Shia LaBeouf's story is also the story of the Internet's history.
A young, troubled franchise star who took a turn for the absurd and rapidly became a gigantic and multifaceted meme, LaBeouf has had a multitude of infamous online moments that have solidified his position as one of the technosphere's earliest and most enduring gods.
Most recently, he's come back onto Twitter's list of trending topics after being featured on Hot Ones, a show that features celebrities getting candid eating hot sauce. While on the show, he ate a spicy chicken wing and cried, likened the process of making his upcoming biopic Honey Boy to an "exorcism," and also talked about his friendship with Kanye West and the time he wrestled Tom Hardy naked.
Shia LaBeouf Sheds a Tear While Eating Spicy Wings | Hot Ones www.youtube.com
This seems like as good a time as any to bring up something that has haunted me for nearly eight years. "Actual Cannibal Shia LaBeouf"—the song, the dance, and the animated video—is something that appears in my life from time to time, flaring up like an STD or a recurring nightmare.
"Shia LaBeouf" Live - Rob Cantor www.youtube.com
The song, titled simply "Shia LaBeouf," was written by Rob Cantor, who insists that it is nothing more or less than a joke based on how funny Shia LaBeouf's name sounds when you whisper it. He posted the song as a SoundCloud link, which quickly went viral. In 2014, the music video—featuring dancers, the Gay Men's Choir, the Los Angeles Children's Choir, and a cameo from LaBeouf himself—was released. The song tells the story of a person being pursued relentlessly by a bloodthirsty version of Shia LaBeouf. This Shia, hungry for human flesh, is seen brandishing a knife as he chases the narrator (referred to as "you") through the woods.
A blend between horror and parody, kitsch and gore, the video quickly wound its way into my subconscious, where it has remained and festered. In some ways, the cannibal Shia seems to live in the Internet's subconscious, too, a kind of Jungian archetype for the technological era that rebounds as quickly as it fades away into the half-light of our collective attention deficit.
The song is about fear, but fear of what? Fear of the abstract disconnect that arises from the void of the impending apocalypse? Fear of losing touch, of descending back into the primal darkness of the pre-phone charger world? Fear of social media's tendency to cannibalize itself, to swallow our identities and regurgitate them as algorithmic cash cows? Fear of the cult of celebrity, of the onset of capitalism, of climate change?
Actually, after hearing LaBeouf speak about his upcoming biopic, my newest theory is that the song is truly about Shia LaBeouf being pursued by Shia LaBeouf's demons (who take the form of the actual cannibal). LaBeouf has plenty of them, after all. He told Variety that his upcoming biopic is about his troubled upbringing with his abusive father, with whom he lived in a motel in Hollywood while a child star on Disney Channel. "I had a flashlight and was rummaging through the attics of my soul trying to figure stuff out, figuring my past out," he said, explaining the film's inspiration. Or was he running through the woods of his past? Running for his life from Shia LaBeouf? Aren't we all?
I don't know. I only know that even though my therapist says that Shia LaBeouf can't hurt me, I'm walking in the woods and my phone is dead. Then I see him. He gets down on all fours and breaks into a sprint. He's brandishing a knife. Killing for sport. Sometimes there are bear traps, and what we think are safe houses actually contain our worst nightmares. Sometimes we can't outrun the actual cannibal Shia LaBeoufs of our past. Fortunately, I know Jiu Jitsu.
Actual Cannibal Shia Labeouf (Song: Rob Cantor) www.youtube.com