In an op-ed appearing in today’s Wall Street Journal, actor James Franco owns up to his motives for appearing in (count-em!) 20 episodes of the long-running soap General Hospital. For those who thought he’d lost a bet (or his mind), rest assured, Franco is doing just fine. Turns out the stunt was intended as a piece of performance art.
In the article, Franco established his bona fides by situating the “work” within performance art’s historical context, paying lip service to old-schoolers like Chris Burden as well more contemporary heavy hitters like Matthew Barney and Paul McCarthy. Whether or not Franco deserves to be mentioned alongside such art world luminaries is debatable, but he’s nothing if not sincere. As he explains:
I have been obsessed with performance art for over a decade — ever since the Mexican performance artist Guillermo Gómez-Peña came to visit my class at Cal Arts summer school. I finally took the plunge and experimented with the form myself when I signed on to appear on 20 episodes of “General Hospital” as the bad-boy artist “Franco, just Franco.” 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. In performance art, the outcome is uncertain — and this was no exception. My hope was for people to ask themselves if soap operas are really that far from entertainment that is considered critically legitimate. Whether they did was out of my hands.
I personally have no taste for most performance art, yet can’t help but admire Franco’s willingness to go there, as it were. I’ve watched several of his GHepisodes, and have hung in there despite the dreadful plot lines and the self-referential goofiness of Franco’s character: an artist named simply “Franco.” Successful art piece or not, the stunt briefly made a toxic TV soap a little bit less so.