After his sitcom Two and a Half Men shut down production, Charlie Sheen's public breakdown -- or whatever it is that's going in -- has been widely documented on a number of televised and radio interviews. And by "widely documented," I mean Charlie Sheen is everywhere. Everywhere. Just try to escape the Sheen this week. Go ahead, try.
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In addition to a glut of media coverage, Sheen's outlandish statements have also become a Internet meme. Websites like Live the Sheen Dream have sprung up to generate quotes; parodies (fake New Yorker cartoons, Tweets, Sheen poetry) are flying; YouTube videos are being forwarded and Sheen's own newly created official Twitter account is in on the act. His follower count ballooned by at least half a million in a matter of hours, and he is using the very hashtags (#tigerblood, #winning) that were started as a parody of him.
A lot of rubbernecking is going on, and there is also a great deal of criticism about our own addiction to celebrity schadenfreude and the cynical attention we are giving what might be a manic episode, drug-related fugue, dangerous decline or ridiculously sick attempt at a celebrity prank.
It all prompts a lot of questions. Given all of the possibilities and his history of drug abuse and violence, is it wrong that we are directing our attention and humor at Charlie Sheen? What does it say, if anything, about our culture that so many are obsessed with his drama? Is social media focused on celebrity culture encouraging an environment of casual condemnation and inhumane response?
It certainly seems to be acceptable to laugh -- even the official Red Cross Twitter account joked about Sheen's #tigerblood. Is this the new normal?
New York Magazine published an interesting piece exploring our collective confusion about the ethics, repulsion and compelling draw of Sheen's crisis:
But what's really entertaining us? Did you see him last night on 20/20? When he said, "I'm different. I have a different brain, different heart. I have tiger blood, man. Dying's for fools. I'm proud of what I created [by partying so hard]. That was radical," you could laugh about his hubris or his tiger blood, but it's such a profoundly idiotic thing to say: Dying isn't for fools, it's for everyone! And, that's the real dark side of this whole spectacle: Dying is also for Charlie Sheen. Face it, this is a guy who could die. Just look at him!
You're taking this way too seriously. He's not going to die. I totally have him in my celebrity death pool just in case, though.
Part of what is happening with the Internet memes and Twitter trending at Sheen's expense might be some good old-fashioned gallows and black humor. Freud said that gallows humor was a human response to the need to protect ourselves from and process the head-on horror of traumatic topics. Breton said that black humor was a way of experiencing both discomfort and pleasure at the same time, which is both a way of embracing and making sense of the absurd and a way of approaching and metabolizing taboo topics.
That can be healthy.It can also be a way of distancing ourselves from behavior that we deem unacceptable. It makes us feel better about ourselves -- because we surely are better than Charlie Sheen, right? We also love it when the rich, famous and mighty fall, and we are compelled to watch clowns self-immolate. But when does schadenfreude become sadistic? When does it cross the line? When do we become inhumane in our rubbernecking, or in our humor?
Some feel as though Sheen has it coming, that he turned himself into a joke a long time ago. Or maybe it's that we know we have been a joke in condoning his behaviour in the past and we are trying to purge ourselves from whatever allowed us to ignore his repeated violence against women while paying him millions of dollars to entertain us on television.
I don't know. I know I have laughed at some of the videos and jokes, and I've made several jokes myself. I've also have cringed plenty, and I have been sickened by his crimes and have hoped that he would straighten out. I'm actually not happy that I have a lot of complex thoughts about Charlie Sheen, but at the same time I know in my heart that pop culture is one of the ways that society examines itself, and I know that this is a good thing overall. Some of the time.
Most of all, though, I'm stuck with a troubling feeling that this won't end well at all. What do you think? Is is wrong to laugh at Charlie's explosion?
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