Friday, March 4, 2011

Charlie Sheen's obituary, his success, adoration, Two and a Half Men, and the unfairness of our criminal justice system

Under the provocative title, Charlie Sheen's Obituary in the Works in Major Network Newsrooms?, complete with an ominous question mark (can you believe it???), PopEater has a non-story about, well, "newsrooms" preparing an obituary for the actor Charlie Sheen.
Following months of epic parties, hospitalizations and unabashed drug use where he was "bangin' 7-gram rocks and finishing them," major news organizations including the actor's home at CBS have begun preparing obituaries for the unraveling-before-our-eyes star, sources tell me.

"No one is wishing the worst but as a news organization for us not to be prepared for one of the biggest stories in a long time would be unprofessional," a CBS insider tells me.
Every news organization has canned obituaries ready to go for dozens of people. This is not a story, except that PopEater wanted to go at the Charlie Sheen story from yet another angle -- and this kind of "don't-they-seem-like-vultures" posting really gets people going.

I'm just shocked, shocked I tell you! that a news organization might can a segment about someone who might die -- so they can be first with the story.

And just in case you misunderstand the author's reason for writing the post, he ends it with:
Lets all hope and pray the news orgs won't have to run what they are working on for a long, long time.
Yes, let's, because Mr. Sheen is fun to write about. I've done three or four posts about him this week, myself (I'm too lazy to go back and check).

And, this week, I actually did something I haven't done, ever. I watched an episode of "Two and a Half Men." Actually, I watched three episodes of "Two and a Half Men." It's about what I expected, only a bit dirtier. I know that CBS runs those hideously gruesome crime programs, that feature close-ups of soft gooey tissue being torn into that's just as graphic as anything Dario Argento ever showed, but I had no idea that you could talk about your "balls" during a prime time show.

Or make so many vaginal jokes. One episode that I watched contained at least three jokes about vaginas ("vaginae"?), including one about a Nazi sexual fetishist who shaved her pubic hair so that it resembled Adolph Hitler's mustache. I'm not kidding about that.

Another episode -- or maybe it was the same one, they all kind of blurred together -- contained a running gag about the little boy (the "half man," I suppose), peeing all over the house, including showing how he aims his pee to hit the kitchen sink, the edge of which is about a foot taller than he.

In other words, this show is right up my alley. So what's not to like? Well, the punchlines are telegraphed from about five miles away. In fact, every scene is geared toward the punchlines, not toward developing the characters. Every episode is just an excuse to string together a series of scatological and sexual jokes, some of which are actually pretty funny (the shows did have a few good one-liners), but it all lacks context. The characters are uniformly unlikeable (although the actors who portray them aren't) and are merely props for the aforementioned gags.

In a strange way, I admire the way in which the program is constructed. It's like a gag machine. You can see all the gears working, and you can see what it's doing, but it is actually working. It's trying to make you laugh, dammit, not really make you think.

For crying out loud, I watched every episode of every (aired) season of "I Love Money."

The show is massively successful. It's the biggest sitcom on television right now. Mr. Sheen is the highest paid actor on television. Given what it is that he does, and how handsomely he's compensated, it's a wonder he's not even more arrogant. But his relative humility isn't the only thing to admire about him, and now he's inspired some writers to, well, enthuse about him. For instance, a guy called Brendan O'Neill in the Telegraph calls Mr. Sheen his "hero,"
because he refuses to allow his behaviour to be psychologised. He refuses to genuflect before the Oprahite altar of psychobabble and blame his antics on his “inner demons”. Instead he’s fighting like a terrier against experts’ attempts to brand him as “disordered” and in the process has made himself into a one-man army of resistance to the tyranny of therapy that has the twenty-first-century in its grip.

Easily the most shocking thing about the Charlie Sheen affair is not his recent debauched behaviour – Stop the press: Hollywood actor behaves hedonistically! – but rather the unstoppable march of a zombie-eyed army of therapists who want to diagnose Sheen from a distance as “mentally ill”. Every cod-psychologist in search of a headline, and increased business, is offering to write a prescription for Sheen. Under the headline “Addict or Bipolar? Examining the ‘Passion’ of Charlie Sheen”, Time magazine admits “it isn’t possible to diagnose patients at a distance”. And yet it proceeds to do precisely that, employing two experts to discuss whether Sheen is suffering from narcissistic personality disorder, bipolar mania, depression, anxiety or addiction.

Over at a blog called The Macho Response, the intriguingly nommed Crack Emcee says,
His nothing-can-take-me-down attitude, in the face of this wimpy, middle class, wet rag nanny state finger-wagging opinion is winning. This is a man, owning his actions and insisting everyone else come clean and take responsibility for theirs as well. (Our favorite line? Interviewer: "One of the women said she was afraid she might O.D.". Sheen [incredulous]: "What's that got to do with me?") Seriously, considering the most this loser culture can come up with now is awful Lady GaGa (and Britney Spears) records, vs. watching Beibermania or Kim Kardashian's ass from afar, do you really think everyone is, or wants to be, stuck in this same lame no fun existence the rest of you seem, if not enthused by, at least comfortable with? Really? Are you kidding us?
At When Falls the Coliseum, Mike McGowan claims that Mr. Sheen is "more rational and honest than anyone else on TV."
Look at his life, from his perspective. Everything he’s done has worked. He’s made an incredible amount of money, he has been famous for years, he’s always had this habit and it’s never slowed him down. If you lived his life, why wouldn’t you begin to think that you’re just that talented? How does society measure success for a man? Lots of money? He’s got it. Lots of women? He’s got it. Lots of drink/drugs? He’s all over that one in particular. Fame? Everyone knows who he is.

It is possible to overpraise Mr. Sheen because we are living through The Apology Generation. We've all grown up hearing that "everyone makes mistakes." "We're all human." You're expected to falter on occasion. Drink to excess. Party too hard. Cheat on your spouse.

But you had damn well better feel guilty about it. You had damn well better go out and apologize for it. You had damn well better suffer for it.

Think about your own life. Yes, you can (allegedly) party to excess. You can (allegedly) cheat on your wife. You can (allegedly) threaten her with physical violence. You can (allegedly) trash hotel rooms. But for you there will be consequences. Mr. Sheen doesn't apologize for his life at all. Moreover, he lashes out at those "regular guys" who judge him:
"[Regular guys] lay down with their ugly wives in front of their ugly children and just look at their loser lives and then they look at me and they say 'I can't process it!' Well, no, and you never will! Stop trying! Just sit back and enjoy the show!"

I admire some of Mr. Sheen's antics, in particular his interviews. They have been full of entertainment -- much more entertainment, to my mind, than his television work. I very much look forward to reading his book, should he ever decide to write one. He certainly has a way with words. But my enthusiasm for him is checked by a couple of things.

The first thing is, his father is Martin Sheen. The younger Sheen was born into Hollywood. Yes, he has some talent as a performer, and he has some charisma and screen presence, but every door was opened to him by virtue of his birth. Aside from perhaps attending a few acting classes, how much work did he really have to put into "winning"? I'm not criticizing him for this -- it's not his fault that he was born on third base, as they say, but I do have a lot more respect for the talented actors who struggle in Hollywood to get small parts and work their way up into starring roles.

The second thing is much more important. He is the living embodiment of what that great statesman John Edwards called "the two Americas." If you or I, as "regular guys," behaved even a little as Mr. Sheen has, we would at best be in prison. Think about what he's been accused of. Destruction of property, spousal abuse, threatening someone's life, and drug use. Up until now, there have been no consequences for this man -- or, they have been insignificant. And now, the consequences he's suffering are not from our "justice system," which is a joke of course, but from his employers. The remainder of his program's season was canceled not because he held a knife to his girlfriend's throat (did he even miss a day of work for that?), but because he insulted the producer of his show.

In the real world, there are more than 100 military style drug raids perpetrated against Americans every day. On the merest suspicion of drug use. Just a few ounces of marijuana can get your door broken down and your dog shot in the middle of the night. Or it can get you killed.

We live in an America where very few people know this. Who among you has heard of Corey Maye, for instance?

Do you remember Aiyana Stanley-Jones? She was a seven year-old girl in Detroit who was killed by police who were "serving" a search warrant at her house.

We are militarizing our police. It's people who aren't rich, aren't famous, aren't connected, who are suffering for it. People like Mr. Sheen can apparently do whatever they want, without consequence. The consequences for the rest of us are all out of proportion.

That's not Mr. Sheen's fault. He didn't create this situation -- he is taking full advantage, as he always has. But perhaps we can channel some of our admiration for Mr. Sheen, or at least our fascination with him, into a push for fairness in our "justice system," or at the very least an honest examination of bitched up it really is.

UPDATE @ 2:02 PM PST: I'm not the only one who feels this way.
His forays into 9/11 trutherism, attacks on the creators of the sitcom that made him the highest-paid high-school dropout on TV, and possession of "tiger blood and Adonis DNA" are tedious in more than 30-second bursts. More disturbingly, his ability to avoid the sorts of regular-joe penalties for violent threats and actions is, alas, nothing new in a criminal justice system that enforces different codes of behavior for Sheens and the rest of us.
That was published on Wednesday, and I missed it. I also forgot about the 9/11 Trutherism stuff, but I have mentioned it in previous posts.


A.Jaye said...

You had me smiling and laughing and nodding my head in agreement until I got to Corey Maye.

Yours is a talent with diligence.

Ricky Sprague said...

Thank you, A.Jaye.

The Corey Maye story is heartbreaking. Unfortunately, here in America, it's all too common.

At least Mr. Maye is getting a new trial.

I try to keep this blog light, but sometimes there are cracks, and the dark breaks through.