The Media Zone

How the media make sense and nonsense of the world.

Charlie Sheen: Whom the gods would destroy, they first make mad

Charlie Sheen hasn't lost, and the fat lady hasn't sung

Hmm... What's on TV, online, on Twitter this morning? Huh.  Says that in record time  there are over 1,000,000 Twitter fans for Sheen-the-Magnificent's hot tweets. (I thought there'd be more).

Says he lost custody of his twin sons to his ex-wife (NO KIDDING!).

Fact is, everybody's talking about Charlie Sheen. I mean everybody (except maybe the other cast members of "Two and a Half Men" who are watching as their future hangs by a fraying thread).  And Sheen is talking to anyone who'll listen.  TV and the social media can't get enough of him. He's does an interview and the show's, ratings skyrocket. Everyone, it seems, loves watching a train wreck. Maybe even Charlie, from his outer space.

Clearly, it's another of our celebrity-obsessed nation's tawdry win-win games.

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Sheen has been making the media rounds like a King Kong puppet on speed, beating his chest, braying at his enemies and detractors and roaring out his sobriety and readiness to do the job or do battle with those who malign his character and his uberman (aka Übermensch) strength of will.

Charlie is high on the drug he calls, what else, "Charlie Sheen." He's high on himself. His own, personal, Rocky Mountain High. He's alienated those close to him, such as his longtime publicist Stan Rosenfield, who said last Monday he had resigned as Sheen's spokesman. And most likely his father and brother, Martin Sheen and Emilio Estevez, who have repeatedly tried interventions with Charlie over the years, with little to ultimately show for it.

T

his leaves him with a support system of the two "goddesses," women from whom he takes "comfort", and they from him, perhaps, though, springing from different need reservoirs. After all, Charlie has tiger blood and Adonis DNA.

While Sheen's manic, paranoid, delusional grandiosity smacks of bipolarity in the throes of polysubstance abuse, his road to recovery is, in one odd sense, being undone by the reality of what he proclaims.

I refer to his as yet uncontested claim that he has always showed up for work, knew his lines and delivered the goods on camera and that he's ready, willing and able to continue to do so for the remaining episodes. Further, he has contended, what he does on his own time is his own business. Therefore, there is no defensible reason to cancel the remainder of the season. His allegedly being crazed, crazy, or a drug addict is no excuse.

Sheen's contentions may not hold up if WB and CBS, producer and first-run exhibitor respectively of his hit show have contracts and clauses that indeed address Sheen's outside behaviors, his drugs, alcohol, assault and battery charges, and other lapses of sober judgment; or if they can't obtain insurance, like completion bonds, against failure of a performer (Sheen) to be able to fulfill his contractual obligation.

Of course, they might be able to persuasively argue that Sheen's wild behavior and non-stop public comments and tweets alienate audiences and advertisers. Since the show has consistent and huge ratings and some of the highest ad rates on series television, mega dollars are involved and such a loss of audience, in first run and in syndication, would represent a significant loss of present and future revenues.

Good legal points, to be sure. However, Sheen's off-screen behavior is closely consistent with his onscreen behavior and his reputation as a womanizing, substance-abusing Peter Pan, with a certain bad boy charm.

(This "charm" may be mitigated by Charlie's recent paranoia-related anti-Semitic rants about the show's executive producer/co-creator of "Two and a Half Men, Chuck Lorre, his publicist, Stan Rosenfield, and most recently his manager, Mark Burg. It does seem that for some people it's really hard to be around so many Jews when your life and mind are careening out of control. Marlon Brando and Mel Gibson also struggled mightily with their Hollywood "Jewish problem").

That on-screen-off-screen consistency is good for Sheen's complaint in a suit and bad for CBS and WB's defense. The odds are that Sheen and "Two and a Half Men's" fan base would not be put off by the present outrageousness of Sheen's "acting out" antics and braggadocio; they might even find it attractive and continued fresh episodes would maintain the high ratings--or, more luridly, might go even higher if audiences are also looking for telltale signs of Sheen's losing it or playing it more broadly as a wink at the audience and a finger to the CBS.

Truth is, America, indeed the world, has always displayed a fondness for bad boys, boys like Errol Flynn, Robert Mitchum, Sean Penn, or Russell Crowe. Most recently, we have the modern classic success story of bad boys, Robert Downey, Jr., who truly seems to be an Iron Man as far as a film career goes. Bad boys get slack if, within bounds, on-screen bad and off-screen bad smile at each other.

But woe be it to the actor whose malodorous, off-camera behavior flies in the face of his mellifluous on-screen persona. Early silent film comedy superstar, Fatty Arbuckle, was charged with rape and murder. Though acquitted, Arbuckle's career was over. Children's film and TV idol, Pee Wee Hermen (Paul Reubens) was arrested for indecent exposure in an adult movie theater. Career kaput! And, again, Mel Gibson. His alcoholic rants, DUIs and abusive domestic behavior have taken their toll on his box office till and public and fellow actor good will. If the public finds out (how can it not in our see-all, tell-all, hyper-mediated world?), then the parts dry up, the audience wags the finger, abandons ship, heads for the exit, and moves on to the next celebrity illusion.

In other words, unless Sheen has a total meltdown (which is not unlikely) and/or pulls a Howard Beale (he's on his way), this story is not over. Sheen hasn't lost, and the fat lady hasn't sung. Not yet.

UPDATE

AP / March 5, 2011 SiriusXM Radio is devoting a channel to the Charlie Sheen affair. The satellite radio service announced yesterday that it has created Tiger Blood Radio, a 24-hour limited-run channel that will examine the frenzy surrounding the star ...

 

Stuart Fischoff, Ph.D., is Senior Editor of the Journal of Media Psychology and Emeritus Professor of Media Psychology at Cal State, Los Angeles.

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