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Saturday, April 19, 2014

Do You Know What It Means to Miss Charlie Sheen?

The all-Charlie-Sheen-all-the-time feeding frenzy has reached such heights that it’s resulted in a medical condition. ESPN’s Tony Kornheiser last week opened his local DC radio show by saying he had been “diagnosed” with a condition the doctors are calling Charlie Sheen withdrawal. Kornheiser, as is his daily routine, had watched NBC’s The Today Show that morning and the program had gone 30 minutes with nary a mention of Sheen. Kornheiser broke into a cold sweat. No doubt, many will be grateful when Sheen’s story goes away. Not those in the media, however. For better or worse, his story has been fertile material for television and radio news and talk shows for weeks, not to mention being a holiday for bloggers and media of all stripes. One of the more creative forays into Sheen-ology is Spike TV’s special later this week, where well-known anime artists from Taiwan, NMA, will riff on the actor’s most, er, winning-est moments. Appropriately, two 'goddesses' will host the show, which premieres Wed, Mar 9, at 10:30pm. [see a clip here]. Thankfully not all the media pundits and bloggers have dealt with the salacious aspects of the Sheen phenomenon. Some, like the excellent family-issues writer Lisa Belkin of The NY Times and The NY Times Magazine , have used the Sheen story to take a serious look at issues involving young children being exposed to unstable parents. As you can imagine, it's a sad situation. And Dr. Drew Pinsky, who believes Sheen is in need of help, and who’s been attacked by Sheen for saying so, hosted a VH1 News special about Sheen last night (March 7). Others, like James Hibberd of Entertainment Weekly, didn't excuse the actor, yet marveled at Sheen’s honesty. I agree that it’s been refreshing in that Sheen’s had the guts to express what many of us think Hollywood stars say about their lives when the microphones and cameras aren’t present, ie that we of spectacular mediocrity long to have the looks, money, lovers and fame that Sheen enjoys. Of course, you have to wonder if that was Sheen talking or the result of whatever substances he had on board at the time of his many interviews. [Hibberd's blog post has received more than 200 comments at last count. Go ahead, read it and them. I'll wait.] Like hordes of others who pumped the ratings to nearly record levels, I caught much of Piers Morgan’s Sheen interview two Monday nights ago on CNN. There’s much that could be said about it. I will limit myself—it was terrific television, absolutely riveting. Sheen looked and sounded awful. And he seemed so unpredictable and out of control that you didn’t know what was going to come out of his mouth. What was he going to say or do next? The report stating he was drug-free that he produced from his coat pocket, the challenge to his CBS bosses to call into the live show and explain their side of the story—you just had to keep watching to see if they would. The expression 'working without a net' is rarely associated with big-time talk show guests, who routinely get the questions in advance. It’s the only one that works here. Of course, I had to ask why I and many others were so fascinated with this interview? You can explain away the Piers Morgan ratings by chalking them up to curiosity. We wanted to see this new British fellow, Morgan, right? Sure. Admit it, people love to watch a train wreck. Remember, way, way back in the day, people loved to watch gladiators do battle to the death. Watch Starz’ excellent Spartacus: Gods of the Arena and you’ll see this lust for blood. In Roman times people also crowded into arena to watch lions devour helpless prisoners. And be-headings were a draw in Europe. Closer to our time and in our country, crowds flocked to hangings. You’d like to think we’ve evolved. Yet cock fights and dog fights continue to this day in some corners. And there are those who argue boxing is murder thinly veiled. Closer to the center of mass culture, we watch football and ice hockey for the speed and athleticism of the participants. Still, we wait for the big, killer hits in those sports and speak of sudden death, right? I'll repeat an earlier blog and cite Fame, a 2009 book by Tom Payne, looks at what the Romans and Greeks can tell us about our obsession with celebrity. His thesis, greatly simplified, is that seeing celebs savaged in the press satiates our need for such blood sport. In Rome, there was animal sacrifice and the gladiators. Today we get by with contact sports, where sudden death is a bonus. This is supplemented by doses of Charlie Sheen and Lindsay Lohan self destructing, brought to us in living color by press and paparazzi. A much simpler explanation: We feel more comfortable with ourselves when we see big people brought down. See, we have evolved.

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