Midlife crises are typically not a funny, informative, or wildly public thing, but today, we have an example that is all three. Our subject of interest has, in the past few months, broken Twitter records, vacationed with his wife and two porn-star girlfriends on a tropical island, appeared on most major television networks, lost one of the biggest salaries in TV history, and cut off his crack habit cold turkey. Celebrity buzzes are often limited to tabloid magazines and specifically gossip-oriented news formats, but Charlie Sheen has been interviewed by ABC on both “Good Morning America” and “20/20,” and even made a surprise appearance last week on CBS’s “Jimmy Kimmel Live” to toss self-endorsing T-shirts and make out with the host. I usually don’t get into this sort of tabloid poppycock but there are a few reasons why I’ve gotten sucked in this time, and you should too.
- Charlie wants you to! Maybe he has had a celebrity-tainted life, his father and brother both being big stars right alongside him, but he’s no dummy. He has enough fame and money, there has to be some other motivation for him to be this public about his shortcomings and his perceived areas of “winning.”
- This is something new for media. Charlie Sheen is ultimate reality TV. He is a tabloid that writes and publishes itself and simultaneously prophesies the apocalypse.
In terms of characters, literary or otherwise, Mr. Sheen is right up there with some of the most interesting and most off-putting. His oft-mentioned supreme mental powers and hedonistic tendencies could easily lead to whispers of “anti-Christ” while his candid and honest (if uncomfortable) responses to heavy accusations may put him toward the opposite end under some circumstances. Easy parallels can be made with the powerful and insane Kurtz from Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness” as well as his movie counterpart, Colonel Kurtz of “Apocalypse Now.” In each of these characters there is a powerful mastery of language that is perfectly tailored to their situation, framing the Kurtzes as Gods in their ignorant savage-infested jungles and Charlie as a sort of superhero lording over all who encounter his capacity for hard-drug-consumption and insult-hurling.
A recent Newsweek article by Bret Easton Ellis touts Sheen as part of a relatively new movement in anti-establishment that he calls post-empire. The post-empire crowd is more edgy and candid, not refining their argument to any serious degree but putting the argument out there none the less. Sheen’s style includes insulting nearly everyone who isn’t him specifically focusing on the “suits” that supposed that they had power over him saying to Chuck Lorre, his former CBS boss, “if sad and stupid had a foul odor attached, it would be you.”
Sheen has recently announced a speaking tour (Is it standup comedy? Shameless self-promotion? A money-grabbing hoax? No one really knows.) starting at the beginning of next month. In order to get hyped for the inevitable YouTubing of essential solo rants from this upcoming tour here are some clips to whet your whistle. The highlights for the 20/20 interview with Andrea Canning are a great place to start, showing both his vulnerability and haphazard but self-assured moral code. Up next on the roster should surely be Charlie Sheen’s Winning Recipes where he quotes his own outrageous recent interviews in a farce of a cooking show. After rounding out the viewing with his surprise appearance on Jimmy Kimmel Live you will probably have a strange sort of sickly feeling in your stomach as I did and won’t really know what exactly to think. It’s a powerful feeling brought on by a brand new kind of charisma, one possibly brought on by the presence of “Adonis DNA” and “tiger blood” in his veins. Even if he is certifiably insane he is showing us a new way to do celebrity: extremely quick wits and huge star power grant the ability to shrug off any accusations or falsehoods one might have brought upon oneself and maybe that power should necessarily be pushed to its limits as Charlie is doing. He may not do anything worthwhile with his powers (there is still room to hope) but he is surely opening pathways for future post-empire proponents for better or for worse.