Requiem For A Charlie

I don’t really want to write about Charlie Sheen, because thinking about him and reading about him and hearing about him makes me feel dirty.  And yet I am sucked into the vortex of his manic methamphetamine-fueled public persona, which has the gravitational pull of a black hole that has just absorbed the entire Medellin Cartel and all of its assets.

What is there to say about Charlie Sheen that hasn’t been said?  He’s just another example of the 21st century celebrity flame-out, a la Mel Gibson, Britney Spears, and Lindsay Lohan.  Modern day celebrity flame-outs are either way worse than olden-times celebrity flame-outs (Joan Crawford, Judy Garland, Elvis, John Belushi) or exactly the same in severity but we just know a shit-ton more about them as they are actually occurring, thanks to real-time documentation on the internet.  A corollary to the development of our constant newsfeed of celebrity gossip seems to be that when a celebrity chooses to melt down, they then encourage people to watch.  No one takes their barbituates in private anymore.  It’s all lunch at The Ivy and leaked tapes of recorded phone conversations and Britney driving around town and talking to reporters in a British accent.  Now I should say something about the powerful economics of paparazzi, about the commodification of celebrity, of branding oneself, of any-press-is-good-press attitudes, of the money Charlie Sheen is surely receiving to grant his endless talk radio interviews, of which we will then all read excerpts while Charlie uses said remuneration to purchase more drugs and hookers and nights in his Caribbean bungalow, and how our own consumption of the newsfeed makes us, in some six-degrees-of-Kevin-Bacon way, enablers of the very actions we are so enjoying sitting back and judging.  But it all seems kind of… tired, no?  We all know the narrative by now.  We get it, Charlie (Britney, Lindsay, etc.): you do a lot of drugs, as many people do, but because you are equally addicted to attention, you are going to talk about yourself to the press ad nauseam.  Attention is also a very addictive thing.  Just ask any homely housewife who gets a mid-life boob job.

Wouldn’t it be so much cooler if Charlie Sheen was on vacation on a private tropical island with three women and probably tons of drugs and NOT TALKING TO ANYONE ABOUT IT?  Outside of the fact that he has children to parent, and relatives who are probably ill with worry or sick to death of his bullshit, and outside of the fact that his actions have shut down his television show and thus put a ton of people out of work, which probably gives Charlie a hard-on because it only affirms his understanding of himself as the center of the universe– basically, in a vacuum, where no one besides himself is affected– I would love that Charlie Sheen is doing whatever the fuck he wants, except for that the narcissistic drivel he’s spewing is really, really awful.  If America is a crowded bar, Charlie Sheen is the drunk, coked-up guy who will not stop talking about himself. And that guy and his paranoid delusions are boring me to tears.

Now, there is something sickeningly fascinating in watching an addiction unfold before us, not least because we all, on some level, empathize with the mentality of “well, if I’m going to be bad, I’m going to be really, really bad.”  Though Charlie seems to want to be some sort of uberpowerful superhuman, it is his supremely human flaws that have everyone so entranced.  It’s the Stars– they’re just like us! phenomenon.

Sometimes I feel like I understand addictions because I have had the hardest fucking time quitting smoking, but if I say this aloud, people always respond with, “Oh please, cigarettes are nothing next to alcohol, heroin, whatever.”  In the sense that smoking doesn’t immediately or as evidently debilitate your life in the way that alcoholism or heroin addiction may, that’s true.  But I can’t imagine the thoughts that course through one addict’s mind are much different than those of another, no matter the type of addiction– food, drugs, alcohol, gambling, cigarettes, shopping, television, cat-collecting, whatever.  Daren Arnofsky said something like this in an interview he did while promoting Requiem for a Dream: “The idea that the same inner monologue goes through a person’s head when they’re trying to quit drugs, as with cigarettes, as when they’re trying to not eat food so they can lose 20 pounds, was really fascinating to me.” If you’ve ever been addicted to anything, you know what goes on in your mind: the justifications, the self-bargaining, the defensiveness, the promises to “stop tomorrow”, the delusion that you can control yourself, the delusion that you deserve to indulge yourself, and finally the general throwing in of the towel and the sweet release that comes with giving in, not just because you’re satisfying a craving, but because you also get to stop fighting yourself.

It’s the rare person that can party like mad for no other reason than it’s just fucking fun.  Most heavy drinkers and drug users seem to be attempting to use mind-altering substances to patch some wicked hole inside of themselves, or to forget something they’d really like not to remember.  In fact, I can only think of two famous people who might actually party simply for partying’s sake (of course, I say this without knowing a thing about their personal lives, mental health, or inner demons): Kate Moss and Keith Richards.  Who don’t really ever seem to need to justify themselves to anyone.

Once I cut this Stevie Nicks quotation out of a magazine: “Personally, I think that sexy is keeping yourself mysterious.”  Clearly, I don’t totally adhere to this idea since, uh, I have a blog, but she’s so right.  There’s absolutely nothing sexy about puttin’-it-all-out-there Charlie Sheen.  Maybe there was, once, before his face looked like it was going to melt, as it does now.  Like his nose looks like it’s made of wax and is listing to one side in the heat of his crack pipe, and his skin is all knobbly and stretched-out-looking, like Tara Reid’s stomach.  And I don’t like his weirdo close-lipped smile.  It’s like the awkward close-lipped smile I used to make for pictures when I was ten or eleven and had just discovered “self-consciousness.”  And his haircut REALLY bothers me.  It’s somewhere between a grown out crew-cut and a halfway-there 90s mushroom cut.

But I digress.  “Sexiness” and haircuts should not be Charlie’s first concern; certainly he does not seem like he’s partying only for partying’s sake.  There’s some sort of wild, carnivorous mental illness stalking the edges of his rants (of which I have admittedly only skimmed, because as stated I find them so unexpectedly banal).  This is a man who accidentally shot his then-fiancee in the arm.  Who nearly stabbed his then-wife on Christmas day.  Who went on a bender with his children sleeping in a hotel room across the hall from his own.  Keith Richards, on the other hand, may have cut his father’s ashes into lines and snorted him, but as far as I know has never assaulted anyone his his own family.

I just discovered Stevie Nicks also said, “If you see somebody running naked down the street every single day, you stop looking up.”  I think, Charlie, she’s talking to you.

The Bachelor’s Little Instruction Book

My friend Brette and I watched an episode of the Bachelor on Monday.  I think the last time I watched this show, I was twenty-two and had just moved to New York.  Back then, Brette and I and our other two roommates used to go down to the second floor of our building, to another apartment, equally cramped with Marimekko-print futons and New Yorkistan posters, where lived four brand-spanking-new-to-New-York twenty-two year old naifs just like ourselves except that they were all from Indiana and whom we had met in the building’s elevator.  I think what we watched was actually the Bachelorette, the season with Jen Schefft.  The point is that I think the intervening six years of life, and the men I have encountered therein, and the lessons I hopefully have learned from said men, friends and otherwise, have now made the Bachelor something completely and utterly terrifying to watch.

The first thing that is so fucking awful about the Bachelor is that one of its “rules” is that the Bachelor cannot express how he feels about the contestants, to the contestants.  He can give compliments, such as “I have fun with you”, “I think you’re sweet,” or “I love your breast implants”, but he cannot make statements about his actual emotions, such as “I love you”, “I want to be with you”, or “I cannot wait to put my penis between your breast implants.”  I guess in theory this is supposed to keep the viewers, and the contestants for that matter, guessing about his favorites and his true feelings, but in practice what happens is that the contestants end up telling the Bachletron 9000 over and over about how much they like him, and he has to sit there and say NOTHING.  Absolutely nothing!  On television, this makes the contestants come off as desperate sluts willing to shower a completely unresponsive man with verbal lap dances of emotional hyperbole and probably feed him grapes and fan him with a giant palm frond if one were lying around.  What’s worse?  As Brette sagely pointed out, the girls then get to interpret his silence however they like.  Essentially contestants of the Bachelor are living in the one place on earth where, when you tell a guy you love him and he responds with total silence, this could actually mean he’s in love with you, too!   WELCOME TO EVERY WOMAN’S WETTEST OF WET DREAMS.  The set of the Bachelor is the Monaco of an American woman’s heart– a little insulated kingdom of vast riches, a magical land where emotions and rich handsome men roam freely in the streets, and those streets are paved with engagement rings.  When any given contestant finishes confessing her feelings to the Bachelor and then dutifully straddles him in the underlit Jacuzzi, you can almost see her thoughts appearing onscreen in a little Pop-Up Video bubble: “He feels so much for me, but can’t express it.  He’s so brave and strong and silent.”  Hence why watching this makes my skin crawl: because I have been this girl, imagining that some guy’s emotional distance means exactly the opposite of what it actually means, but, not having ever been on the Bachelor, obviously unable to blame any of these distances or silences of my former paramours on a signed contract that prevented them from telling me how much they were obsessed with me.

Oh reality television– your indelible life lessons are as numerous as the stars in the sky.

Also, can you imagine any situation in which you would throw yourself at a dude like that while being filmed?  That one-on-one Jacuzzi grinding that, let’s admit it, looks kind of fun, in a Sandals sort of way– it’s just you and your muscular, diamond-packin’ Bachelor, enjoying the Costa Rican jungle breezes and the nighttime ululations of the tree frogs and oh yeah there’s also a guy in Ducks Unlimited waders and a Lipton Iced Tea hat holding a GIANT CAMERA four feet away from your face.  Romance!  Yes, he’s actually in the Jacuzzi with you.  Yes, this is being filmed in high-definition.  Yes, the pancake makeup you hysterically spackled on your nose to cover up the blackheads came off hours ago, while you were sitting in the lukewarm pool just on the other side of that faux-rock wall behind the Jacuzzi, sweating like crazy in the equatorial sun while waiting your turn to ride the Bachelor.  Yes, there’s also three other people standing a bit back from the Jacuzzi, monitoring your sucking session with clipboards and headsets, and yes, one of them has a whistle which he will blow if things get a bit too racy for prime time.  What do you think this is, Temptation Island?

Meanwhile, you live in a house with all the other contestants, and you all talk about this one man obsessively, and it’s just like every other time you’ve ever liked a guy except there are twenty-five versions of yourself mirroring your own thoughts about him back to you, out loud, and constantly.  So basically it’s like if you had a crush but also you’re Leonardo DiCaprio and you’re stuck on Shutter Island.  And the way these contestants instantly love this man is weird in the way that those little foam pills you drop in water and they turn into big shapes is weird, and also weird in an automaton-fembot-Stepford-Wife-and-that-episode-of-Saved-by-the-Bell-where-Zach-and-Slater-learn-about-the-dangers-of-subliminal-messages kind of way.  It’s borderline harem.  Want to see what the set of the Bachelor looked like 200 years ago?  Boom:

These are other things about the Bachelor that make my skin crawl, but not because I identify with them.

What I hated absolutely most about watching the Bachelor was watching this one contestant in particular get crazy jealous.  I think her name was Michelle.  Obviously every contestant on the Bachelor must spend a lot of time getting jealous.  You have to compete with these twenty-five other women for the attentions of this one man, which, if anyone is even one-tenth as jealous of a person as I am, is literally a recipe for murder, or at least for me putting rubbing alcohol in your contact solution, bitch.  But Michelle is just really letting her jealousy all hang out.  She’s crashing other contestants’ Jacuzzi grind time and continually emitting high school euphemisms such as “bitches need to go.”  (Ma’am, a reminder.  You’re thirty.)  At one point she’s sitting in the Bachelor’s lap (in the Jacuzzi, of course) and berating him for letting one of the other contestants come home in his button-down shirt the night before.  “Do you know how hard it was for me to see that?” she says, and forcefully, kind of like Glenn Close might do.  “Do you know how hard it was for me to listen to her talk about how it was the best date of her life?”  I hated to watch this.  Out loud I was screaming at the television, You signed up for this!  What part of the last FIFTEEN SEASONS of the Bachelor did you not understand? But inside my mind I was saying, I am her.  I have so many times looked the reality of a situation with a guy in the face and just straight-up ignored it.  Sure, you may have told me, quite clearly, that you didn’t want to be in a relationship right now, but who cares!  Sure, you may have told me you’ve never not cheated on a girlfriend, but who cares!  I’m Mary Tyler Moore and my self-respect is my hat and I just tossed it into the air with abandon!  And later I’ll get really, really mad at you for doing exactly what you said you’d do!  It will be such a fun conversation, and you will roll your eyes at me, like the Bachelor just did at Michelle, because you’ve realized that I’m the kind of person who walks through an open door and then gets mad I’m in a different room.  In the meantime I bet the Bachelor was stoked to hear that one of your way-more-rational, way-less-jealous, and thus way-more-fun competitors was so happy with their most recent date.  You just officially became the hot girl that specifically selects ugly friends to make herself look better, except exactly the opposite.

This time I’m seriously not even joking when I say this was a total life lesson for me.  I mean, when it comes to relationships, I’m pretty good at being a total bitch about things I am not cool with, but unfortunately I’m also pretty good at lying to myself about what I am cool with in the first place, when I really like someone and want to make it work, somehow, someway.  I’ve said to myself, Oh, it’s cool, I can handle living in a house with twenty-five other women and compete for one guy’s attention, because I WANT to be that supremely confident ice-queen.  But I am not.  I am Michelle.  And so, with that revelation, I am excusing myself from the Jacuzzi.