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Will the real Joaquin Phoenix please stand up, please stand up!

April 13, 2009 Comments

Reading Time: 2 minutes

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As I follow Joaquin’s rap career, I can’t help but marvel at this brilliant piece of performance art. Ever since the talented actor announced the end of his film career, rumors have circulated that this is in fact an art project cooked up by he and his cameraman brother, Casey, rather than some misguided career change. Yet no amount of suspicion takes away from the gall of his intentions.

It’s one thing to be a supremely committed actor like Daniel Day Lewis who reputedly stays in character off camera throughout a film shoot. It’s equally impressive when a comedian such as Sacha Baron Cohen keeps Borat alive through hundreds of TV and film appearances. But when Joaquin publicly abandoned film-making to enlist his private persona in a parody of the media that creates his celebrity, he took his craft into unknown territory and elevated it to high art.

From his mono-syllabic performance on Letterman that incited Dave’s righteous indignation at him chewing gum, to his attack on a heckler during a performance in Miami that ended with a perfect prat fall off the stage, Joaquin has executed one of the smartest media plays in recent times.

By baiting the media with his own reputation, using his foolish appearance, rhymes and antics as chum, he exposes the delicious judgment and ridicule that lies just beneath the surface of our fascination with celebrity. As the media gorges on his creation, even as it questions its integrity, life doesn’t just imitate art as Oscar Wilde suggested. Rather, his life – as it is presented to us – becomes art.

This impressive work is not so surprising when you consider Joaquin is famous for being uncomfortable with media attention. Ordinarily success is the greatest revenge. Here Joaquin goes one better by using failure to achieve the same end.


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Simon Mainwaring

Reading Time: 1 minutesSimon Mainwaring is the founder of We First, a leading brand consultancy that provides purpose-driven strategy, content, and training that empowers companies to lead business, shape culture, and better our world.

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