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Enabling Charlie Sheen

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Can someone explain to me why Charlie Sheen is on tour, instead of on medication? Come to think of it, why is he collecting speaker fees and possibly getting reality getting reality TV offers? Why is he going on an 20-city tour instead of going back to rehab?

OK. In one sense, I know the answer.

He’s a big boy; a grown man who can do what he wants, so long as he isn’t hurting anyone or breaking any laws. (In his act, that is. He’s reportedly gotten into both off-stage and off-camera.) But why oh why are we enabling him? (And yes, perhaps I am enabling him somewhat, by writing this post and thus helping perpetuate the whole swirling mess.)

Yes, I said “we.”There are different kinds of enablers, after all.

Charlie Sheen, given his celebrity status, has long been surrounded by garden variety Hollywood enablers.

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While bad behavior by star performers is tolerated in a number of industries — sports and high fashion, for example — Hollywood has a longer public history of aiding and abetting addicts. Doctors employed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer famously gave Judy Garland amphetamines and other drugs to combat fatigue and control her weight, setting up a life-long battle with drug addiction that she ultimately lost.

“One of the problems with the entertainment industry is that, to protect the image of these people, they try to deal with the problem by sweeping it under the rug,” said John T. Schwarzlose, chief executive of the Betty Ford Center, the licensed addiction hospital in Rancho Mirage, Calif.

In the case of a crack-smoking, prostitute-frequenting Mr. Sheen, many people in Hollywood say there is a long list of enablers: managers and agents and publicists; a coterie of assistants and party buddies; prostitutes, drug dealers and sex film stars; and the tabloid media, which have fed on Mr. Sheen’s antics for years.

Their efforts may have sustained Mr. Sheen during his long career, but they seem to have finally backfired. As the lead actor of a No. 1-rated sitcom, Mr. Sheen is that rare commodity in today’s Hollywood — a bankable and irreplaceable star — and his public crackup has come at perhaps the most valuable point in his career.

Valuable to whom, becomes the real question.

For the first type of enabler, there’s some value in keeping the career of the celebrity in question going. There’s a slight variation in type there. Some enablers are dependent on the celebrity for their livelihood. Other enablers aren’t necessarily dependent upon the celebrity. In fact, the opposite may be true. But this breed of enabler usually has a money-maker they want to keep going for as long as possible. So long as the celeb delivers on stage, in front of the camera, or in the studio, this enabler will give them whatever they want as long as they keep going, and earning.

It’s one of the biggest dangers of being a celebrity, if you ask me. You can become so famous that you end up surrounded by people who won’t say “No” to you for a variety of reasons, even when it’s clear somebody should. You can almost always find someone willing to get you what you want, even when it’s something you shouldn’t have. If you ask me, that’s what happened to both Michael Jackson and Whitney Houston.

Yet. Hollywood hangers on are not entirely to blame. Nor is the media; not the traditional media, and not the “new media.” None of them made this mess. That credit goes to Sheen, as the choices that got this crazy train rolling were all his. The tabloids didn’t do it. Nor did Facebook and Twitter.

The public’s appetite for Mr Sheen’s agonies exposes the underside of our new media. Facebook and Twitter helped the cause of freedom in the Middle East, but are often put to less elevated uses in the already liberated land of their birth. While it’s possible Mr Sheen’s ramblings are performance art or a ploy to get more money from his producers, I think it’s fair to say that the reason so many people are watching is because they can’t take their eyes off a 45-year-old man who is either going crazy or dying, or both.

The economics of this sort of spectacle also suggest we are very likely to get more of it in the future. Developing a talent like Mr Sheen is an expensive proposition with high upfront costs such as paying writers, other cast members and crew. By contrast, Mr Sheen’s destruction is a cheap thrill, which can be documented and described ad nauseam by internet scavengers who need only coffee, laptops and comfy pyjamas to do their work.

The biggest enablers are, well, us.

Of course the people in the seats — fans, rubberneckers, critics — were guilty of a complementary hypocrisy. We profess dismay at Mr. Sheen’s long history of drug abuse and violence against women, but we have also enabled and indulged this behavior, and lately encouraged his delusional belief that he could beat the toxic fame machine at its own game. The price of a ticket to one of his shows represents a wager that it is impossible to lose. The audience that walked out of the Fox could feel righteously ripped off and thus morally superior to the man they had paid to see, who seemed to feel the same about them. Win-win!

So now the question is: Will the shows go on? Will career suicide become Mr. Sheen’s new career? Or is he finished? I know I am.

I don’t know that there’s an answer to this. As with violence in entertainment, it becomes a “chicken vs. egg” question. Does the media feed or generate interest in celebrities meltdowns and dysfunction? Which comes first? Supply or demand? Chances are, developments in technology and changes in media have something to do with it. After all, before the birth of the 24-hour news cycle, would a Sheen-esque meltdown have gotten nearly this much attention? Probably not. If it rated a mention on broadcast news, it would probably get three minutes at the bottom of a newscast and that’s it.

I’ve watched Sheen’s spectacular implosion with mixed degrees of curiosity and horror. The one question that keeps screaming in my head is, “Can no one put a stop to this? Can no one say, ‘Enough’? Can no one at long last finally say, ‘No, Charlie’?”

He may still be a draw in terms of ratings and ticket sales. but there should be a point at which we look at someone in this kind of trouble and see a human being who needs help in spite of himself. I look at Sheen and think, “Good grief, he’s somebody’s dad!  He has kids!” Kids who are probably not entirely unaware of what’s happening with their dad. I can’t imagine having to explain all of this to a child, let alone try to shield them from it.

Instead of seeing dollar signs, some of Sheen’s enablers should see a father who’s on the fast track to giving his kids a grave site to visit, instead of his healthy presence in their lives, and say “No, Charlie. Go get some help, get yourself well, and give your kids their father back. Do that, and we’ll gladly air your first interview out of rehab, and show the world a healthy and clean Charlie Sheen.”

Who on earth would sign this guy to a 20 city tour? Most likely someone who’s hoping to cash in on the first few shows, because I don’t imagine anyone in their right mind believing Sheen would hold it together for a 20-city tour. A tour like would be rough on a celebrity in excellent physical and mental health. Neither is true for Sheen.

But then who on earth would buy tickets to Sheen’s tour? Nothing we’ve seen in his interviews and internet rants suggest that he’s capable at the moment of putting together a set of coherent and entertaining material. It’s like buying tickets to a train wreck, and booing when it doesn’t turn into high quality entertainment. If that’s what you want, wait until the inevitable, overdose, suicide or psychotic break finally ends Sheen’s tailspin. Then you can at least Tivo the biopic.

Certainly, we have use for celebrities.

Serious question here: Why do people care about celebrities? Lacking whatever gene inclines people to tune to Inside Edition, or pick up US Weekly, or care what’s up with Brad and Angelina, I have never understood. But while I am not much interested in celebrities, I am extremely interested in why other people are so interested in them. Here are some of the better theories.

The most obvious explanation is that humans enjoy living vicariously through those of our species who are richer, more famous, attractive, and sexually desirable than the rest of us. Whether couched in terms of envy, admiration, or derision, celebrity fascination begins as an exercise in imaging what it would be like to lead a more carefree and pleasurable life. Charlie Sheen’s spree plays into the fantasy many of us harbor about taking leave of bourgeois convention. Flying off to the Bahamas on a private jet with beautiful porn stars, filling your briefcase with bricks of cocaine, telling the boss to go screw himself—this is behavior that bridges the gap between “how deplorable” and “if only I could.”

The flip side of the fantasy of irresponsible fabulosity is schadenfreude—the pleasure we take in the misfortune of others. Gossip journalism has in recent years come to revolve more and more around the celebrity crackup. Sheen’s implosion comes on top of those of Britney Spears, Mel Gibson, Tiger Woods, and many more who have massively embarrassed themselves in the media spotlight. Seeing the rich and famous screw up makes us feel superior, or at least not quite so inferior. Your life might suck, but it’s probably better than Lindsay Lohan’s or Brett Favre’s at the moment. And thanks to the advent of reality TV, a lot of celebrities aren’t even better-looking than you, either.

What’s happening to or with Charlie Sheen isn’t entertainment. Or at least it shouldn’t be exploited for quick bucks or easy laughs. It can’t possibly end well, if it keeps going on the way it is. Dr.Drew nailed the most likely options.

So, it seems that Dr. Drew believes what many of Sheen’s fans also believed – that he’s suffering from bipolar disorder and possible manic phases. Dr. Drew also feels that if Charlie isn’t medicated soon that the outcome could be catastrophic. According to Drew, there are only three options available to Sheen should he not get much needed help: death, institutionalization or jail.

This is basically what many of the world’s bystanders have concluded as well while watching his lengthy downward spiral.

The problem is, the only person who can really stop it is Sheen himself. And it’s apparent in his response to Drew that he doesn’t think he has a problem.

Don’t count on Charlie taking anything that Drew has to say to heart, though. The last time that Dr. Drew had offered medical advice to him he lashed out in anger.

“I think me and [Dr. Drew] Pinsky should jump in the ring, and I can show him how unstable these fists really are,” Sheen told K-EARTH 101.

And why should he think he has a problem. One could argue, he’s bigger, hotter, and more famous than ever. More people are talking about him now than have in years. It seems he’s in the media every other day. He’s on a 20-city tour, and even getting some new offers — though as more of a curiosity than an actor.

Of course, as with many in Sheen’s condition, there’s no way he could sustain all of this on his own in his present state. But those who enable him also create for him the illusion that he can. Thus he thinks he’s “Winning!”, much in the same way an active addict thinks everything would be just fine if people would leave him alone and let him do things he way.

At that point, intervention is usually the only think likely to break through, but it only works if enablers stop enabling , follow through with consequences: stop propping up the addict, stop giving him a place to stay, stop giving him money, stop giving him work, etc. — until he agrees to get help and follows through on it.

Unfortunately, Sheen isn’t likely to get the intervention he needs, because it would require all of us turning our backs, turning off the cameras and making it clear that all of this — the lights, cameras and action — is gone until he goes somewhere and gets well.

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