The tabloid apparatus might be determined to convert a star's identity into a tragicomic series of hookups, breakups, and baby bumps, but Joe is determined to elude it, to elide it—even to flip it on its head. A few years back he made a short YouTube documentary called Pictures of Assholes. In it, two paparazzi approach Joe as he's walking past a hotel with a friend, Jared Geller, who is Joe's producing partner on hitRECord. Joe, in jovial retaliation, turns his video camera on the two paparazzi, who then winkingly imply that they're tracking Joe because his dinner with Geller suggests that, you know, the two might be on a date. To his credit, Joe never edited that exchange out of the film. "That's how those sorts of rumors start," he says. "I think it's revealing to show it. There's nothing more than this: I was walking down the street with my friend."

In the future, of course, there could be a point at which the Joseph Gordon-Levitt Identity Reclamation Project goes head-to-head with the darker, celebrity-devouring forces of American media. Joe is the first to admit that he's not yet famous enough to be hunted down by roaming packs, but what if it were to happen? "Look, I've met some nice guys who take pictures like that," he says. "I don't want to demonize anybody. But I do think that this notion that certain people are in a higher class than other people is unhealthy. We would be healthier as a people if we quit paying attention to that kind of bullshit and paid more attention to more pertinent things and more beautiful things." It's an honorable notion, and as with all honorable notions in Hollywood, the challenge, in years to come, will be sticking to it.

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