“Justin M. Damiano” is a short work in comics by Daniel Clowes that appeared in an anthology edited by Zadie Smith, “The Book of Other People,” in 2008. As a satire on our current state of being, it should be required reading for anyone who regularly comments on the internet. Shia LaBeof is accused of, and apparently admits to, lifting this story and turning it into a short film, “Howard Cantour.com.” Maybe LaBeof appreciated the story or maybe he just thought it was cool. His arguments, if they at least came from him and weren’t more of his prank plagiarism, might be interesting. What is most interesting is how this little story of Justin M. Damiano has come to light to a wider audience.
Clowes has proven to have an uncanny feel for contemporary alienation and the skill to say something…er, original. Here is where Shia LaBeof would take great issue with the “discredited” concept of originality. He would cry out someone else’s words about Duchamp’s recontextualizing and that would be that. Okay, so Clowes has not literally created something “original” but, then again, he has. LaBeof can skywrite his apologies but he’ll still be dealing with Clowes’s attorneys. That’s not to say that, in theory, LaBeof couldn’t end up a pretty decent provocateur. But, no, if you view his movie lifted from the Clowes story, word for word, you see a pathetic amateur move to steal someone else’s work. In other words, it’s an asshole move. That means Shia LaBeof is an asshole, not a bad boy artist.
But, whatever. Clowes (just like Chris Ware, Charles Burns, and Adrian Tomine) has tapped into something sad and has plucked some gems of excellent satire in his day. In his story about a movie review blogger, Clowes gives us another character for him to hang his social commentary on. Justin M. Damiano makes it clear that we see the problem but we’re so much a part of it that we’re okay with letting out of big sigh, just before we plunge right back into the void: the world of gazing, self-importance, and blather. That is the world that Damiano is immersed in and so are the rest of us. We can pull ourselves away from it but it’s still there. It’s bigger than all of us. And, worse still, it’s not going away. That would take a whole new shift, a fundamental change in behavior, and we’re just not ready for that. He can’t help his compulsion to write movie reviews on his blog because that is who he is. He claims to be a champion of cinema but that’s just an excuse to hide from life. With a better balanced life, he might write better balanced reviews, perhaps less often, perhaps not at all.