Why Men Love Charlie Sheen
This is Charlie Sheen’s world. We’re just living in it.
Go check your Facebook or Twitter feed. Everyone is linking to stories about him, quoting his diatribes, and either celebrating or condemning him. It’s most likely split by gender: ladies deriding Sheen as a “pig” and “asshole,” guys praising him (correctly) as the most hilarious person on earth. He’s instantly become a hero to millions of educated, courteous young males who would never emulate his antics — nor watch Two and a Half Men, for that matter — yet admire him with irony and sincerity.
Sheen’s appeal isn’t exclusively the wild hedonism; no one particularly envies the barhopping mental invalids of Jersey Shore. Nor is it the crazy hyperbolic quotes; Charles Manson had plenty of those, and only sociopaths want to live vicariously through him. (To be fair, both Charlies express identical mannerisms during TV interviews.)
His appeal is that, while most guys — especially post-college — must reign in their ids and demure to society’s expectations to advance rung by rung up the soul-crushing ladder of corporate mediocrity, Sheen has reached the ultimate apex of manhood eternal: doing whatever he wants and speaking the complete truth, consequences be damned. (Even if the complete truth, as he perceives it, is “I got tiger blood,” “I have a 10,000-year-old brain,” and “I’m an F-18, bro.”)
Yes, he’s a self-styled decadent rock star on par with Keith Richards, and it’s always fun to giggle at an addict. But something deeper is going on; he’s clearly an intelligent man with vivid self-awareness and greater discipline than most of us can muster. Sheen isn’t cool because he did a bunch of drugs over twenty years; he’s cool because he did a bunch of drugs over twenty years, stopped cold turkey to make money — to prove a point — and then refused to apologize, to define himself as a slave, to honor the typical recovery narrative. He blasted Alcoholics Anonymous as a “cult” for convincing its adherents of their own powerlessness; he proclaimed that his decades-long bender was “radical” and “magic.” In a world that wants men to apologize for simply existing, Charlie Sheen is a man with zero regrets.
Is it unfair that Sheen is perceived as a badass (kind of) role model — a Henry Miller, a Charles Bukowski — while Lindsay Lohan, like Courtney Love and Zelda Fitzgerald before her, is perceived as a pathetic, mentally ill train wreck? Is this a sexist double standard? Perhaps, but Sheen controls his appetites, not the other way around. He shows up to work, despite insulting his boss as a “contaminated little maggot” and demanding a fifty-percent raise to his ludicrously exorbitant salary. He is master of his domain, indulging in anarchic chaos yet exercising Olympian self-control if he so desires. He doesn’t take shit from anyone and laughs his way to the bank. This is why we love him the way we love famous outlaws from Billy the Kid to the Catch Me if You Can impostor. Neither of whom got away with it, actually, but still.
Whereas Robert Downey. Jr. resuscitated and redefined his career by cleaning up to portray Iron Man, Charlie Sheen became the real-life Tony Stark. Whereas Johnny Depp depicted Jack Sparrow for the Walt Disney Company, Charlie Sheen is a real-life swashbuckler for the hell of it. Like Downey and Depp, Sheen is a great actor, or at least used to be; Wall Street and Platoon were great films, and perhaps he would’ve earned an Academy Award if he had played by the rules, had honed his craft to perfection instead of living his life to extremes. Now his talent is squandered on a middle-of-the-road sitcom for middle America. And yet, he has become something greater than a potential Oscar winner, something greater than a lucrative sitcom star, something greater than himself.
Charlie Sheen is no longer a mere thespian, nor a mere playboy; he has become a modern icon of unfiltered, untrammeled masculinity, an embodiment of Nietzsche’s Übermensch who no longer needs the Hollywood hype machine; he has achieved orbit. His publicist refuses to work with him anymore, yet Sheen is booked on every major media outlet in the country. He is the prime topic of American conversation, not for his crimes, not for his work, but simply for being Charlie Sheen. Not like the fame matters to him beyond the godlike amusement of generating spectacle, because he is the essential self-contained man.
He no longer needs the Hollywood hype machine; he’s taking his message, whatever it is, directly to the people. Within a couple hours of joining Twitter on Tuesday, Sheen had over 200,000 followers eagerly awaiting his first tweet with baited breath. It was the online controversy of the day. (All that anticipation and speculation for… for… a photo of him with chocolate milk?!) Call him a maniac, call him a mess, but also call him a consummate showman. You couldn’t pay for entertainment this good, because we’re part of the act. Charlie Sheen wouldn’t be “winning” without us watching.
This doesn’t make Charlie Sheen a good person in the Christian sense — he’s obviously a deranged, self-destructive narcissist — but Christ, he makes deranged narcissistic self-destruction look fun. Yes, yes, he needs major psychological help and is probably going to kill himself sooner rather than later. And his alleged violent streak toward women is genuinely troubling, not admirable whatsoever. But every honest man on earth would nevertheless trade places with him in a (chemically accelerated) heartbeat. And he knows it. “Sure, I did a lot of things in excess,” Sheen told Playboy in 2001. “But … who the f*ck wouldn’t? What red-blooded young American male in my position wouldn’t?”
This is not because we all want to overdose on narcotics, terrorize hookers in an obliterated hotel room, and sleep with ten women per night. (Okay, we all want that last one.) It’s because we want to bend reality to any form we desire, like Genghis Khan or Alexander the Great or Thomas Jefferson, which Charlie Sheen has manged to do through sheer nihilism. “I was still, in my mind, above the law, a functional, socially acceptable maniac,” Sheen said a decade ago. “F*ck you and your AA. Give me some Valium.”
In our daily lives, we feel incredible pressure to deny our selfish drives, to moderate our controversial opinions, and to base our choices upon the feelings and reactions of others. These good manners allow society to persist, allow us to coexist with one another, yet force individuals to disappear within themselves, to disappear within each other, to be forgotten by the Sands of Time. The man who can discard these civilized hindrances, however, and unleash his pure id — despite the risks to life, limb, and dignity — becomes a legend. And that’s how you conquer death, which is the manliest accomplishment of all.
Take it from Charlie Sheen: “Dying is for fools. Dying is for amateurs.”