James Franco on His Spirit Animal, Shia LaBeouf

James Franco and what he has wrought. (Getty)

James Franco and what he has wrought. (Getty)

You would think that the clash between two famed Hollywood dilettantes like James Franco and Shia LaBeouf would be inevitable. After all, Mr. Franco got into his weird art phase around the same time he started collaborating with Marina Abramovic, whom Mr. LaBeouf has clearly ripped off in his new “viral” performance #IAmSorry. (Just remove his bag head, and you basically have The Artist is Present, though Ms. Abramovic has called Mr. LaBeouf’s work “manipulative.”)

But instead of lashing out at what seems like just another form of LaBeouferism, Mr. Franco took to the op-ed pages of The New York Times to defend the star.

 First of all, in case you’ve forgotten who James Franco was:

THE recent erratic behavior of Shia LaBeouf, the 27-year-old actor best known as the star of the “Transformers” movies, has sent the press into a feeding frenzy. Though the wisdom of some of his actions may seem questionable, as an actor and artist I’m inclined to take an empathetic view of his conduct.

Described similarly: Mr. Franco is a 35-year-old actor best known as the co-star of the Spider-Man and Rise of the Planet of the Apes movie. But as an actor and an artist (the kind who refers to himself as “the selfie king,”) he’s inclined to stand up for Mr. LaBeouf in a way that does not at all further his own agenda at all. How generous!

This behavior could be a sign of many things, from a nervous breakdown to mere youthful recklessness. For Mr. LaBeouf’s sake I hope it is nothing serious. Indeed I hope — and, yes, I know that this idea has pretentious or just plain ridiculous overtones — that his actions are intended as a piece of performance art, one in which a young man in a very public profession tries to reclaim his public persona.

Translated: I hope it’s nothing serious. Maybe just a case of the performance sharts.

Mr. Franco then writes for a graph about Marlon Brando, and how the thespian gained a lot of weight and refused his Oscar to piss off the Hollywood system. Which is obviously the same thing as what these two are doing, no diggity doubt.

“These were acts of rebellion against an industry that practically forces an actor to identify with his persona while at the same time repeatedly wresting it from him,” Mr. Franco writes in a pretty compelling sentence that will be totally negated by the ones following it.

At times I have felt the need to dissociate myself from my work and public image. In 2009, when I joined the soap opera “General Hospital” at the same time as I was working on films that would receive Oscar nominations and other critical acclaim, my decision was in part an effort to jar expectations of what a film actor does and to undermine the tacit — or not so tacit — hierarchy of entertainment.

Oh good. I was worried that James Franco would never get around to telling us how James Franco fits into this story. Maybe he is worried that we forgot that he, James Franco, considers himself to be an expert on mental health issues?

Actually, if anyone can speak to this celebrity tantrum that Mr. LaBeouf is going through, it’s Mr. Franco.

Our rebellion against the hand that feeds us can instigate a frenzy of commentary that sets in motion a feedback loop: acting out, followed by negative publicity, followed by acting out in response to that publicity, followed by more publicity, and so on. Participating in this call and response is a kind of critique, a way to show up the media by allowing their oversize responses to essentially trivial actions to reveal the emptiness of their raison d’être. Believe me, this game of peek-a-boo can be very addictive.

Wait, so by that logic, does  Mr. Franco writing for the most well-known media outlet in the world about Shia Labeouf render his response “essentially trivial?” Because it’s not like he’s reporting this story; he’s doing an opinion piece on it. He’s just another set of gums flapping in the proverbial wind here. Not that we’re surprised to find his raison d’être (french for “delicious media raison”) is nothing more than a cavity where Mr. LaBeouf’s tooth used to reside. This is a guy with a HuffPost Livejournal, after all.