Tuesday, March 1, 2011

The Uses of Charlie Sheen, A Wittgensteinian Investigation.

1. As Cautionary Tale.

Acutely problematic. Since Sheen's biography bears little relationship to the experiences of most civilians, it's hard to know how exactly he went wrong or how, under the circumstances (father a hyper-observant Roman Catholic political activist thinking-person's movie star; brother a frozen-in-pop-culture-time non-thinking person's teen-dream idol; face a peculiar demonic composite of both of them that's somehow been robbed of its individuality; ex-wife a robotic sex kitten projection deemed real only for legal and gossip purposes; TV show a fiendishly exploitative mechanism which invites the viewer to superimpose what he knows to be Sheen's degraded consciousness on a generic asshole background of a character), he might have avoided going wrong.

Yes, in theory, cocaine abuse is something human beings should avoid, but Charlie Sheen does not exist in theory. He exists in what one might call a 'problem space' that is singular, novel, and largely incommunicable. Inside of it and according to its rules 'cocaine abuse' may well resemble what we on the outside, in the consensus problem-space, think of as 'light and healthy eating' or 'preparing for the hero's journey.'  

2. As Social Media Binding Agent

Marvelously efficient and unlikely ever to be surpassed. In the endless one and a half days since Sheen shrugged off his fictional carapace as the 'star' of Two and a Half Men ( a show so majestically barren of personality, so perfectly clone-of-a-clone-of in style and affect, that it could have made a 'star' of anyone who stuck his live head in the cut-out hole it offered), and launched his new 'reality' career as a live-wire interview subject who was at first authentically unstable but is surely enough of a performer to realize now what the audience expects from him and to deliver it with all his might, meaning he's now both unstable and feigning unstable, Sheen has emerged as the consummate, perhaps defining, subject of social media conversations. He is the great Third Person Outside the Room that allows loosely associated strangers interacting on Twitter etc. to engage in synthetic confidential intimacy.

His any-guy name 'Charlie' helps immeasurably here, but what helps most is this: Charlie too treats "Charlie Sheen" as the great Third Person Outside the Room.

3. As Secret Superhero of the Id

Profoundly influential yet puzzling.

At a time when few of us know first-hand exactly what Total Self-Gratification would constitute if our means and our access to party supplies were infinite, we are left to infer from Sheen's aftermath appearance  --  from the graven lines around his mouth and the very small holes in the center of his pupils where the 'twinkle' used to go -- what it's like to do everything you want to anyone you want to do it to in a safe and luxurious environment while you're the highest you can be. It's fun to imagine what Sheen felt, that is, and what it felt like (at one time) to be Sheen. It's a way to connect with our orgiastic selves. It's a way to not have to pretend that cocaine feels bad and that meaningless sex, by meaning whatever we want it to, isn't in fact the most meaningful sex of all.

The problem, though, is that when you look at him, you get this distinct weird feeling that Charlie Sheen is the only person in the whole universe incapable of actually enjoying, actually getting off on in a deep way that really sticks to the neurons afterward, the myriad pleasures of Homo Malibu that were formerly open to Charlie Sheen.

(Describe your own uses of Sheen in the comments section and I will consider them in a future post)

39 comments:

  1. Charlie Sheen is very useful when you're having dinner with conservative relatives and one of them is just aching to air their opinion about striking public sector employees, the Middle East, or inflation. I suggest something like "hey with all this crazy stuff going on, how can we leave out what's truly important: Charlie Sheen!" Throw out the tiger blood quote and suddenly you're in a much better place.

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  2. I think he's got early Parkinsons. Or drug-induced Faux Parkinsons. He's playing Michael J Fox, except there's no pity induced.

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    1. I'm convinced you're right about Charlie Sheen having Parkinsons disesase. Which would be sadly ironic since he was signed on to replace M. J. Fox on spin city, or it was knownbthen and its possibly one of the factors for why Michael j Fox and co choose him as the replacement lead. either way it seems extremely obvious especially on the latest season of his new show anger management that hes suffering from Parkinsons his speech patterns and physical symptoms mirror that of Michael J Fox and others suffering from the disease.

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  3. In NYC both free newspapers; AM New York and Metro New York, have pieces on him - AM with terrific "sound bites" from him using words like frickin' and gnarly. It it useful to provide a wan smile on an exhausted man commuting after being woken up by a child before 6am every morning for 31 months.

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  4. To me "Sheen" or maybe even "the Sheen", as I'll refer to him, is that perceived EPICness a PR guy or agent would want to imbue in his marketing of single dimensional client in this day and age. He enjoys the Janus-like position of illusion/allusion characteristics by presenting the face(s) for cameras, not unlike a supermodels, to seem deep and meaningful while looking exemplar tho' at the end of the day can leave nothing behind but an impression of something that was there to be treasured until you turned the page and moved onto the next pose for your intellect's instant-gratification, dirty-little-secret to behold. Whereby you're wishing you might look that way, if you could put on a suit of "the Sheen" but still keep your wits and depth intact. He suffers somewhat, for us all of course, the "Bright Shiny" condition, and so could be forgotten but just won't go away or become something we could care about more, thanks to his agents' clever work and his Dad's name. Sadly the public never get tired of these Dorian Gray's and one'll arise to take his place soon. They are becoming a rare species as people over time realize this is not a lifestyle to be desired but one'll always want to buck the trend and be "epic" to acquire that "Sheen". And sadly more, people will watch in awe as they rise, cry as they burst into flowery-patterned blazes across the sky then most will walk away leaving a few stragglers behind in hopes of catching the body to be placed in reliquary, the relics of their chosen saint, in a private collection all their own. Lyrics from the Kinks come to mind in times like these, Hello me, Hello you... Everybody's a dreamer and everybody's a star...

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  5. Well done. Don't agree though that one could have inserted any head in the cut-out. One interesting element in all this for me is Sheen's talent -- he is superior at what he does, so he is partly correct when he goes all dithyrambic about himself.

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  6. Yr right on all counts. Any actor could have played the part. I know Chuck Lorre very well. He's a tough guy and a good cat. Before Charlie he worked with Roseanne Barr for three years. The show is sometimes funny, even though i always feel i need to be showered down after watching it. High sleaze and bad-faith factor. Charlie should shut the fuck up. They replaced Caruso with Jimmy Smits and NYPD Blue actually did better without big Dave. Wolf replaced all the actors on Law and Order and no one cared. They could replace Charlie in a heartbeat and no one would even notice.

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  7. Like most celebrities today, Sheen's use is illuminating some aspect or other of narcissistic infatuation. His narcissism is stripped of any pretense of political sagacity, deep concern for his fellow inhabitants of The Planet or devotion to "his craft." It is not charmingly clunky, like the narcissism of almost every character in the new show "Portlandia." It is not unself-aware, like the narcissism of the adult characters (or Eric Cartman) of "South Park." It is not willfully childlike, like the ensemble of the venerable showcase of contemporary narcissism, "Seinfeld." It is narcissism stripped to its most raw, its most minimalistically mean, its most self-aware and savagely unapologetic. It is so bare, it isn't even personal, precisely to the contrary of Sheen's claims of uber-uniqueness. It is the primal and subpersonal Id laid bare. It's use, like the use of his pathetic TV show, is the demonstration of the utter dead-eyed banality and sad vapidity of the unfettered pursuit of adolescent male fantasy. Like Hugh Hefner. Sheen's flashing, haunted eyes, the nodding head, the sidelong, you-better-believe-it-pal, meaningful looks at his interviewers, all remind the spectator of the panhandler, the street hustler, the drunk tank cell mate, the it's-reeeally-heavy-maa-an tedium of the Dennis Hopper character in "Apocalypse Now." And finally, the drunk ranter in every bar in every town. Yeah, pal, you're brilliant. You're really special. And you know things ordinary mortals don't. I gotta go now. We see our reduced selves and recoil.

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  8. victor. wow. please always read and comment on this blog for you may be the best thing about it at this stage. thank you for thinking for free and doing it here. flattered.

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  9. Where's Elizabeth Anscombe when you really need her?

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  10. I don't know. Off I go to my handy Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy to try to find out.

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  11. in my older age, i just scream dionyseus... and i revel in the circus...like a catholic voyeur. and is it a human thing talking/imaging/spewing? a brother? and i also think 'weird, just like his dad in that apocolypse now documentary'

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  12. kristen, i think we all scream for dionysus as we get on in years. i know i do. and often in my sleep.

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  13. Charlie Sheen is useless as a cautionary tale. He hasn't died yet, or even suffered in any way that we can confirm. We can only imagine that he must be suffering for his profligacy.

    Nor is he particularly useful as a social media binding agent. Social media are self-binding. If Sheen did not exist we would be tweeting about Christina Aguilera, LOLcats, Sarah Palin or the features likely to be included in the next model iPad. People have never needed a seed topic to instigate conversation. We just talk.

    As secret superhero of the id, well, maybe. But he's equally the car wreck that we drive past on the freeway and can't resist craning our necks to catch a glimpse.

    I suspect but can't prove that Sheen is suffering from some kind of genuine physiologically-based mental health disorder, quite possibly manic depression. In interviews he sounds relatively lucid but full of verbal free associations and a lot of grandiose thinking, irritability and impulsivity which are common traits of mania. He's not in full-blown manic psychosis, but he seems to have incomplete control of his own thinking and behavior.

    I've known people with bipolar disorder. It's not a character flaw. It's a neurological condition that affects neurotransmitters in the brain and causes people to behave differently than they would when they are healthy. People who have it are fine when they're not manic or depressed, but sometimes they have an episode. The tricky thing about the manic episodes is that they can actually be enjoyable to the person who is manic, which makes it hard to get them to accept treatment. That's probably what is happening with Sheen right now.

    The comments I've seen in news stories about Sheen seem mostly full of some kind of moral judgment, calling him an "idiot" or an "asshole." Probably this is colored a bit by envy at all the money he makes and women he gets to fuck. A more appropriate attitude, I think, would be some mixture of tolerance and compassion, or else indifference.

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  14. thanks for the devastating common sense take down of my gaudy thought fandango, sheldon. hey, i like charlie sheen. i think he's smart. i think he's uncommonly smart. i also am getting sick of people hating on every expression of non-normative brain states. we need madmen. we need them terribly -- especially now. not gadaffi-style madmen, sheen-style madmen. madmen without power over us but who we are free to encounter in the forum. they reinvigorate our pansy-assed everyday way of talking and being. bless them for this. so often they do it while in horrible pain.

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  15. Excellent piece - and maybe we need more like them, and of Victor & other's add-on comments which are so well-written & insightful, maybe we need them to understand what's become of us, of our ever-demanding cultish public society. How we devour what we create ...

    And maybe Charlie Sheen is my secret post-modern hero.

    I will divulge a little: that I knew his father, Martin, who, though younger than me, had devoutly stolen my young reporter's beautiful blonde girlfriend (but, decently, only for one night) in Norfolk, Va. (Omni Hotel) while he was lead in some futuristic film involving a US Navy carrier. Charlie would have been a toddler & Dad, a great guy back then, only recently forsworn of a certain substance after a heart scare during Apocalypse, & though not yet wholly sanctified, but, yes, Jesus, apparently a crucible.

    Whcih is to say, between us: Charlie is his father's son. If he can only keep himself from frying, he'll one day be a very interesting old man.

    Thanks again. I would have paid good money (eh, 5.99 mag price, at least) for your piece & these great comments.

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  16. I find him incredibly refreshing in a world filled with people too scared to say ANYTHING. I find it interesting no one on that lame show cared about his "condition" or drug problem until he said something about Lorre... then all bets off... show canceled, no more Charlie...Lorre himself does not treat his staff or actors well and if you look at his history, he has been dismissed from many shows, Cybil, Butler, and so on. Now, due to Men, he has another show on the air that does well, so he is holding the power, and all the money. All of his derogatory statements were made quietly..it doesn't mean it hurt any less, I have also known people that worked on his shows..he is also a madman, but a private one.. and is also called Chuck, but not really.. So they lock Sheen out, and he will talk and repeat himself until another story breaks... no one knows what goes on in his head, no one here can diagnose him and it kind of makes me sick all these rehab people "expert" salivating over Charlie... saying he is this and that or whatever... honestly, I'd be mad too.. He put up with that crap for 8 years? People should leave him alone... or give him his own talk show, he's hilarious.

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  17. PS.. total class act that Clooney, GF is gorgeous, as is Montanta...I got hooked on your writing with your first book/short stories.. I think started with Hard Bargain...I also love Downey Jr... and knew him in his hazy phase (though quite different) on a camping trip where we all took our kids (school) we all slept in crap tents and he pulled up in a silver bullet decked out...music blaring, and pot blowing out of every whole... he's awesome.

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  18. Charlie Sheen as a math equation: the heights of his excess are equal and opposite to the depths of his despair.

    It's like watching Sisyphus, except if Sisyphus were less self aware. Charlie doesn't seem to realize that feeling high doesn't mean your holding that boulder up. And each time he realizes his great big rock is back at the bottom, he recommits to pushing it back up, using the same method as before, except this time he's going to do it harder and faster and longer.

    I don't know what's harder to watch: Charlie or the pure joy people derive from watching him self-combust. At least for the latter, it's because they are just grateful that it's not them, but for the grace of God -- whether they're aware of that fact or not.

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  19. Clearly Charlie Sheen is attempting to invoke Bacchus (or possibly Pan) through the time-tested magical system of 'method acting'. All of us who have been involved with this current know how foolish that is, to invoke Bacchus in such a long-term way. He may be eaten by his 'goddesses' (or by actual Vatican assassins, depending on whether or not the pope has lost his teeth).

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  20. Charlie Sheen is high on Charlie Sheen, but there really is no Charlie Sheen, and that's the problem. There's Charlie Sheen playing "Charlie Sheen" on the talk shows. There's ""Charlie Sheen"" playing his character on his [former?] sitcom. So we kind of have Charlie Sheen qua "Charlie Sheen" qua ""Charlie Sheen"". But no Charlie Sheen qua Carlos Irwin Estevez. The man's narrative is so fractured that it seems for him there is no perceivably real him. Those of us who have slowed down to gaze at the wreckage may have more of an idea who """Charlie Sheen""" is than Carlos Irwin Estevez does because his identity has been sucked into magnetic particles on beta tape, into solid state memory for our spectative pleasure. He's like that woman in William Gibson's Pattern Recognition who senses her soul trailing her physical self when she travels and it, her soul only catches up later, except Carlos/Charlie has no idea that the bungie cord attaching his soul to himself snapped.

    He knows there's a problem and it comes out in the near-psychotic pressured speech of self-loathing disguised as arrogance. He should try doing a Chapelle and disappearing, finding a new bungie cord.

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  21. Another use for Charlie Sheen: I've noticed that recently he's become very nearly a phrase. At its simplest, someone will begin a conversation or written statement with an opening that can be reduced to,"Let's not talk about Charlie Sheen". This has many uses. The writer may be trying to draw our attention to some pressing matter, usually something to do with politics but don't be surprised if a science blogger tries introducing the latest findings in particle physics or cosmology with this one. In conversation, it's more intimate. It draws the speaker and the listener away from the crowded room and into a more private space; a place without Charlie Sheen. If you are active in the arena of casual sex (or you just get hit on a lot) watch out for this gambit as a pick-up line. A male evoking the unspeakable Mr. Sheen is also presenting his listener with the possibility that he is either a "nice guy" unlike Charlie or that he is the real deal, the dangerous "bad boy" as opposed to some coked out media clown whom we should pass over in silence.

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  22. Charlie Sheen's cheese has completely slipped off his cracker. It is sad because he had a really funny sitcom. If you like funny stuff, check out the funny videos at Off Color Fun.

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  23. Eight years in those mines? Good Traci Lords! No wonder. Charlie Sheen's meglomania is but the cure that will kill him. He's been suffering as traumatic a work-related alienation as the prostitutes he abuses. But, you see, man, he figured it out, man. Despite its Taylorist humor, the show orbits Sheen's dark star. Marx, Warner Bros. executive, expected capitalism would render industrial processes transparent, unlocked from the minds of artisans. The thin margins on which such shows teeter, however, give its celebutards, like quants in the derivatives market, monopoly power. That is, he's got Chuck Lorre by the balls. No Charlie, no show. After so long hating himself enough to work there, he's throwing his body on the gears, only too late to salve the mortal wounds he incurred to make the break. Call me crazy, Charlie's strike is an unwitting and discomforting blow for labor. His death [Charlie, would you give a sad look here?] will dramatize Wisconsin gone south.

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  24. He is a cautionary tale against the plans for the fifth edition of the DSM - as they're looking at doing away with the Narcissistic Personality Disorder. Due to, essentially, "everyone having it." Well, hold on there - looks like Sheen is winning in that respect.

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  25. "you get this distinct weird feeling that Charlie Sheen is the only person in the whole universe incapable of actually enjoying, actually getting off on in a deep way that really sticks to the neurons afterward, the myriad pleasures of Homo Malibu that were formerly open to Charlie Sheen."

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anhedonia#Causes

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  26. This is great stuff, Walter. Made my day.

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  27. I know next to nothing about Charlie Sheen but I am learning a lot about Walter Kirn -- the heir of the sorely-missed George W.S. Trow of "In the Context of No Context.' It may well be that Charlie Sheen is insufficient as object to this astonishing verbal ingenuity which is at the same time a torrent of self-replicating or fractal insight, but never mind that -- I'm in awe.

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  29. Three uses for Charlie Sheen in the English Lit. classroom (high school–age):

    1. Character parallel. Sula seems crazy? Gatsby's a wack-job? (Man, wait'll they get Heathcliff in AP Lit. next year . . . ) Strange or grotesque as those fictional characters may be, they have their crazy-ass correlative in the real world. Character comes first; motivation is fathoms-deep and oft-unplumbable.

    2. Relief. High school is rough going for everyone (except those people who, years later, will think of it as the best time they ever had; those people are a mystery to me). What Sheen (or any Sheen-type human) provides is, by contrast, the feeling of relative individual and contextual stability, no matter one's family circumstances or internal roilings.

    3. Or, contrariwise: Recognition. "Yes, I also think wildly, but cannot give it voice. Isn't every moment a performance? Don't you find me convincing? If not, I will step closer, project more boldly, and compel you to keep watching.

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  30. Jerry Weissman wrote a blog this morning on Charlie Sheen that references your take.
    http://www.powerltd.com/_blog/Blogs/post/Charlie_Sheen_and_Nike/

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  31. Charlie Sheen provides a way for the news to appear to be news while still not being news. By which I mean: when "real" news breaks (the Bush/Gore election delay, Sept. 11, Hurricane Katrina, the Egyptian uprising), it cuts against the pre-existing structures of spin designed to contain it (press conferences, politicians' public declarations, the ordinary news cycle, etc.). Sheen's situation is *just* edgy enough (he's almost certainly bipolar -- lucid but right on the edge of being non-broadcastable, self-destructive but not actually dead, like Michael Jackson) to make news coverage of him feel as edgy as that covering a fast-unfolding natural or political disaster, while still in fact being simple tabloid fodder.

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  32. Cinemasailor, I think you deserve a little trophy for that one.

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  33. Charlie Sheen could be a man out of his time. I noted elsewhere that in some distant past, with his grandiose pronouncements and odd metaphors, he would have been hailed as a prophet or an oracle.

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  34. And there is the matter of the attention economy – every utterance from Sheen aspires to be a banknote that expresses his value as an object of the audiences’ attention. To accomplish this that he has, of course, to convince the media that he is an object of interest. His popularity through Two and a Half man and former escapades ensure that. But staying interesting is a matter of competition with other celebrities who offer their “authenticity” as being of greater value. What we see with Sheen (calculated, psychological disordered or both) are his attempts to break through the “clutter” and claim ownership of the public’s attention. Its working but it is storing up contradictions:
    (a) He claims to appreciate his fans and yet is contemptuous of ordinary people – Middle America.
    (b) He claims to be a professional in control of his craft and yet makes much romantic hay out of consuming alcohol, drugs etc.
    (c) He claims to be authentic yet on Sheen makes use of a very contrived set of “actorly” gestures and expressions (duh etc) that point back to the artifice of the media and to the fact he is performing.
    (d) He claims to be a family man and a systematic sexual adventurer – the goddesses.
    (e) He claims to be unemployed and yet is obviously very wealthy.
    (f) He is prone to emphasize he is only doing it for the money alongside claims for doing it for “art”.
    These contradictions are the fuel of the celebrity system but at a certain point Sheen’s performances will become stilted and have a “been there, done that quality” and worst of all, fan’s will feel they have wasted their time and turn to another celebrity.

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  35. I really liked your article. Keep up the good work.I love bondage sex

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