I succeeded in not seeing Two and a Half Men for a very long time. I try not to judge things I haven’t experienced, but this was one of those rare instances where pre-judging seemed not only okay, but wise.
Some time last summer, I found myself in a Strauss waiting room as I got a new set of front tires. (Nothing’s too good for my 12-year-old Hyundai.) The TV in the waiting room was showing Two and a Half Men, and there was no way to turn it off or mute it. So I wound up consuming an entire episode. It was everything I thought it was and less.
It’s not so much that Two and a Half Men was unfunny, though it certainly was that. The show seemed to come from some place damaged and cynical. It wasn’t a comedy so much as a joke delivery system, as brutal and automated as a slaughterhouse. It was not created to be enjoyed, but accepted. The creators all but came out and said, Here’s some more slop, you pigs.
No wonder that Charlie Sheen lasted on the show for so long, even when committing heinous acts that get most people serious jail time. He was perfectly suited for a show that is a sitcom shell wrapped around professional contempt for the masses.
Charlie Sheen is mentally ill, seriously so. I have no doubt of that. He’s not ill to the point that he shouldn’t be held accountable for his actions, but he is ill enough that he’s incapable of getting help completely on his own. This should not be made light of, especially when such illness manifests itself in domestic violence.
And yet, somehow Charlie Sheen’s insane rants made him not a figure to be scorned or pitied, but cheered. His mantra of WINNING–clearly the last furtive sparks from his remaining, dying synapses–has already been beaten into the ground as an internet meme. He’s even been hailed as some sort of badass antihero by the Maxim/Axe Body Spray contingent because he does tons of blow and has lots of consequence-free sex with a porn stars, a notion crazier than Sheen himself.
Sheen is a vile human being. I have zero respect for someone who would kidnap a woman or threaten his spouse with a knife. But I think at least on some level, he can’t help it. Whether it’s chemical imbalance, dangerous levels of self delusion, the product of a Hollywood upbringing, or years of cocaine abuse, his brain does not function properly.
But most people’s brains do function properly. So why are we cheering on this monster? Why are we elevating his evasion of responsibility and judgment into a rallying cry for douchebags everywhere? (WINNING!) Even if you’re doing it ironically, you’re enabling him and giving him exactly what he wants: the validation needed to be a sociopath. It’s like handing matches and gasoline to a pyromaniac.
Is it because celebrity shenanigans are supposed to be funny? It seems like we put every famous person’s transgression on the same plane, and our reactions to them are always the same, that leering, Jay Leno-esque tone of Didja see what Madonna did yesterday? As if their sole purpose in life is to do something dumb so that we can mock them from down below. But when we do this, we equate, say, a Kardashian sex tape or a Lady Gaga meat dress with what Charlie Sheen has done in his life–particularly what he’s done to women. I find that sort of thinking morally bankrupt.
Mel Gibson–another man who is probably not right in the head–has no career, for all intents and purposes, because of hideously racist statements he made. And that’s perfectly fine by me. But whereas Gibson simply said horrible things, Sheen actually abused women. In the final analysis, which of these is worse? And yet, which one of these men is more likely to work again? The one who threatened the mother of his children with a knife but came up with the “hilarious” catchphrase WINNING.*
*UPDATE: As @metsgrrl pointed out, Mel Gibson actually did abuse his significant other. But the fact that we’ve all but forgotten that illustrates how easy it is to get away with violence against women.
Unless you are just as sick as Charlie Sheen, you have no excuse for celebrating him, and maybe you do deserve slop like Two and a Half Men.