There's that scene where all the characters are coming to a boiling point. They're arguing about everything from wardrobe to nuclear proliferation, but one part always stuck in me like a barb. Tony Stark, captain of the "I'm not a hero, and we're not soldiers" quip-squad, throws this little spitwad in Steve Rogers' face "Everything special about you came out of a bottle". Never have I ever wanted to punch Tony Stark more than I did in that moment. Because he was so dead-wrong. Steve Rogers was a good, heroic, honorable man when he was still 95 lbs and 5'4". Powers just took who he was and amplified it.
Look, I love Tony Stark, don't get me wrong, especially RDJ's Stark. He's fun to watch, but what I like most about him is that he matures as a man over the course of the films, and really is a hero, despite trying so hard to deny it. But why does he try to deny it? And why do I feel like people are relating more and more to that? And why do I feel like, in Stark's most immature moments, the audience is still rooting for him for stupid reasons like "He's funny and he's wearing a Black Sabbath shirt. So he's obviously awesome." Except, in pretty much the first half of the Avengers, he's not. He's a mouthy, immature playboy who practically spits in the face of a war hero and starts off by insulting his outfit. And I think Stark represents a lot about our generation. Daddy issues, and a belief that heroes just aren't a thing anymore. Instead, some have insisted on believing that the antihero is pretty much as good and as real as it gets. And look, believe me, I understand "daddy issues".
I think the reasons people find antiheroes so much more real and relatable is because they know of so few people anymore who went through bad things and still chose to be the hero.
Flip over to a media icon that may of us have grown up enjoying: Shia LaBeouf. There's been a whirlwind of news surrounding the young actor for the last couple of years. Public declarations of "I'm not famous anymore" to various PR and personal life snafus. It's been a tumultuous story to say the least, leading all the way up to news of him "finding God" on the set of Fury. Which, if it's true, is a great thing.
Now, if I ever had a chance to become friends with Shia, I'd do it (and going into acting, I very well might get that chance). And I wouldn't run around tweeting, "OMG! Friends with a movie star." No. I try not to freak out about people. People are just people. And a good friendship wouldn't need to be publicized like that. Honestly the guy seems like he could use a good friend.
Anyway, this led me to the big daddy of recent LaBeouf interviews, ironically, done by Interview Magazine. Within, LaBeouf talked about a whole lot of things. His early and recent life, his work, and his personal situations. He, like so many others, expresses an identification with the antihero. He couldn't connect with actors like Tom Cruise and Tom Hanks. He prefers actors with an undercurrent of irony or anger (he cites everyone from Gary Oldman and Sean Penn to Mel Gibson and Steven Segal). And in his own work, he's tried to use his pain, irony, and anger as well. And not surprisingly, a lot of this tied back to his lack of a healthy relationship with his father. Not that he doesn't have one, just not necessarily a healthy one (at least, from what I gathered). This compounded the insecurity that he, and many other artists like myself, have dealt with.
He says the following. These of course, are just snippets
"My greatest and my worst memories are with my father, all my major trauma and major celebration came from him. It's a negative gift. And I'm not ready to let go of it, because anger has a lot of power. "
"I'm an insecure person to begin with, but the only thing I've ever been good at is harnessing the negative in my life. "
"Because I always felt like I'm not good enough. I've felt that way my whole life. And I was so desperate to be good in that play that I overdid it. It became competitive in the wrong way. "Not only am I good enough, I'm better than you think I am." And then that became an aggressive thing. Fight rehearsals turned into fights. And it is unsustainable."
"I'm showing up with a set of problems, and I hope that they die when I'm done. Fury had to do with machismo, with this small-man complex, why I was getting in fights in bars all the time—there was this machismo element from being this kid who never had a f----- father to be around to protect him. So I'd always be super-aggressive with men. Fury did a lot for me in that regard. It calmed that down for me. "
"MITCHELL: It sounds like this is the first time you've ever had real trust in a director?
LaBEOUF: In men. (...) "
"LaBEOUF: Well, how do you become an adult? My paths to adulthood looked like you either commit a felony, you impregnate a woman, or you go to war. These are the things that make a man. That's a skewed idea, but it is what I was raised on. "
Man. Men. I do believe that women can be role models and heroes too. So don't even get out your gender equality soapbox. This isn't about that. But what if we actually taught little boys that we can be heroes again? That we can and should still do the honorable things in a world full of dishonor? What if we taught our little boys lessons that would make them good fathers? What if we allowed men to be men again, and like Uncle Ben, told them being the good guy is more than possible, it's imperative.
But this really isn't about men exclusively. It's about the circumstances of life that have made us believe that the antihero is the only real thing we can expect. Because we've seen so much hypocrisy, disappointment, rejection, you name it....so many people just don't believe others will just do the right thing because it's right anymore. And those who do believe it? We call them naive. We make fun of their uniform and we call them a "boy scout". And in some ways, there's been a culture of fatherlessness growing for thousands of years. Thousands.
Shia also did a piece of performance art recently. I'm going to level with you, I love art as an artist myself, but I usually find most performance art kind of awkward and weird (I don't mean plays. I mean, like 'performance art', get it?). Sometimes it just feels tryhard, or entirely to esoteric to be understood. But this...well, I think this kinda worked.
The exhibit was called #IAMSORRY. He sat a room with his recently popular paper bag over his head. People stood in line to get in, and were allowed to enter one at a time. First they were presented with a table full of artifacts from Shia's career. A transformer, some cologne, a whiskey bottle, the Indiana Jones whip. People took an object then entered a room to sit one on one with a silent Shia. Bag on his head, and red, puffy eyes peering through eyeholes as if he'd been crying. The purpose was to take all these people who become vicious and even violent when criticizing him on the internet and put them face to face with an actual human being.
"The Indiana Jones [whip]. I didn't just walk onto an Indiana Jones set not knowing what I was a part of. And when that movie didn't fulfill the expectations, I was f------ broken, man. So when somebody comes in with the Indiana Jones whip, and it was giggle, giggle, giggle, and my face is in a f------ bag and I'm broken, [the question is] "Are you a human being? I am no longer an actor now, I'm a broken man. And this s---- is real right here. What happens to you?" It's wild when that connection happens. That's what we're lacking in this world, really. We all want to be a part of a community. This is why we have so much divorce in this country. No one man or woman can be 50 people to another person. And what we're doing to fulfill that is we're creating a family of ghosts on the internet. You're better off buying a f------ motorcycle and joining the Hells Angels than joining Twitter and finding your community there, but this is what we do. So maybe if the people that type the spam on the internet show up at the door, when they're right in front of you, and it's person to person, left eye to left eye, there can be a soul connection. Something changes. I watched it happen for six days. And it was powerful. "
How genuine was this? Well yeah, people will debate that. Sometimes it feels like everything like this is a publicity stunt. Like Joaquin Phoenix. Like these celebrities are so tired of getting tossed around by the public, that they just decided to do some tossing of their own. But, this really conceptually made sense to me.
Shia then talked about some of his more recent projects (none of which I can recommend due to the content within them). He went around trying to find something more artistically gratifying in the last few years than Transformers, which he felt had no intrinsic value. And while the first and second movies may have felt the way, I've always felt like the third Transformers movie actually had a LOT of weighty subtext about good and evil, terrorism, society bending to fear and dismissing their heroes, etc. You can read more about that here.
So how does this all relate personally to me?
I was once told that I have an overdeveloped sense of grandeur. I took it as a compliment. But that sense of grandeur made me disappointed with everything.
But this is the problem. This is that fork in the road for heroes. For fathers. For men and women alike. The only difference between heroes and the bad guys are the choice they make when things happen. Do they make choices despite what happened, or because of it? And what do they do when they get power? If we'd have less of the above and more people willing to tell you, "well, it may not always be easy, but here, let me teach you. Better yet, let me go with you and mentor you." Well that....that would solve a lot of the world's problems. And that's the difference with a hero. Maybe they have been through some stuff. But they choose to try to make the world a place where other people don't have to go through what they did. Think about it: some of the best mentors in the world came from terrible situations.