Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Mr. Charlie Sheen Of Hollywood


The orgy of self-congratulation known as The Oscars has ended for another year. It will be nearly 12 months until the giants of Hollywood gather again and reward themselves for being the cream of society. They will bask in the acclaim of American citizens, who will applaud their achievements and celebrate their narcissism.

Some of these professionals, most of whose jobs revolve around simulating fiction and fantasy, nonetheless have taken note of the world around them. Wally Pfister, winner of a cinematography Oscar, noted "what is going on in Wisconsin is kind of madness right now," thanked unions for having "given me health care in a country that otherwise does not provide health care," and labeled them "a very important part of the middle class of America." And winning screenwriter Charles Ferguson asserted “Forgive me, I must start by pointing out that three years after our horrific financial crisis caused by financial fraud, not a single financial executive has gone to jail, and that’s wrong.”

But while Ferguson has a keen view of the big picture and Pfister exhibits a sense of humility uncharacteristic of Hollywood, there is one Charlie Sheen. It was all on display in the first portion (transcript here) of Sheen's interview on the Today show. Condescension ("look at me, duh); naivete ("drug tests don't lie"); conceit ("I closed my eyes and made it so with the power of my mind"); generalization ("the fiction of AA. It's a--it's a silly book written by a broken down fool"); nastiness ("and just the gibberish of fools"); lack of self-awareness ("I think my passion is misinterpreted as anger sometimes"); brazen dishonesty ("with a sense of violent love"); claim of victimization ("at this point because of psychological distress"); fondness for social darwinism ("people that aren't special, people that don't have tiger blood and, you know, Adonis DNA"; Fools. Trolls. Weak. Defeated. They allowed defeat to be an option. I will not); and borderline anti-Semitism ("a certain Chaim Levine--yeah, that's Chuck's real name").

And through it all, a stunning and extraordinary self-absorption, as exemplified by this exchange:

Mr. SHEEN: Well, the war is that they're trying to destroy my family. And so I take great umbrage with that, and defeat is not an option. They picked a fight with a warlock.

ROSSEN: How are they trying to destroy your family?

Mr. SHEEN: They're trying to take all my money and leave me with no means to support my family. It's not rocket science, you know.

There are always disease, famine, death, and destruction abroad, so it's probably not fair to refer to a major earthquake in New Zealand or the latest humanitarian crisis in Tunisia or elsewhere in Africa. But there are over six million individuals- officially- unemployed in the U.S.A. and approximately 44 million persons living in poverty. And Charlie Sheen says "they're trying to destroy my family" by taking "all my money" and leaving "me with no means to support my family." He's asking- demanding- a raise from $1.9 million an episode to $3 million an episode.

Actors/actresses make a lot of money for production companies, writers, fellow actors and others, while professional athletes make a lot of money for team owners. Athletes who turned professional did so because they have extraordinary, nearly unique, ability. If you grew up a typical male- or now, a typical female- in this country, you failed to become a professional athlete not due to a lack of interest but because, like me, you were not nearly good enough. Tens of millions want to be a great success in baseball, football, basketball, soccer, tennis, or another sport, but only a miniscule percentage get even close.

Other celebrities, such as actors, are of a different sort, especially those fortunate enough to be called upon to portray themselves. Sheen, to his credit, does it very well. Aside from the allegations of abuse of women, the character traits- drinking, gambling, womanizing- of Charlie Sheen are those of the fictional Charlie Harper of Two and a Half Men. Playing oneself is not rocket science- or stockbroker turned journalist turned senator, Barbara Boxer, once of Murphy Brown and of Curb Your Enthusiasm, is a rocket scientist.

Still, Charlie Sheen, citing "psychological distress," taunts his enemies "to be begging me for their job back." He may be worth $2 million, maybe $3 million or more per episode because he makes the wealthy wealthier. But like many of his more modest, honest, and decent colleagues, he is completely unaware that what he does for a living is easier and less important than what most Americans do. Even for less than $1.9 million a week.



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