Thursday, July 7, 2011

Forget Casey; what was Feldman’s motive?

Posted By on Thu, Jul 7, 2011 at 12:47 PM

As viewers around the country reacted with shock and fury to the “not guilty” verdicts in the Casey Anthony trial, locals were experiencing an extra frisson of surprise: Holy crap, that’s Brian Feldman!

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Yes, it was indeed the gadfly performance artist seated prominently in front of the defendant’s family, his oh-so-serious countenance destined to be shown ad infinitum on the nation’s cable channels. But what was he doing there? Or, more accurately, what the hell did he think he was doing there?

Shortly thereafter, on his Facebook page, Feldman pleaded purity of motive. “Not Everything I Do Is A Performance,” he wrote. In a series of lengthy comment boxes, he further explained that he had attended the trial merely as an interested private citizen, albeit one who has definite opinions about cameras in the courtroom. (He’s against them.) He claimed that he couldn’t have known he would be seated squarely in the picture frame with the Anthonys, or even that he’d be admitted at all.

“Anyone who believes that it was a performance does not know my true character,” he wrote. “Trials of this matter are not something to be made light of, and I respect the serious nature of judicial proceedings.

Today, I simply exercised my right as a citizen to observe those proceedings.”

The comments he received from his friends and followers were generally less circumspect. At best, they countered that everything he does is indeed a performance -- and that he should be proud of it for some vaguely defined reason. (I asked him exactly why he wanted, or felt he needed, to attend the trial; thus far, he’s declined to answer.)

But for the most part, his audience went right ahead congratulating him on his best “stunt” yet, conveniently ignoring his claims of utter sobriety. Not since Barry Champlain turned his program over to his listeners in Talk Radio has an agent provocateur been so “defended” by supporters determined to drag him down to their own ineffably trivial level.

“He’s EVERYWHERE,” one acolyte gushed of Feldman. “[y]ou can’t run or hide from him.”

Thus was any distinction erased between them and the human vultures who had spent weeks circling outside the courthouse. To the former, Feldman’s participation in the event was no more or less than a late-arriving celebrity walk-on in Orlando’s best-ever reality program. They had seen it on TV; therefore; it must have been no more than TV.

So what really happened here? There are two possibilities. One is that Feldman’s attendance at the trial was a gag, and that his ensuing protestations were just meant to prolong and intensify the inevitable reaction for the purposes of inquiry -- “holding up a mirror to society,” or some such postmodernism-by-way-of-community-college horseshit.

The other possibility is that he’s massively, even heart-stoppingly, naïve.

I’m going with the “naïve” option, simply because I find it closer to pleasant. I would really rather not live in a mental world where performers exploit real-life tragedies as part of a ham-fisted experiment, then lie about it to keep the game going. (Similarly, I would rather not live in a world where outraged citizens call for the death penalty simply because it’s a socially sanctioned way to get away with the same behavior they’re allegedly condemning. And look at how well that one is working out for me.)

But if Feldman actually thinks he can any longer venture out in public as a private citizen, let alone to the televised Trial of the Century, he needs to realize that that ship sailed long ago. If an artist founds his entire career on the idea that his most menial of activities -- from having dinner with his family to changing the oil in someone’s car -- are all performances, he is putting the world on notice that everything he does is to be interpreted as taking place within quotation marks. He can’t just stuff that genie back in the bottle whenever he sees fit.

As Patrick Bateman says of himself in American Psycho, there is now the idea of a Brian Feldman -- “some kind of abstraction” -- but the real thing is simply no longer there whenever he sits down at his computer or emerges from his front door. Casey Anthony escaped death last Tuesday, but what we concurrently saw was a high-def headstone to Brian Feldman. All that is left is “Brian Feldman,” and whatever rights he chooses to exercise while he’s within our gaze.

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