I know, enough with the Charlie Sheen stories already. The entertainment media pushed the newsworthy issues of the day off the front pages last week with their wall-to-wall coverage of a shallow actor with the morals of a gerbil who is apparently a total nut job. So why bring him up again? But before we move on from this train wreck, perhaps there are some things to learn from it.
First, Sheen is, or at least was until recently, extremely popular with a dedicated following, whether we like him or not. He is (or at least was) the star of the #1 rated show on television, which given its raunchy content says a lot of unfortunate things about the state of popular culture in America. Sheen’s character, which from the revelations he’s provided is a classic case of art imitating life, is simply the first among legions of boorish characters on the tube and in the movies these days.
Second, Sheen’s glorification of his ultra-hedonistic lifestyle, distasteful as it may be to the middle America to which he’s figuratively extending his middle finger, is again nothing more than taking the all-too-familiar celebrity lifestyle to its illogical extreme. Sadly, the commonality of this self-absorbed, destructive behavior doesn’t necessarily end at the city limits of Hollywood. And this is the crux of the argument as to why Sheen and his crummy little show are more important than we may care to admit.
If there is indeed some malevolent conspiracy afoot to destroy America as it’s currently constituted, then the conspirators couldn’t have picked a better way to do it than with their coarsening of the culture and its corrosive impact on the family. After all of the first-hand evidence I’ve seen to the contrary, I’m beyond tired of hearing that programs like Sheen’s “Two and a Half Men” and those like it don’t have any impact on the impressionable minds of children and adolescents—for that matter, adults too. It’s also not that easy to just turn the channel and hope for something better, because pop culture has seeped into most everything—even coverage of history and food. The broad-based evidence of Bart Simpson syndrome on children growing up in the last 20 years is simply too compelling to ignore. Everywhere, from media to politics to schools, the reason the tone is not civil has more to do with the dumbing down of manners and general respect for others than the polarization of positions on the issues.
And before anyone accuses me of moralizing on something of which I know nothing, I will admit that I’ve actually watched Sheen’s “crummy little show” on occasion as a guest in someone’s home. After all, I was not as a guest going to tell my host what to watch. Further, I’ll admit that as I watched and let my mind slip into another, not-so-lofty gear, I got an occasional chuckle out of it. But that just supports my point—any of us can be affected by these mind polluters if we let down our guard long enough. If we claim otherwise, we’re only kidding ourselves. And if we’re not careful, we can start letting a smart-guy attitude permeate us without even realizing it. Multiply that thousands of times and voila, you have the lack of civil behavior so often on display these days.
In the end, Sheen’s in-our-faces meltdown could provide a catalyst for us (that is, those of us who still care) to fight the filth that passes for entertainment these days in television and the movies. It’s not about being prudish—it’s all about having programs that inspire us, that talk to our better angels instead of pandering to our demons. Of course, it would be nice if those who are glorifying Sheen (one million Twitter followers and counting) wake up to where this mega-narcissistic pied piper is leading them and join us in this effort. But I’m not holding my breath.