March 4, 2011

"How many are wondering if Sheen has finally lost it?"

I pulled the title of this post from the Charlie Sheen 20/20 interview that aired Tuesday night. I didn't get around to watching the footage until this morning, but in regards to the question, I think that this is one of those if-you-have-to-ask type situations.

I’m not going to rehash Sheen’s extensive history of dubious behaviors. It is worth noting though that Sheen manages to pepper his biography with what seems like an amalgamation of every offense committed by any male celebrity ever—including, but not limited to: brothel scandals, drug overdoses, affairs with porn stars, a handful of divorces, some anti-Semitic remarks, a fair amount of 9/11 conspiracy mongering, and an extensive record of domestic violence charges and convictions.

Like anyone else, I am an inhabitant of a glass house, so I don’t see any purpose in throwing stones. I’m not by any means defending Sheen’s awful behaviors, but it is evident to me that he is a person struggling with a condition that stretches far behind just “assholery,” whether it be addiction, mental illness, or a combination of the two. I’m not looking to pity him either. As a person who has struggled with mental health issues myself, and watched a friend or two go off the metaphorical deep end, I don’t believe Sheen should be reduced to a state of childlike, non-accountability for his own behavior. In short: he’s got issues, and while we shouldn’t demonize him for his actions, we aren’t obligated to excuse him from them either.

This isn’t really the interesting part of his situation, though. Since I started (obsessively) following the lives of celebrities a few years ago, I’ve seen stars wrung through the rehab, rinse, repeat cycle maybe a hundred times over. What interests me about the Sheen situation is how the media and people in general have received it.

First, it must be noted that Sheen is not a dumb guy. He couples this intelligence with a pretty good grasp of humor. He is confident and unapologetic, if not a little manic. This sets up a weird situation for interviewers and media folks. His unique brand of cool-dad hip-hop slang makes it really difficult for interviewers to do anything more than chuckle along with his antics and nod politely. As a result of this, I think public consciousness has received Sheen’s predicament as something more humorous than worrisome.

On my college campus, I can’t walk to the dining hall without hearing some guy lauding Sheen for his “tiger blood” mentality. Online, dozens of websites have popped up selling merchandise fit for your own “total bitchin’ rockstar from Mars.” Sheen’s unconventional way of fighting his personal demons has been made into a commodity in itself. Everyone is looking to profit from his entertaining brand of crazy—whether it be in the form of a cheap laugh or a quick buck.

Don’t mistake my irritation with the commodification of the downward spiral for an assertion that Sheen is entirely an innocent bystander in this situation. He seems to be aware of what he is doing, or otherwise I doubt he’d be working the media circuit as furiously as he is. To me, this behavior speaks to some sort of fucked-up flaw in American celebrity culture. That someone is able to sell his personal struggle in order to stay relevant is an indicator to me that our media doesn’t have it’s priorities straight. While I understand that media is a for-profit, you-scratch-my-back-I’ll-scratch-yours type of industry, it never fails to digest me that the well-being of other humans is consistently disregarded in the name of money. Furthermore, I think it is absolutely perverse that our society’s discomfort/infatuation with mental illness is so intense that the personal life of one guy is capable of inciting a sound-bite fueled craze like the one we are experiencing now.


  1. Two very good articles you may appreciate:

  2. I don't have much empathy for Charlie Sheen, because he's a domestic abuser. And even when he had things "together", he still liked to hit women. I think that his current outbursts go beyond assholery, as you said, but I also think his assholery has in the past gone beyond mental illness.

    I definitely agree with you, though, that our media is a disaster, especially when it comes to celebs.

  3. Media is a disaster. They're treating this like entertainment. I think the whole thing is just sad. I'll admit that I laughed dryly at a few of his insane comments, mostly because they sounded SO crazy and they scared me a little bit...but overall this is a sad situation.

  4. this is very spot-on. it does a huge disservice to the severity of mental illness and addiction when they are turned into LULZ INTERNET MEMES.

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