Sunday, December 2, 2012

What I Learned From Charlie Sheen

In recent days, Angus T. Jones, the youngest actor on the show "Two and a Half Men", has garnered much attention for his negative comments surrounding the sitcom. Among other things, the actor, known as Jake Harper on the show, said the comedy was "filth" and begged viewers not to watch. Oddly enough,  he has not said whether or not he will continue to act on the show or receive the $350,000 dollars an episode that he purportedly makes. In any case, what fascinated me most about this form of celebrity sedition is just how out of the ordinary it is. How many actors, much less child actors, personally protest the raunchiness of a show that they themselves have acted in for years. Not many. One could perhaps bring up Kirk Cameron, but "Growing Pains" wasn't exactly "The New Normal", or "That 70's Show". For his part, Charlie Sheen, who was formerly on the show, but who, for highly publicized reasons left, compared the boy's comments to that of a religious fanatic. He claimed that Jones' remarks reminded him of the Heaven's Gate cult leader (the group who famously committed mass suicide so that they could reach the "alien ship" that was hidden inside the comet Hale Bopp).

I am not sure that comparing Mr. Jones moralistic statement to a bunch of Kool-Aid drinking crazies is fair, but then again who am I to question the wisdom and insight of a man who describes himself as a "warlock with tiger blood"? Yet whether you think Mr. Jones is an ingrate, a religious fanatic, or right on the money, he does highlight something that seems relatively undeniable concerning television sitcoms over the past thirty years. I myself was raised on the show "Three's Company" (which is Leave it to Beaver by today's standards), and I loved the characters mainly because they were attractive as well as funny. Still, there was another reason I liked it as a young man, and I am pretty sure it has something to do with the trios living arrangement. Due in large part to the fact that the show depicted two women living with one man... platonically, there was inevitably wall to wall sexual tension, and I ate it up. Let me first state that I have nothing against good sexual tension woven into a plot, especially when it is based on what goes unsaid. What I object to as an adult ('cause I sure didn't when I was a kid) is the kind of sexual tension where nothing is left unsaid. "It can't be hilarious unless there is some form of sexual innuendo" is the motto of today's comedy. What is frightening is just how progressively foul this has all become. Since the days of "Three's Company", they have practically made an industry out of this kind of libidinous adolescent male behavior. In the 80's we had "Married with Children", which at least made the immoral behavior of the characters unglamorous (Al Bundy and his daughter weren't exactly anything you wanted to imitate). However, by the time the 90's rolled around, you began to see the unabashed celebration of people who had no scruples at all.

Take the show Friends for instance. Can anyone, even today, get that infernal theme song out of their  mind? It seemed as innocent and awful as watching a bunch of Teletubbies roaming about the countryside. Initially the show was relatively well written and tame, but as it went on (as is wont to happen), the writers depended far less on character development, and much more on preserving that oh so popular adolescent spirit. Thus, never being allowed to grow up, what else are the characters going to do in their free time but sleep around. The show quickly morphed from the aptly titled "Friends" to something more accurately described as "Friends With Benefits" (which they were never honest enough to call it). Saturday Night Live rather adroitly pointed this out in one of their commercial spoofs; "On a very special episode of Friends, finally Joey and Chandler get together. Why? Because there's no one left."

Yet the larger point is not that these shows have immoral themes, or even that they make platonic friendship seem implausible, but that they pretend that if you sleep with a bunch of people you will inevitably be as happy and bouncy as a little school girl. In other words, having recreational sex with everyone and everything is as natural and healthy as breathing and/or eating organic lettuce. The only real enemy is sexual restraint. If one should dare suggest that there is ever a bad time for consensual sex, then you might as well be the father from Footloose. I mean really, what can a little sex do to you? Isn't it empirically obvious that only happiness proceeds from a little meaningless self-gratifying sex. Never has sex been heard to inspire depression, suicide, divorce, abortion, disease, murder, unfaithfulness, recklessness, and narcissism. And anyone who brings this up might as well be a troglodyte incapable of having a good time. Now shut up and listen to this mind-numbing classic that is sure to free you from the terrible responsibility of thinking any real thoughts:    

All the same, the purpose of this post is not to rant about immorality in television (though it is easy to do), but rather to point out just how rarely we are permitted to see behind the artifice of this counterfeit and deceitful happiness. Look beyond the award shows and photo-ops, and you will rarely see anywhere near the same level of contentment in the lives of these actors. In fact, it is far more likely for an actor's life to resemble a tragedy rather than a comedy (unless, like Lisa Kudrow, one's choices in life dramatically diverge from those they embody on TV). The actor may even have enough money to- in some sense- cover their subsequent trail of misery. But the numbers in this case do not lie. Simply behold the carnage of all the comedic actors who have enjoyed their success to the point of despair and/or death. This is not to say that such despair is inevitable, but I do think that it is somewhat undeniable that if an actor plays a gigolo on TV- and then mimics that in real life- the chances of him/her living happily ever after is about as likely as someone coming out of the Mickey Mouse Club a well-adjusted member of society.

Just this week the girl who played the attractive Laurie on "That 70's Show" was arrested... again. I bring this up not to bring further shame to this poor girl, but to demonstrate the alarming disparity between the shiny happy persona presented to the audience and the cold reality that- fame, glamour, and sexual appeal- can only bring happiness to the extent that there is some real virtue and substance behind them. I know nothing of this woman's life- there may be some other explanation for her situation, but I do not think it is terribly far-fetched to say that she would not be the first actor to come out of Hollywood to discover that the tinsel of Tinseltown was a chimera and a counterfeit. Happiness in Hollywood is the exception not the rule.          

Which leads me back to Charlie Sheen. So rarely do we get to see the true face which looms behind the utopian mask of T.V. and movies. In most cases, the actors somehow keep it together enough not to lose their bearings too much. But in the spring of 2011, Mr. Sheen broke that unwritten rule; a rule which states that one is not to engage in such craziness that one utterly discredits the pernicious lies perpetrated by their characters on T.V. Nevertheless, in his case, the monster did in fact break free from its cage, and when it did it came out declaring that it was "winning". It is also stated that it was a "Vatican assassin warlock". Despite the fact that I kind of liked that Mr. Sheen made the witches in Salem, Massachusetts angry (they really were), I have to say that his "wins" seem to me, and perhaps the rest of humanity, more like "losses." The toothless bandit that you see above is the awful reality that lives behind the character known as Charlie Harper (the one he played on the show). They are the same person. Charlie Harper is the alluring mask, while the Sheen you have seen in the last year or so is the reality. But whereas the show would never present that side of things (for obvious reasons), reality and the law of physics have kindly done the honor for us. To put it plainly, the "Two and a Half Men" Charlie is the cause, and the "Vatican Warlock Assassin" Charlie is the effect. Only on T.V. shows and in eulogies does ill behavior receive such generous treatment. I do not relish the demise of any human being, including Mr. Sheen, nor do I feel that I am superior to any of these tragic figures. What I do appreciate, however, is the opportunity to catch the devil at one of his most successful games (you might know it as the old bait and switch). Like some mythical Sasquatch or Lake Monster, it is difficult to prove to people that the glamour of the world is fraudulent, but occasionally you can snap a photo of this elusive beast (albeit one that is blurred). And as the old Polaroid slowly comes into focus- one finally begins to observe the glaring evidence that those likeable characters who so often cajoled us into believing that we could use our bodies anyhow, have themselves fallen victim to their own propaganda.