I like to toss the occasional psychological bon mot around. Tack that together with the boolean buzz magnet that is the english words “Charlie+Sheen” and you’ve got yourself a surefire internet hit. Not since Britney’s bad driving or the season premiere of celebrity rehab have we been forced to so closely watch someone we love* and squirm in our seats, itching at the chance of intervention. But Sheen has done something unthinkable. He’s broken the narrative of our obsession with celebrity, and made us look on the nature of that contract for what it really is: a joke, a lie, a sham.
Our relationship with celebrities follows a narrative. We watch them struggle from small-time appearances to bigger and bigger venues, all the while counting the drops of sweat on their foreheads with excitement and admiration, knowing that whether or not we like the celebrity, we admire their dedication, and whatever they’ve done to get to where they are, they must deserve in some respect. Next, we watch as they strike it big, and we feel rewarded in our faith that they would make it all along. We support them through the rough times, and we cheer when they get back out on top. When their career reaches the long slow twilight of its end, we remember fondly with mid-day movie marathons (or iPod shuffle surprises) of their earlier work, and become poised, if they have what it takes not to give up, to support them on a comeback, all-the-while feeling like the crutch beneath their arm, or the cup of water at the finish line. Their success and millions of dollars becomes our success, a small percentage. A finder’s fee. If a celebrity betrays us and goes down a path we do not agree with, we expect atonement. We supported them, we built them up to that point, and any excuse they can offer for letting us down may just barely be enough. If they come out on top, we mend the trust that has been torn apart over time, interviews, and morning coffee with what used to be Regis.
What’s fascinating about Sheen is not his lascivious behaviour. That’s old hat. This is a man who’s been tearing apart realdolls in his house for years. We are genuinely terrified of him and nothing has changed that since the early 90s. Also not fascinating to us** is how Sheen managed to snag the coveted spot of highest-paid personality of television. For some reason, people love 2.5 men*** enough to afford him this lifestyle for 9 seasons. But with his recent thread of rants and tirades, unapologetically owning up to everything he’s done as awesome, unregrettable, and somehow, better than smoking cigarettes, what remains to be learned from Charlie Sheen is that we are most fascinated by the fact that we cannot stage an intervention, no matter how hard we try. We can not complete the narrative arc.
I could expound on old ground forever about our fascination with celebrity, but I think the most interesting part about this recent interest in Charlie Sheen’s disastrous lifestyle is that it has taken a tone of intervention. Like an entire hemisphere of people sitting down creepy Uncle Charlie and asking him to care more about his lifestyle. Well hell, it worked with Lindsay and Britney to some degree, where enough media attention eventually forced them to recant and withdraw from the spotlight. But it’s not working with Charlie****.
We’re at that phase in our development where we are forced to look in the mirror and realize that the body staring back at us is, in fact, us and by attachment, all other bodies are not. Our heated and growing fixation on Sheen (and Sheen’s belief that he is the Keith Richards of the 8-830 timeslot) needs to end with the almost orgasmic realization that just because we love celebrities, does not mean they are family. This narrative of building them up and watching them fall is not assured, and sometimes people let you down. We have no place to interfere, to demand intervention. Charlie Sheen is finally coming out and showing the world that the way he lives his life is his problem and his problem alone***** and no amount of “concern” from people will incite an apology. He’s brought everyone’s fixation on the private lives of the very rich right back to their face and demonstrated that we don’t get anything out of the relationship. Not a thank you, not a card. Not a happy ending. All that’s happened here is that we’ve bet on the wrong horse. Time to move on.
In the end, it remains that sometimes people do let us down. They always will. And we can never sacrifice this narrative arc because people will always love a story like this. The archetypes are in our blood.****** What we can do is try to focus our energies on rooting for better men, people who take our support and not LOVE us for it–I hope I’ve argues enough that asking for this is impossible–but do less damage with it. Maybe they have a career where they help people. Maybe they’re already good men. Men who are strong men, manly men, men men men.
*Like the uncle that ruins every thanksgiving
**And I don’t know why, because it’s sure as hell fascinating to me.
***now THAT is fascinating.
****Furthermore, who are we to judge when we are merely enablers? We buy him the drugs, we buy him the women. If we don’t like how he spends the money we’ve afforded him, well, I think we should probably stop watching the show, don’t you? He owes us nothing, not even thanks, because that’s not in Charlie’s MO.
*****This does ABSOLUTELY NOT excuse Sheen’s behaviour towards women, or other people. BUT consider the amount of media attention his drug use and lifestlyle is getting OVER the amount of abuse, emotional and physical, he’s slathered on to his ex-wives and girlfriends. He should be taken to jail a thousand times over. This man is a deplorable person, but for some reason recent focus has been on “how he’s doing,” and “his inner demons,” and if that’s the game we want to play, fine. Then my only focus for this short piece is to let people know that this relationship with celebrity does not work that way. We can either demand justice, or a good story. Not both.
******Replacements for Jon Cryer and Charlie Sheen should be Joseph Campbell and Carl Jung