It’s tough to overstate the weirdness of Corey Feldman—he of The Two CoreysThe Goonies, and Stand By Me—performing a song from his latest record, Angelic to the Core, on the Today show last week. Dressed like a mix of a killer from Assassin’s Creed, Billy Corgan, and Kanye West on a bad day, Feldman shouts-out Michael Jackson and actual angels before launching into a vaguely religious pop-rap-rock number called “Go 4 It.” The original version features Snoop Dogg, but during this show, former UTFO rapper/Whodini dancer Doc Ice raps over Snoop’s lyrics, which include “Now just watch Feldman twerk,” to which Feldman happily obliges. Feast your eyes:

The song itself is pretty inoffensive. In a Katy Perry-esque turn, Feldman, who’s Jewish, hurls imprecations at generalized adversaries, determined to ascend “to the top,” whatever that may mean. Feldman’s not a particularly gifted singer or dancer, but he still has presence on a stage. And no one could ever accuse him of half-assing it; if he’s anything, he’s deeply earnest.

Which is, of course, the surest way to elicit the reactions that Feldman’s thus far received. The most charitable reactions could only judge the performance as bizarre; more often, Twitter, the Land of a Billion Critics, offered variations on “He’s alive?” and “Good Lord, that was terrible.” By and large, reception has been, as the kids say, savage.

The day after the performance, Feldman posted and then deleted a video on Facebook in which the former teen heartthrob sobbed deeply along with a member of Corey’s Angels (who refers to herself as his “maingel”). Feldman reported that he’s “petrified” by the reaction and can’t even leave his bed. Sayeth Feldman (as reported by People magazine):

“It was a song, okay? It wasn’t that weird,” he said, adding, “I’m sorry if it’s not good enough for you, but you don’t have to beat us up. I just want to say that, like, why is it okay to, like, publicly shame us? … I don’t understand … It’s, like, not PC to, like, say somebody is fat or somebody is white or somebody is black or somebody is yellow or green or if they have a short leg or if they have a missing finger. Like we can’t talk about these things. But it’s okay to bash Corey Feldman and the Angels.”

On a human level, it’s hard not to feel bad for the guy, who’s had a bad run of things in his life, to say the least. Nevertheless, the ghoulish delight we take in the downfalls of former Hollywood stars—especially those who began their careers as children—is relentless. (It reminds me of a passage from Delillo’s White Noise: “Only a catastrophe warrants our attention. We want them, we depend on them. This is where California comes in… We can relax and enjoy these disasters because in our hearts we feel that California deserves whatever it gets.”) And for someone who seems as self-aware as Feldman does (he once released an album called Former Child Star), the pain of baring your soul on national television only to be mocked to the ends of the Earth can’t be fun. And yet, you’d think someone who’s been performing in one way or another since the late ‘70s would’ve been able to brace himself for bad reviews, but apparently not. (It’s especially ironic considering that the theme of the song is ignoring people who try to drag you down). And as for equating those reviews with racism, well, grief does weird things to people’s brains, I guess.

But Feldman has his defenders: Pink and hordes of sympathetic tweeters have either praised the performance outright or admonished its detractors for attacking someone who allowed themselves to be vulnerable in such a public way. Like Feldman, they seem to posit that genuine artistic expression is above mockery, and by the same token, above criticism, because the artist is our proverbial man in the arena, with makeup smeared onto his face, striving valiantly in the face of misfires.

There’s some merit to that, of course, but it sets a dangerous precedent. I’m reminded of a talk I attended a few months back wherein a few film critics debated the ethics of negative reviews. Three of them said that they were more likely to treat a smaller, independent production with kid gloves because the importance of supporting art made outside the studio system is greater than that of going after some director who shot her film with a borrowed camera on a shoe-string budget. One critic, however, took the opposite view. He said that the only way to treat art is as art, and to take other factors into consideration of its merit—budget, commercial prospects, production difficulties, etc.—is to muddle the point of the criticism.

On one level, the perverse joy that our new class of critics (i.e., us) have taken in mocking a former child star whose Wikipedia page reads like a Greek tragedy is deeply unfair and more of a reflection on us than of the performance. And yet, for Feldman (or any artist, for that matter) to put art into the public sphere and expect to be free from criticism simply because he, well, went for it, is kind of the opposite of art. Children receive universal praise just for trying, but eventually, we stop congratulating them just for almost making it to the toilet.





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