While doing a Google search for ‘Shaye Saint John’, the star of a series of short films directed by Eric Fournier; I realized something interesting: the culture that Shaye parodies doesn’t seem to get the joke. Search her name and find forum post after forum post with people discussing the ‘truth’ about her; being a transvestite, the victim of a car accident and expressions of pity for the ‘poor bastard’ who has to move ‘this freak around the house’ (Shaye’s a quadriplegic; sometimes).
My appreciation of Shaye Saint John is one that usually seems to require an explanation; her films are shot and edited quite ‘aggressively’ which can lead viewers to conclude that the images on screen are simply abstract. While that may sometimes be the case, my feeling is that Shaye and her videos are very intentional creations. The fact that people question if she’s fact or fiction doesn’t speak for the visual quality or realism of these films; but for Shaye’s commentary on the entertainment and celebrity culture. So good is her parody, it’s scary.
Combine something along the lines of Anna Nicole, Michael Jackson, Jocelyn Wildenstein and Marilyn Monroe — and you’ll get Shaye Saint John. She’s part plastic, part person; deeply disturbing but at times strangely love-able. She has ”sessions for her conditions” and is the self-proclaimed ‘world record holder for having the most problems’. Shaye has aspects of conventional beauty mixed with prosthetics and physical deformity. She drops names, does leg lifts, undergoes wire therapy. One moment she’s discussing her past of modeling for Andy Warhol — the next her face bursts into flames under her sunlamp. As Shaye puts it: she “often triggers due to mental illness.”
Reading discussions on the topic of Shaye being real or not shouldn’t come as much of a surprise because most of these traits aren’t that unfamiliar in celebrity culture, are they? If Shaye were a real person she’d certainly be filmed for our entertainment by TLC or VH1. By St. John’s account, she was a former model and actress but for one reason or another was left disfigured; and the public loves formerly famous and disfigured. See programming such as ‘Celebrity Rehab’ and ‘The Surreal Life’ for an idea of what I mean.
Shaye’s interaction in society is mostly limited to Kiki, the baby doll with the burnt off face (Shaye reminds us that Kiki is quite beautiful once you get past the scars). At times, Shaye is quite proud of Kiki for things like “standing on the corner making extra burger money”, other times quite upset with her for keeping her up all night with her beeper. With Kiki being 9 years old, the social commentary is both heavy and hysterical. When Kiki auditions and is chosen as the leading role in a re-make of Shirley Temple, Shaye is quick to hop on the phone to remind her mother that Kiki only got the part because “she took off her pants”. Oh, and “goodbye mother”.
That’s the depth I find to the simplicity of Shaye Saint John. If not for the underlying intent, the wheels would come off of this wagon pretty quick. Shaye is delusional to a perfect degree and her speech is pressured with precision; yet not an ounce of precision comes off of anything regarding Shaye at all. Sometimes she can’t walk, sometimes she has two left hands, sometimes she has no hands at all — yet it all seams together beautifully. Perhaps director Eric Fournier has someone who ‘triggers’ in his life, or maybe I have one or two of those people and I’m projecting that on Shaye. Or maybe, I can turn to E! right now and see real celebrities display similar personalities, captured and broadcasted to my living room in high def so that I don’t miss a detail.
Shaye Saint John satirizes a confusing era of reality TV and misdirected idolization. The entertainment industry and especially tabloids have blurred the line between laughing with our celebrities and laughing at them. When Shaye’s on screen; you can be sure that she’s taking our idols’ idiosyncrasies, removing all context and putting them under a microscope. In a society that sits constipated with celebrity-based reality television, Shaye Saint John is the fame-filled enema we so desperately need.