James Franco gets a bad rap, for a variety of reasons. For one, there’s his tendency to do odd, wonderful things — like act in a soap opera — and render it some sort of meta, multi-layered performance art. There’s always the suspicion that he’s bullpooping us, that the actor/novelist/director/artist/professor is not only a bullpoop artist, but a bullpoop artiste.
This is why, when news came that he had flirting with a Scottish teen via Instagram, many wondered whether this was not some sort of viral campaign-cum-art project for the movie Palo Alto based on his book of the same name. In the film, a soccer coach, played by Franco, enters into a relationship with a teen girl.
The teen in question, a girl named Lucy, screengrabbed her conversation with Franco, whom she’d met after his performance of Of Mice and Men on Broadway:
Franco talked about the flirtation on Live with Kelly and Michael, telling the hosts that "I guess I’m just a model about how social media is tricky. It’s a way people meet each other today, but what I’ve learned is you don’t know who’s on the other end. I used bad judgment and I learned my lesson."
You're right, James. That is the lesson to gleaned from this.
Social media is tricky.
Putting aside the ethics of this particular interaction, and the cold, precise manner in which Franco conducts his conversation (and, really, it's more the prelude to a transaction — verifying Lucy's age, inquiring about a room, settling on a day and a time than a real conversation) — it doesn't much matter whether or not it was a calculated effort to boost conversation about Palo Alto. We're still talking about the movie, right here and across various sites and magazines, and James Franco will still have the popular image of a strange guy propelled by unclear motivations. He's either a lonely man looking for human connection, an ego-driven celebrity who simply assumes a young stranger would want to sleep with him, a performance artist pantomiming something approximating real life, or a charlatan selling us SEO-friendly snake oil. Or all of the above? No matter what combination of these things James Franco is or is not, his art (or his game, or his maybe-sleazy, maybe-sad hookup attempts), he couldn't do any of them without an actively participating audience.
We are all just a panel in a graphic novel in a play in an essay from a reality show watched at an orgy projected onto a wall at an underground restaurant that exists in the mind of James Franco.