Ted, Akie and I took on James Franco’s General Hospital appearance in this week’s Perpetual Post.
I was all set to take James Franco down a peg or two about his heavy-handed foray into the world of performance art, particularly since it’s coupled with a pet peeve of mine—an article he wrote for the Wall Street Journal discussing the ways in which performance art is ‘enjoying a moment of validation from the art world establishment’. The editorial, which EntertainmentWeekly.com snidely noted “probably got a B+ when it was first handed in as university coursework”, was peppered with references to other performance artists and their work, which he referred to as “trippy stuff.” Now, if I want to learn more about the history of performance art, James Franco and the Wall Street Journal are two of the very last sources I’m going to turn to. In fact, the idea of James Franco writing an editorial in the Wall Street Journal about performance art sounds suspiciously like performance art itself.
Still, I’m not made of stone. I went to Bard College, after all, which abounded with students who did silly, stupid and awesome things in the name of art. They experimented; they took risks, they threw themselves passionately into creative works. Even when they irritated me, which they mostly did, I generally respected their moxie, and in that regard I don’t want to discourage a mainstream Hollywood actor from bringing a little weirdness into the world. It’s quirky, it’s unexpected, it’s fearless. At least he’s not making a cookie cutter romantic comedy about going home to meet his girlfriend’s parents for a weekend only to discover that they’re dinosaur vampires. He’s trying new and different things, and for that, I applaud him.
That said, I do think that Franco’s project was poorly thought out, mainly because its premise is flawed. In his editorial, Franco explains that by starring in a 20 episode arc of General Hospital, “I disrupted the audience’s suspension of disbelief, because no matter how far I got into the character, I was going to be perceived as something that doesn’t belong to the incredibly stylized world of soap operas. Everyone watching would see an actor they recognized, a real person in a made-up world…My hope was for people to ask themselves if soap operas are really that far from entertainment that is considered critically legitimate.”
Now, Franco claims that he wants people to ask themselves if soap operas are more ‘critically legitimate’ than we think. Yet by engaging in this experiment he has already labeled soap operas as less valid than other, more ‘legitimate’ entertainment. By claiming that viewers would be disrupted from their soaps by seeing ‘an actor they recognized’ on their show, or ‘a real person in a made-up world’, Franco sets apart the made up world of General Hospital from the made up world of Spider Man 3. When Tom Cruise—also an internationally recognized celebrity—plays a secret agent in the Mission Impossible movies, he is also asking us to suspend our disbelief while watching a ‘real person in a made up world’. It’s called acting—just like they do in soap operas! Assuming that his presence on a soap may ‘disrupt’ those particular viewers is being pretty patronizing of those viewers.
Not only that, but soap opera viewers are used to having characters get replaced all the time by completely different actors and actresses. They’re used to watching a character die in a sky-diving accident and then reappear three seasons later haunted by an evil twin. Susan Lucci has been on All My Children for going on forty years now—and still looks exactly the same. Talk about disrupting your suspension of belief! Trust me, soap opera fans can roll with the punches.
Still, I know your heart is in the right place, James Franco. You’re into some neat stuff, and you’re enrolled in film school, and you’re thinking, and you’re pushing boundaries, and you have a heartstoppingly beautiful smile and rock-hard abs. I’m willing to go easy on you this time. Just don’t let it happen again—at the very least, the next time you feel like doing a performance piece, how about showing up on my doorstep wearing a leather kilt and holding a plate of butter? Honey, you can break my fourth wall any time.