All week long I’ve been wondering if it would be completely inappropriate of me to blog about apparently over-the-edge actor Charlie Sheen, but now I think I’ve found an angle that justifies some comment. I demurred several times on publishing this, but ultimately I kept coming back to my draft and re-reading it, so here it is.
I’ve found Sheen’s recent, furious spate of bad boy antics and megalomaniacal television interviews to be fascinating, and it’s not just a fascination borne from schadenfreude, either. Yes, the man is a car wreck that it’s hard to turn away from, but what an interesting car wreck. I have no doubt that there’s something psychologically wrong with him, and a lot of his behavior is plainly abhorrent and inexcusable. But I also happen to believe there’s an element of genius at work here, too, even if it’s inadvertent.
From Zero to Anti-hero
A few weeks ago, Sheen was making plenty of tabloid headlines as another unhinged actor, but really he was little more than a mildly amusing punchline to some minor jokes, a lower-tier celebrity whose former career in high-grade movies had collapsed into a hellish tour of duty on one of the most artistically inauspicious shows on television. No one was really interested in him, but now, all of a sudden, people are transfixed by his apparent unpredictability, spellbound by his self-destructiveness. It’s actually horrible and not a little pathetic, but through this mess he’s somehow managed to transcend his former status as a has-been, freed himself from the ignominy of being just one of the stars of “Two and a Half Men.”
I’m pretty sure this was Sheen’s aim all along, whether he was aware of it or not. I suspect that he was desperate to free himself from that show, imagining that he was a much bigger, better calibre of star than would appear on a sitcom like that. In truth, he’s not much of a talent, but here’s where his shenanigans offer a lesson to, well, all of us, really: a little bit of self-delusion can go a long way. By hook and by crook, he has transformed himself into a marketable commodity, someone that can hold the attention of a huge audience of people, someone who will probably go on to do things that weren’t possible had he just resigned himself to his role as a sitcom actor. He basically willed himself into a new strata through bad behavior, yes, but also through sheer belief in his own worth.
Sheen is not a role model by any means, and no one should emulate him, but I can’t help but note how he’s created something new out of his own cluelessness, and almost in spite of himself. Many of us, when we find ourselves mired in dissatisfying situations, stuck in unfulfilling jobs, can do little more than remain handcuffed by circumstances, by an inability to break free, and by a fear that the current state of affairs is really the best we can do. It’s during those times when being able to set aside reality, operating instead on an inflated notion of ourselves can come in handy, can serve us well where pure, self-doubting rationality would be little help. Letting this high self-regard result in insults and harm to others — as Charlie Sheen has — is not excusable at all, of course. Nevertheless it’s worth noting that the power of self-delusion can take you places.