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.