When Charlie Sheen speaks, people listen. In this case, that’s not really a good thing. In one day, it was as if a year-supply of Sheen interviews had been unleashed on an unsuspecting public, and it was nearly impossible to avoid them. No matter what morning show you watched, who you followed on Twitter, who you were friends with on Facebook, or what Late Night talk show you preferred, you were about to be overwhelmed with Charlie Sheen.
It’s hard to listen to Charlie Sheen talk and keep a straight face. In fact, the only person with a straight face is Sheen himself, when he claims that he has magic and poetry in his fingertips, that he’s riding on a mercury surfboard, that he’s on a drug called Charlie Sheen that will cause your face to melt off and your children to weep over your exploded body. While he seems to be deadly serious in his defense of his previously destructive lifestyle, we find an incredible amount of humor in this spectacle.
Culture sees these sorts of things as an inevitable episode in a cycle of pop-star flame-outs. They happen because, our culture assumes, these celebrities have become too proud and refuse to consider their own fallenness. In other words, we assume that Charlie Sheen is going crazy and facing the wrath of a judging and ridiculing public because he deserves it. Meanwhile, with his current disposition, Charlie Sheen isn’t helping matters.
The whole thing reminds me of the flawed and brutally unpleasant mockumentary, I’m Still Here, in which Joaquin Phoenix played the part of an almost identically insane celebrity, obsessed with himself and his momentary impulses. Both Sheen and Faux Phoenix are fundamentally hedonistic, focused solely on their own pleasure, though Phoenix takes the roundabout path of artistic purity to accomplish a similar goal of personal fulfillment. The big difference between these two stories, though, is that while I’m Still Here [spoiler?] ends with Phoenix realizing the error of his ways and going home to recover, Sheen has come to the end of his bender with a renewed focus and concluded that it was all worth it.
“Man, it was epic. The run I was on made Sinatra, Flynn, Jagger, Richards all of ’em just look like droopy-eyed armless children,” says Sheen. He is convinced of the superiority of his lifestyle, even as his relationships seem to crumble around him. “Sorry my life is so much more bitchin’ than yours. I planned it that way,” he says, insisting that each and every person who has any disagreements with his lifestyle is simply living a second-rate life at best and is criticizing purely from a place of jealousy. Meanwhile, we just laugh.
But what I’m Still Here makes painfully clear is that when these flame-outs happen, we laugh a little bit too hard and shamelessly. We make Sheen the new default punchline for every other joke. The media aren’t the only ones who thrive off of this; in classic schoolyard bully fashion, we feel like moral giants in the face of Sheen’s stunted ethical growth. So we point and laugh, push him down, fire him, and dare anyone to rush to his aid.
Don’t get me wrong. Sheen brought this on himself, and I’ve posted my share of Sheen-mocking tweets. But I don’t think dwelling on this sort of thing is going to do anyone any favors. Sheen stays on the defensive and eventually does what he can to save face, and we continue to feel validated and righteous on our own right. But really, what is it that gives us a higher opinion of ourselves than Sheen? Because the only thing that keeps me from attempting what Sheen has is grace. It’s grace that kept me materially humble, unable to afford the drugs and the prostitutes. It’s grace that kept me well aware of my own personal weaknesses. It’s grace that kept me sane and alive for this long. I’m going to count on grace the rest of my life and well into eternity. And while I’m thinking about it, I’ll pray that Sheen experiences the same grace.
Until he does, he’s on the right track. He might as well live it up while he can.