Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Charlie Sheen "News"

It is said that the English word “news” came from the pluralizing of the word “new” in the late 14th century. I think that this is important to remember because most of the things that are exposed to the public as “news” are really just “goings on,” events that do not represent any deviation from the norm or expected outcome and have no direct relevance to the reader (or viewer). Any look at the daily stories of any “news” source will generally result in some sort of feeling of déjà vu. If it’s not surprising, if it’s not new, it’s not news.

Charlie Sheen is going crazy… Or at least he’s acting crazy and saying crazy things, and as the old expression goes, if he walks like a ducks and talks like a duck and he’s not actually a duck, he’s probably fucking crazy. I don’t believe I have to dwell on his antics and although the story seems to just get sadder (I just read online that his kids were just taken away by police), I feel like it’s important to say that this cannot be seen as unexpected. He has a history of drug use, running around with porn stars, frequenting prostitutes, and violent acts against romantic partners (don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against most of those things). This is merely a logical extension of behavior that he has exhibited over the last twenty years or so, which has been allowed to continue and escalate because, well, apparently we like him that way.

Remember that after Sheen had done quite a bit of damage to his image in the late nineties, he was given a second chance on a show called Spin City, replacing Michael J. Fox as the central character. Sheen’s character, unlike the cheeky, but earnest workaholic character played by Fox, was a charming, philandering semi-lowlife named… Charlie. He won a Golden Globe for that role. Clearly, he was back.

After Spin City was cancelled Sheen ended up reprising the character, which is to say he played another loveable reprobate named Charlie, on the CBS sitcom Two and a Half Men. America loved him so much that he ended up being the highest paid actor on television, garnering nearly two million dollars per episode. America told him that not only did we forgive him for his transgressions, but that we would reward him with heaps of money (or, more accurately, the ratings that would justify those heaps of money).

Television actors commanding large salaries is nothing new. The cast of Friends, for example, made record breaking salaries at the time, but we expected them at act to some degree, or at least to learn to respond to different names. I will not compare most sitcom acting to Ben Kingsley transforming himself into Mahatma Gandhi, and also I don’t know the cast of Friends personally, so I can’t say the extent to which their characters differed from their actual personalities. However, it is not hard to see the past decade of Charlie Sheen’s career as him simply “being himself” (okay, minus perhaps the spousal abuse), and receiving huge amounts of money and adoration for it.

And now he’s going crazy. Or crazier. But this should come as no surprise. When he began exhibiting his outlandish behavior we gave him a biscuit… and a TV show. We gave him another TV show and his behavior escalated and we gave him another biscuit…. and even more money and fame. He has been given positive reinforcement for all his negative behavior over the past decade. The escalation of his antics should be expected.

Therefore, it is not news.

It’s entertainment.

If the producers of Two and a Half Men, were really smart, they would try to fill out the DVD of this aborted season with his clips from TMZ, The Today Show, 20/20 and the rest of the interviews he did this past week. After all, it’s the same character. It’s the same old Charlie, just on at a different time. And clearly we love him just as he is.