Wednesday, February 9, 2011

One Man's Poison

By Lisa R. Cohen

I've been on hiatus from this website for the last several months, making a documentary set in a maximum-security prison. That means months of filming on location on lockdown, then months in the isolation of the edit room, which can often feel even more like lockdown. I've been out of the loop for so many cultural events, and I've only just emerged to find myself shamefacedly fascinated by the Charlie Sheen phenomenon.

Of course, part of its appeal lies in what I like to call the rubbernecking by the side of the highway accident syndrome. Part of it is an antidote to the grim subject matter I've been immersed in–the prison has a unique hospice program that enables inmates to redeem themselves by caring for fellow inmates in their final days. It's actually been an awe-inspiring year, but it is dark. And part of it is the conflagration of intriguing moral issues raised by Sheen and his antics.

A brief recap, for anyone who's been hiding in a cave or an edit room, Charlie Sheen has enjoyed years of bad-boy behavior and playing a vanilla version of same bad boy in his hit TV show Two and a Half Men. His bad-boy behavior includes assaulting one of his ex-wives, trashing hotel rooms, frantic 911 calls, alcohol and drug-induced rages and near-death experiences. He ended last year with a bang, apparently locking a naked porn star in the closet, then totaling his room at the tony Plaza Hotel, finishing off with a hospital stay for a psych evaluation.

He started the New Year with an even bigger bang. Celebrity websites were filled with recent accounts, including a convincing first-person account by a fellow partier, on camera, of a weekend binge of porn stars and eight balls of coke, another 911 call, another hospital, and another round of rehab. The cover story, stomach trouble after laughing too hard at an old TV movie, was laughable enough to send us all to our local ERs.

As the tabloids continue to wring the story for its juicy details (how can you resist when the porn stars are as eager to bear witness as they are to bare themselves; see Kacey Jordan, right), the rehab stint is now a house call. The celebrity's father, Martin Sheen, wants to do a Britney and protectivly wrestle away Sheen's assets. Sheen himself has cried foul. He thinks the media has more important things to do such as covering the Egyptian uprising or the war in Afghanistan, for example. Leave Charlie to self-destruct on his own.

He has a point.

Whose business is it if Charlie Sheen wants to commit slow suicide, faster and faster nowadays? How can you force a 45-year-old man to do what he doesn't want to do? Are the CBS suits the bad guys here, for enabling Sheen's habits? Well, maybe, but if he does his job, as supposedly he has, and wants to self-destruct on his own time, do they have other options? Any loved one of an addict will tell you that tired lightbulb joke–how many does it take? Just one, but he really has to want to change.

Here's the thing, though. Most of the people I met in prison were spending years, some their whole lives, because they did a fraction of the drugs Charlie Sheen appears to have done in the span of one weekend. That's not to excuse the criminals serving time for it. But somewhere along the way, the phalanx of look-the-other-way friends and business associates are crossing the legal line to protect Sheen, and, in the process, they're hastening his death.

At the very least, they're teaching exactly the wrong lesson to the rest of us, including that vulnerable and highly prized demographic Two and a Half Men attracts. If you're Charlie Sheen, the lesson goes, you can break the law over and over, and just get to stay home by the pool with a Dr. Drew type and some hookers. The rest of us? Orange jumpsuits.


Cathy Scott said...

Welcome back, Lisa! Great post. Looking forward to your documentary.

Kathryn Casey said...

Ditto Cathy's welcome back! Glad to have you here, Lisa!

Cozy in Texas said...

This is a great post. Apparently there is a whole different legal system for "stars" Not only Charlie but also Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan who seem to get a slap on the wrist where others might be locked away for more than a few days. We're not doing them any favors. Maybe Charlie needs to be locked in the closet himself for a while before he takes someone with him during his next car into the ravine stunt.

DrGina said...

Love your post Lisa. I too look forward to your documentary. Addicts rarely recognize the harm they inflict on those who love them. Charlies self-destructive behavior will put a lot of people out of work. Well, I guess he's keeping a lot of porn stars employed.