Charlie Sheen New Yorker cartoon


Speaking of failure in a full “bi-winning…tiger blood” embrace, it would seem remiss to not look at the ‘Charlie Sheen’ drama mini-series of late. For perhaps a longer episode than most people thought they were in for, Sheen has been the lead character of both amusement and bemusement in his own impromptu reality show aired on various news channels and YouTube posts.
The treatments of Sheen’s odyssey have vacillated between bemused voyeurism to self-righteous moralising.  My favourite, though, is Scott Adams who embraces Sheen’s own embrace of ‘failures’ (at least ‘failures’ in the social norms sense) in his blog post ‘
Charlie Sheen’

“Like many of you, I’ve been watching his crazy-talk interviews and reading about his unusual life choices. I’m not embarrassed to say I’m fascinated by it all.  But the thing that interests me the most is the intersection between honesty and insanity. There is some theoretical amount of honesty that is indistinguishable from mental illness. Charlie is blurring the line, or maybe spending some time on both sides of it. It’s clearly intentional… I think Charlie is fascinating because he’s living without fear. That translates into a disturbing degree of honesty. And at the moment it gives him an amazing amount of power over the media, which he is using to his advantage.”
So is Sheen’s decent a calculated manoeuvre to get his way financially and/or behaviourally? Is it just an exposure of his true self despite its failing to measure up to social standards? Or is it just a self-absorbed binge of destruction?

In line with the golden rule, Sheen can be as wacky as he likes…as long as his whacks don’t hurt others. One can debate whether he has hurt his employers, his fellow cast and production crew, and/or his audience by depriving them of the gusher of both yucks and bucks that is ‘Two and a Half Men’ (one of my favourite sitcoms, in the interests of full disclosure). Some of the accusations about abuse of others are certainly more concerning (though I admit a degree of caution when people have a vested interest in making such accusations). Saddest of all certainly are his young children who really do have a claim for a better behaviour by their father (though Sheen asserts that all is good on that front).
He sees himself as a hero of hedonism in his own post-modernist
Ayn Rand epic. Rand herself, of course, polarized the debate of where one draws the line between noble self-reliance and destructive selfishness in the promotion of freedom.

I also think Sheen perhaps sees himself in the mould of Ozzie Osbourne and Hugh Hefner. Two other counter-cultural, celebrities who shunned convention and social norms of propriety and yet were embraced by the public in the spotlight of their own reality shows for their quirky charm.

But, the critical lesson those and other teddy bear misfits teach us through their non-conformity is that style is everything. People are willing to be bemused by others’ eccentricities even if they ‘fail’ prevailing social norms. But only in so far as these quirks, or the manner in which they are adopted, are non-threatening. People innately fear ‘differences’ anyway and it is perhaps that underlying fear that provides the frisson of entertainment when gawking at them. Mel Gibson stands as material witness to the fact that when aggression enters the stage the public’s affection will shut down faster than Charlie’s libido imagining Berta in an intimate embrace with his mother.

It will be an interesting, high profile experiment to see where it all ends up.  In jail or dead would be a bad outcome.  Chugging along having party of a life indefinitely would have to go in the ‘good outcome’ column. Sheen has burnt his bridges and is now flying without a net. At the very least, the aftermath will be a colourful case study in embracing failure in all its glory.