Loathing Charlie Sheen

Charlie Sheen is what’s wrong with America, and you know it. Born the rich, handsome son of a movie star, he was a successful actor — a millionaire in his own right — before he turned 20. But because this is America, he became convinced over the next 25 years that the ability to say things while looking attractive on camera is a talent that entitles him to wealth and the directive to flaunt his vices in public. And because this is America, maybe it does.

He certainly has his place in the collective psyche of the Super Mario Brothers generation: He was great in Platoon and Wall Street, hilarious in Major League and both Hot Shots movies. He taught tens of thousands of Americans about phrenology and garbage collection in Men at Work. He certainly has the charisma and charm to make people laugh, even as they’re witnessing a man’s life unraveling. What exactly accounts for his bizarre surge in popularity — or notoriety, depending on who’s telling the story — will likely be debated by culture scholars and publicists alike for decades. Surely it has something to do with celebrity worship, the nature of modern media, and the sneering veneer of Americans jaded by endless wars, a crumbling environment, and a painful recession.

Regardless of the public response, Charlie Sheen still acts like an active addict, ranting and raving into any microphone he’s given, smart enough to turn a question into a platform but not self-aware enough to realize how idiotic he sounds invoking tigers, warlocks, and trolls. Like a typical addict, any problems he has are someone else’s fault. There are no admonitions, just a series of admittedly hilarious — but nonetheless distracting — biochemically fueled, fantasy-filled soliloquies: Sound and fury signifying less than nothing. That is America.

Charlie Sheen is the rich guy laughing directly at the working people who are funding his “Violent Torpedo of Truth” tour, his incessant quest to remind the world that a lucky asshole should never have to lose his job telling dirty jokes to a fat kid on a prime-time network television show, no matter how many kilos of coke fall out of his nose when he sneezes. When a group of angry audience members at a recent show in Detroit realized they’d just paid a lot of money to watch a rich drug addict repeat some stupid catch phrases on stage, they demanded their money back. So Sheen, relaxing with a cigarette on stage, chortled something along the lines of, “Sorry, dude, I already got your money.” That too is America.

He is the popular dickhead in high school elected prom king, the one who, years later, looks back wistfully on the days of wedgies and cowering freshmen. He’s the boss’ nephew who shirks his responsibilities at the office but gets the promotion anyway. He’s the insurance executive cashing in while denying claims, the banker who buys a yacht while the loans he bundled choke the economy. He’s fast food, fast cars, stupid commercials, stupid women, porno, parties, a twitchy grin that belies a life of indulgence and self-destruction.

Charlie Sheen is America. And America is not winning.
Sat., April 23, 8 p.m., 2011

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