Is it wrong to question Shia LaBeouf’s rape narrative?

Shia LaBeouf does even this unnaturally.

Shia LaBeouf does this unnaturally, somehow.

More than one of you sent me news that Shia LaBeouf says he was raped during #IAMSORRY, the performance-art apology for plagiarizing Daniel Clowes that was itself plagiarized from Marina Abramovic. Sorry—we got sucked into a Baudrillardian whirlpool there. The important part of the sentence is that somebody raped Shia LaBeouf, or so he said in an interview with Dazed. His description of events—a woman entered the exhibit, lashed his legs with a cane, and raped him while her boyfriend waited outside—conflicts with reports from his fellow artists. Also, it is insane. But to even allude to these issues is to question the narrative of a victim of sexual assault, which is wrong. I quote the AV Club’s Sean O’Neal:

But to question any of these details…is to enter into the always-uncomfortable arena of casting doubt on a sexual assault allegation…to blame the victim. Timed as it is in the midst of the continued controversy surrounding Bill Cosby, LaBeouf’s story could also be seen as commentary on the way society treats rape accusations, particularly when they involve a celebrity. But, again, to even suggest there may be some other, “artistic” purpose to LaBeouf coming forward with this would be to trivialize a charge of sexual assault.

I swear, if that son of a bitch made us think about this on purpose…

Obviously, if LaBeouf falsely claimed to have been raped as some sort of commentary/performance/hideous expression of his narcissism, then it is he who has trivialized victim narratives, not we. That would be great, in that it’s great not to be the person who did something awful. But if a woman really did beat LaBeouf for ten minutes, rape him, and run out of his art exhibit “with her lipstick smudged” before anyone could catch her, then we connive in rape culture by questioning his account.

This is what The Beef does: he makes you certain that one of you is awful. Can we even call him The Beef now that he is a rape victim? Obviously we cannot, if his story is true. But since even wondering whether his story is true perpetuates the victim-blaming that has made rape America’s most rarely punished violent crime, we should probably dispense with “The Beef” entirely. We should not try to be funny in connection with this story at all.

By our own expressed values, “or he’s lying” cannot be part of our reaction. Even though that’s the subtext of everything LaBeouf has done for the last year, he has hit on the one kind of narrative where veracity is taken for granted. All I can say about this issue, then, is thank goodness LaBeouf is not lying.

Thank goodness LaBeouf is telling the truth when he says a strange woman raped him at his art performance, because lying about it would trivialize the experiences of real rape victims. It’s a good thing it really did happen while his girlfriend waited outside, because that detail in a lie would make her feel terrible.

It’s a good thing LaBeouf really did get raped during the copy of someone else’s work he undertook to sarcastically apologize for copying a third person’s work, because otherwise I would fear that a man who regularly appears in feature films still wants attention badly enough to tell the worst lie imaginable. But someone raped Shia LaBeouf, so we don’t have to worry about that.

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  1. I think it’s interesting that everyone is so skeptical. Why do you say his story is “insane”? It doesn’t seem that bizarre to me that a visitor would do that to him during his performance art piece (did she conceive of it as rape? we have a cultural myth that you can’t rape men, that they are “lucky” to get sexual attention), and it doesn’t seem bizarre to me that he would maintain the integrity of his performance art by not responding while she assaulted him (or maybe he experienced tonic immobility (going into catatonic shock), as about half of rape victims do). Is it that people can’t comprehend rape so they just don’t believe it happened? Is it that people can’t comprehend why someone wouldn’t fight back? We already know that most rape victims don’t “fight back”, so how is this different? Maybe I’ve just heard too many fucked up stories already.

  2. I think it’s even more interesting how rape victims project their experiences onto Shia and assume that he must have experienced what they did. It’s a sort of cognitive dissonance or reaction formation that completely accepts an unbelieveable story from an unreliable person because of the subject matter and the cultural context. Even though the boy in the story WAS eventually eaten by a wolf, no one doubts he was a liar who shouldn’t have lied and therefore deserved to be eaten by a wolf. No one ever says, “What a horrible story advocating the eating of children by wolves!” Shia is a lying liar who lies. This piece is brilliantly written.

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