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Two Half Men

March 8, 2011

The past month we’ve been subject to the searing media spectacle of two men whose madness is in full view – one who’s cracking up, and one who’s cracking down – each half a world away from the other.

Charlie Sheen is in Sherman Oaks fighting everyone around him. Muammar Qaddafi is in Tripoli doing the same.

And while Sheen has been making a self-destructive ass of himself, spitting in his boss’s faces, Muammar Qaddafi is making a destructive ass of himself spitting in the face of history.

As it turns out, Two and a Half Men has for years been my favorite TV show, not the least because I like Sheen, its star. The show is at times uproariously funny, is always intelligent, and has often pushed the envelope (did he really say that?!) The show’s creator Chuck Lorre is a fellow Jewish boomer from Long Island and I’ve become a fan of his as well, always pausing the show at the very end for his few paragraphs expounding on everything from sex to drugs to…Charlie Sheen.

And while at this writing, both Sheen and Qaddafi seem to be hanging on pretty well, Charlie isn’t all he’s — shall we say — cracked up to be, and both men are dangerously delusional and would seem to stop at nothing to destroy  everything around them.

But we have constructed a world (yes, we) where oil, money, and/or fame can sometimes attract the unbalanced, and then they get rewarded to the extent that it sends them further over the edge. Charlie is intoxicated by too much money, the sexiest women that that money can buy, drugs and his own ego, the latter being the most distorting. Qaddafi is similarly intoxicated by too much money and power, probably sexy women, probably drugs, and certainly ego.

And which drugs? The alcohol and crack that Charlie messes with can inflate mood and ego like a balloon, until it bursts, making their victims act like that same balloon when it farts around the room and then drops to the floor.

Meanwhile, our morbid curiosity and fascination gets the best of us as this man comes unglued in real time, before our eyes. It’s a kind of rubber necking, watching this slo-mo train wreck.

What we’re actually watching, however, is a classic hypo-manic episode in full bloom. It has all the symptoms – the grandiosity; the boundless energy; the driven speech and delusional imagery. Charlie is suffering from a severe and quite possibly fatal mood disorder, which was likely set off from a drug binge. It’s easy to feel superior to him, but this happens every day, below the media radar, to thousands of mentally ill people and also to the families that must endure them, and it can happen to yours or mine.

And in this case, it’s a breakdown we helped create.

Look what happened in Sheen’s case: Two and a Half Men is a show that was built around a character who’s a narcissistic drunken womanizer named Charlie. In other words, for eight years Sheen and everyone around him has become rich or famous because of a show based on his real life personality. To find yourself being rewarded with one of TV’s most successful sitcoms in its history by playing the most id-iotic and egotistical parts of yourself – imagine how destructively seductive that can be to an obviously fragile person? What exactly did Chuck Lorre and Warner Brothers expect? You keep feeding the monster (because it poops golden turds) and one day it’s going to turn on you.

“They’re spoon feeding Casanova
              To get him to feel more assured
  Then they’ll kill him with self-confidence
              After poisoning him with words…”

                                                       — Bob Dylan, Desolation Row, 1966

Moreover, the consequences so far for Sheen’s meltdown, besides much verbal spanking and tongue clucking, has been to swing wide open the doors of every major media outlet in America. (His publicist has “respectfully resigned.” Perhaps he realized he was no longer needed.)

On his first day on Twitter, Charlie got 1,000,000 followers (now he’s close to 2,000,000). And that can translate to more money for Charlie. (Kim Kardashian allegedly receives some $10 G per tweet). In other words, when you’re sick and a celebrity, we’ll pay and reward you to watch you crack up in front of our faces. It’s just another way we get you to entertain us.

But what’s most interesting to me are the men who have told me of their admiration of Mr. Sheen: That here’s a man who says whatever the fuck he wants to whoever he wants. He makes up his own rules, and flouts common standards of behavior — sexual, chemical and otherwise.

What is it about us – or about us men – that applauds this? That finds us wanting to live through him or imagining being him and living the life we can’t or wouldn’t dare? Well, for one thing, someone who truly speaks his mind is a rare site these days. And though I can easily join the finger wagging masses, I must admit, I sometimes wish I didn’t give a fuck myself. I want everyone to love me, you see. And I, like all of us, have learned that to be loved you have to always be oh, so careful. Careful not to offend; not to seem too much this or not enough that. Must be sensitive about them; must be respectful of those. Don’t want to displease my wife/readers/patients; the neighbors or the family; our friends/boss/employee/ or the powers that be. Polite society has its benefits for sure. But there’s also a down side to suffocating our wild side: the accumulated repressed frustration and resentment that results in everything from depression to addiction and divorce.

Maybe we should have a Speak Your Mind Without Consequence Day. Everyone would get to say whatever they want to whomever they choose, with no negative results. Ok, I know that’s impossible. But who wouldn’t like it if it were?

On the other side of the planet, Qaddafi also has many loud and fervent supporters. “He’s unique. There’s no alternative to him,” one pro-government demonstrator told the New York Times.

Both these men benefit from the myth of the defiant hero: He who takes a stand and fights for what they believe in – in this case, themselves. And while they may be demented, who among us doesn’t want to defy something or someone but finds that they cannot? I’d love to defy the government and not pay the portion of my taxes that goes to subsidizing corporations that outsource American jobs. I’d love to help anyone defy an insurance company that disallows a life-saving treatment for their dying child, and storm their offices. But do I? It’s much safer to watch a rich celeb hurl insults at a media conglomerate.

So there’s a place where I envy Sheen even as I am appalled at — and frightened for — him.

And as we watch these two men come to their end — Sheen hopefully not; Qaddafi hopefully — our fascination with them tells us much about ourselves.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. m rose permalink
    March 14, 2011 8:02 pm

    Do you suppose the black hair suggests a genetic conection. 😉

  2. June 12, 2011 7:54 pm

    Hi Charlie,
    I love reading your semi-diatribe on Mr Sheen, and the Qaddafi comparison (very clever).

    I’m amazed that you find so much in him to relate to. Though I agree with some of these discoveries/admissions, I clearly have a another take on the Sheen.

    I feel both sorry for, and annoyed at him. On a professional level, as an actor myself, I respect his natural talent, charm and excellent timing and delivery for comedy – and not just for this character on 2 1/2. You should see the few movies he’s done – he’s hilarious. On the other hand, I’d like to kick him in the ass for being the lazy ass he is as he throws away most of his talent.

    He’s a prime example of the kid of a famous and talented parent (another issue in itself – kids of celebrities) who no doubt played at least a helping hand in launching his career, took advantage (no harm in that, I would have done too) but professionally abused it by just sailing through, appeased by the success coming so easily, and what ever else un-drives him. He could have been a much better actor (an artist) if he gave a shit.
    Perhaps you find this difficult to relate to on this level, but his current behavior just exacerbates my resentment for the waste. I have nothing but respect for talent in others, in all the performing arts, I revel in it and it inspires me. The only thing I envy about Charlie Sheen is his connections in the biz. ….ah, and maybe the women*^$%&(?

    Yes, he no doubt should be doing 2-3 sessions a week, he’s got a lot of unpacking to do. And there I have the empathy. Perhaps, had he started therapy many years ago (maybe he did – who knows? – if so, it didn’t work) he may have come to realize is outlook needed some serious consideration. A realization that integrity is vital in any artistic pursuit. That if you have talent like that, it’s almost a duty to expand and refine it through the ongoing discoveries that come from respect and hard work. It’s beautiful when it happens.

    Just to add, I don’t glory in the public demise of those who had attained success, even in Sheen’s case. In fact after the first few press and news blurts, I turned away from it in disgust, not only of him, but of the spectacle that so quickly exploded around him.

    So there you have my semi-diatribe.

    As for Qaddafi…? Well he’s another story. The only image that comes to me about him, is a snipers rife aimed at his head.

    Thanks Charlie, great column.
    Richard

    If you would like to peruse my columns on “Free Advice,” go to Tarrytown.Patch.com. Search Free Advice with Richard, all my past columns should come up.

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