Everyone is talking about Shia LaBeouf, for some reason. Because he is being a jerk, or an asshole, I guess? I don’t have much in the way of opinions on Shia LaBeouf, which is not to say I have none, but rather that my opinions are not so much about Shia himself and more about a vast web of subjective experience that is honestly far more interesting to me than whatever he is doing now. So I am going to tell you my story about Shia LaBeouf.
The age at which I should have known, or rather cared, who Shia LaBeouf was, was precisely the age at which I did not know or care. I am referring to his role on the Disney show Even Stevens, which I was not totally informed about since my family never had money for cable or satellite and I only caught the show after the fact, in syndication, on broadcast television. Still, he existed as a nebulous presence for me, I suppose.
Since television, deprived of the benefits of cable, was not always enough to hold my interest, I also often took to reading. I read widely and voraciously, and this was something noted about me in school. When I was eleven and in the fifth grade, a teacher I admired very much asked if I would please read Louis Sachar’s YA novel Holes and share my opinions and experiences with her, because she was considering assigning it for the following year’s English class.
I was familiar with Sachar, primarily from the Wayside School series (grade school David Lynch, and probably a formative influence in those early years) and jumped at the change to read this new book, despite it having a synopsis that failed to tickle that same Wayside itch.
But I read Holes and I loved it, I highly recommended it be read in the future by any and all students.
It is very difficult for me to articulate now, through the gap of the years, precisely what is was that worked so well in Holes. Part of it, I think, was that it managed to be completely absurd (in a more-subdued-than-Wayside School vein) while tackling some very serious issues (discipline, punishment, authority, race, family, legacy, ethical duty) in a way that did not feel condescending. That might be rose-tinting, and it could fall away if I looked back too closely. But I can recall with stone certainty at least one point on which the book captivated me.
The protagonist, a young boy named Stanley Yelnats, is fat. He is overweight, unathletic, intelligent but not a genius, and bewildered by a world that supersedes the limits of his comprehension. But the thing I want to stress here is: he is fat. He is fat and he knows it, and he feels bad about it, outcast by this one other thing in addition to all the other crazy bullshit in his life.
I was a fat kid, and I knew it. School acquaintances and family members commented on it in sometimes direct, sometimes sly and subtle ways. I acted like this did not bother me, and performed this bit so well it eventually seemed like it worked, because while it’s not the best of all possible worlds I think it’s much easier to get through school with an abject body-type as a young man rather than a woman.
Stanley Yelnats and Holes provided the one precise instance I can remember reading a book as a kid and picturing myself in the hero’s position, seeing in the hero someone who was like me — not the bland, slim boys that populated the front lines of so many other adventure novels, but someone who was uneasy in the bulk of his own body, who wiped drops of sweat from the smeared lenses of his glasses, and who felt a vague malevolent pressure on him at all points in his life (for Stanley, this turns out to be a family curse; for me, the issue is a lot hazier).
So Holes got made into a movie in 2003, and when I first heard of this, even at the age of 15, I was at first excited about the prospect of seeing Stanley (who was, in my mind, basically me) onscreen. But of course, as you well know, the Stanley I pictured and sympathized with was not the Stanley I got.
The Stanley I got — the Stanley we all got — was Shia LaBeouf. Hapless, tousle-haired, lanky Shia, the embodiment of the bland and slim adventure hero-boy as he is available in the “slightly goofy” custom model.
I think the film version of Holes is actually pretty good, all things considered — the casting is actually pretty excellent, and even Shia LaBeouf brings his charisma (which we must remember he had, once). But it never sat easy with me — never will sit easy with me — how the boy I pictured who was so much like myself was erased from his own story and replaced by the precise sort of person he (and I) was not.
But at least he’s not famous anymore, I guess.