December 21, 2013

Shia LaBeouf is a serial plagiarist who ripped off Daniel Clowes, Robert McNamara, and Melville House author Benoît Duteurtre


Shia LaBeouf is a very serious artist and a serial plagiarist.

Shia LaBeouf is a very serious artist and a serial plagiarist.

On Monday, actor/wet squirrel Shia LaBeouf posted his short film, “,” which stars Jim Gaffigan and had been praised at Cannes, online. Within 24 hours a number of writers—most notably comic book writer Josh Farkis and BuzzFeed‘s Jordan Zakarin—revealed that nearly every scene in the film had been lifted from acclaimed comic book writer Daniel Clowes‘ Justin M. Damiano. As Zakarin reports, “Nowhere in the promotion for or credits of the film does LaBeouf mention the Clowes comic.”

Then things got really interesting.

LaBeouf, a star of Even Stevens and the upcoming Lars Von Trier film Nymphomaniac, took to Twitter to apologize:

LaBeouf’s apology is strange and disjointed, and for good reason: it’s also plagiarized. LaBeouf’s tweets are a kind of mosaic of celebrity apologies–LaBeouf rehashes Kanye West, Tiger Woods, and, weirdest of all, the architect of the Vietnam War, Robert McNamara, among others. Most remarkably, portions of LaBeouf’s apology were ripped off from what is arguably the dumbest possible source: a Yahoo! Answers thread.

But it didn’t stop there. Farkas began combing through the human BitTorrent’s past writing and discovered a mountain of plagiarism. (It’s worth noting, too, that LaBeouf was first accused of plagiarism earlier this year, when he ripped off an apology to Alec Baldwin, after the two got into a hissy fit on Broadway. If you come out looking like the bad guy in a fight with Alec Baldwin, something’s wrong.) Not content with saying lines other people wrote in films he acted in or copying them in his own films, LaBeouf is also the author of a number of comics that, coincidentally, are largely ripped off from other notable authors.

According to Farkas, LaBeouf’s comic “Lets Fucking Party” contains lines snatched from poet/mole person Charles Bukowski. Per Farkas:

Below is page 4 & 5 from the powerful mind of LaBeouf:

“Poets don’t anger anyone. Poets don’t gamble.
Here, they don’t assassinate poets. Here, they don’t notice them.”

Weirdly, here is a written piece called “Assault” by Charles Bukowski:

“Lorca was shot down in the road but here
in America the poets never anger anybody.
the poets don’t gamble.
their poetry has the smell of clinics.
their poetry has the smell of clinics.
where people die rather then live.
here they don’t assassinate the poets
they don’t even notice the poets.”

The plagiarism in another LaBeouf comic, “Stale N Mate” is even more egregious: lengthy passages from that work are ripped off from the French writer Benoît Duteurtre‘s The Little Girl and the Cigarette, a work published in the United States by this very publishing house. Once again, Farkas lays out the heist:

For example, the “original” “Stale N Mate” says:

Seemingly indifferent to the fate that awaited him—Donal Thomas continued to look obstinate in the antechamber of the execution room. A silent exchange pitted the condemned man. Very calm in his demeaner. Against the director of the institution.

Meanwhile The Little Girl and the Cigarette says on page 10:

Seemingly indifferent to the fate that awaited him, Désiré Johnson continued to look obstinate. In the antechamber of the execution room, a silent exchange pitted the condemned man,a tall young black man, very calm under his dreadlocks, against the director of the institution, a Vietnamese law-school graduate, recently promoted to the directorship of this ultramodern prison to ensure that a dozen capital executions were smoothly carried out there every year.

Or later on in Shia’s “Stale N Mate” he says:

Donal Thomas followed the guards toward death row, in a direction that he was the first to take. As he was returning to the life all he did was whistle. As though people were trying to complicate his life. What was left of it anyways.

While The Little Girl and the Cigarette is very different in saying:

Désiré Johnson followed his guards towards death row, in a direction that he was the first to take. As he was returning to life, all he did was mumble, as if other people were trying as hard as they could to complicate his life:“I wasn’t asking for much.”

Because LaBeouf’s plagiarism is so egregious and obvious, a number of observers have speculated that it’s all a Joaquin Phoenix-style prank. On Wednesday, The A.V. Club‘s Sean O’Neal wrote:

And so, the mounting evidence continues to point to some sort of sustained, elaborate joke—the punchline of which is seemingly the idea that anyone would pay attention to Shia LaBeouf. (…Good one?) Or maybe it’s a performance art parody that “plagiarizes” similar stunts by the likes of James Franco and Joaquin Phoenix. Or, maybe it’s all building to Shia LaBeouf’s hilarious reveal that he’s really just a mediocre talent with laughable pretensions. Also, that his real name is Stevie DaBeef.

I see three possibilities:

1. This is not a joke. Shia LaBeouf is an egomaniacal moron who has no idea what he’s doing and thinks he can get away with ripping people off because he’s an entitled brat. LaBeouf, as a pampered celebrity, believes that he’s untouchable, that he can do whatever he wants without consequences because he has the stunted moral conscience of a former child actor.

2. This was a stunt all along, although it’s a really stupid stunt because Shia LaBeouf is a moron. The obnoxious playfulness of LaBeouf’s apology, suggests that there’s something larger afoot. LaBeouf may be trying to make a dumb point about the nature of inspiration and creativity. LaBeouf’s general demeanor—his penchant for Bukowski and patchy facial hair—suggests that, deep down, he’s just a fabulously wealthy high school sophomore: a pretentious nitwit so convinced that everyone else is stupid that he’s completely oblivious to his own stupidity.

3. This wasn’t a joke, but now that he’s been caught he’s trying to cover it up by acting like it was one all along and the only reason it’s come across so poorly is that Shia LaBeouf is a moron. Similar to option #2, except more hastily conceived, which partially explains how stupid it is (the rest is explained by the fact that Shia LaBeouf is stupid.) Having watched Phoenix’s stunt—which is Joycean in its complexity, compared to LaBeouf’s—Shia may have figured that the best way to explain away bad, bizarre behavior is to claim that it’s satire. In other words, he’s using the Phoenix defense to try to cover his tracks, to veil his indiscretions as complex, cultural commentary.

Regardless, it seems to be fairly clear that LaBeouf is unaware that he’s playing with fire. Clowes’ editor, Fantagraphics associate publisher Eric Reynolds, lays out a strong case against Indiana Jones Jr.:

“His apology is a non-apology, absolving himself of the fact that he actively misled, at best, and lied, at worst, about the genesis of the film. No one ‘assumes’ authorship for no reason. He implied authorship in the film credits itself, and has gone even further in interviews. He clearly doesn’t get it, and that’s disturbing. I’m not sure if it’s more disturbing that he plagiarized, or that he could rationalize it enough to think it was OK and that he might actually get away with it. Fame clearly breeds a false sense of security.”

It’s likely that we’ll get a better sense of LaBeouf’s motivation in the coming days—and we’ll update this post as more information emerges. But in the meantime, it looks like LaBeouf may be in a lot of trouble. On Tuesday, Clowes told Buzzfeed that he was “pursuing his legal options.” Melville House is currently doing the same.


Alex Shephard is the director of digital media for Melville House, and a former bookseller.