevator, followed by two Chemistry students. I was intrigued. How would four people that appeared, on the surface, to be complete opposites engage in a conversation within this elevator. It took an amazingly short amount of time for everyone to bond over their love for Lord of the Rings.

One of the great things about this project was that it allowed viewers to witness the connection between strangers and how they are able to find common ground and points of conversation. It’s fascinating to watch and, like #AllMyMovies, prompts us to think about the very nature of humans.

Ultimately, Shia LaBeouf’s performance art pieces are thought-provoking and emotional experiences. I love the ‘Just Do It’ meme as most people do. But I think viewing Shia LaBeouf and his work as merely memes and gifs often prevents us from experiencing a connection to this art and appreciating its artistic merit.

He’s more than just a meme. Shia LaBeouf is an artist and, I would argue, one of the most interesting performers and people in the world of pop culture today.

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