?Charlie Sheen: Madness Manifest

by | Mar 4, 2011

Dear Dr. Hurd, We are interested in getting your insights into the latest craze of seeing who can be the trashiest star.  Just when we thought that Brittany Spears had gotten enough negative attention and things would settle, Charlie Sheen took the lead with his obnoxious behavior.  Not to be outdone, enter the apparently iron-deficient […]

Dear Dr. Hurd, We are interested in getting your insights into the latest craze of seeing who can be the trashiest star.  Just when we thought that Brittany Spears had gotten enough negative attention and things would settle, Charlie Sheen took the lead with his obnoxious behavior.  Not to be outdone, enter the apparently iron-deficient Christina and her boyfriend, who have come up from behind to make their moves with public intoxication and DUI.  Great role models for the young people today.  What are your thoughts? Why do celebrities behave this way? Thanks from two of your avid readers.

Dr. Hurd replies: The answer is simple. People do ridiculous things because other people are watching. If people stopped watching or caring, they’d probably stop doing them. It doesn’t mean they’d automatically become rational and reasonable; but they’d stop doing what they’re doing.

People like Charlie Sheen and Brittany Spears (and Lindsay Lohan — don’t forget her) are professional performers. They’re much more likely to be psychological exhibitionists than nonperformers. Although being irrational does not go with the territory of being a professional performer, a certain level of exhibitionism probably does. Exhibitionism refers to the need to display or play out issues that would normally be personal in a public domain. When done rationally, performance by a talented actor can be one of the greatest human talents to behold. In an unhealthy performer, such as Charlie Sheen, the individual loses touch with the difference between theatre and reality. A rational performer gets into the mindset required to be the person he’s portraying in film, on stage or on television; but he can also make the switch back to reality because the mental connection was never broken. For whatever personal reasons, some performers lose sight of this distinction and all hell breaks loose.

Many will claim that Charlie Sheen’s main problem is substance abuse. The politically correct (and phony) thing to say is, “He needs rehab. Oh, I wish him well. I hope he gets past his difficulties.” Ridiculous. He’s an idiot and he’s making a fool of himself. Everybody knows it but few will say it.

Obviously Sheen has a substance problem, but most people (actors or not) with that problem don’t act the way he does. Charlie Sheen probably abuses substances in order to “self-medicate.” To “self-medicate” means to block out things you don’t want to feel or think about via means of substances. Just because you curtail or stop a substance doesn’t automatically make you rational. It creates the conditions for becoming rational and healthy, but if you don’t think rationally — or want to do so — then ceasing the substance abuse (primarily due to pressure from colleagues or family, as in Sheen’s case) isn’t going to help a bit. In fact, the behaviors can get massively worse as the numbing effects of the substances wear off.

Sheen is obviously some kind of nihilistic playboy who for whatever reasons now feels free to be his true self, to rant and rage as he never has done before, but has probably always wanted to do. He’s no longer encumbered by the need to distinguish between theater and actor, between fantasy and reality. He’s “free,” according to the ideals and “standards” set by early twenty-first century civilization. What we’re witnessing is the death of his dignity, his own public suicide. Most people are private about such matters, but Sheen is a psychological exhibitionist of epic proportions. This is why we’re treated to this display of humiliating personal tragedy in such a public way.

For those of you who have seen Sheen’s character Charlie Harper on the hit television series, “Two and a Half Men,” you can easily see that he has become that character in real life — only much more so. One can only speculate that he always was that nihilistic character in real life. He doesn’t have to hide behind a camera any longer, and now all pretense is dropped. More than that, Sheen knows people are watching — and he clearly loves the attention.

Nothing happens in a vacuum and Charlie Sheen’s behavior happens in a particular time and place. We live in a time when our larger society has quite literally gone mad. The government prints funny money like there’s no tomorrow, pretends that it’s “economics” to do so and distributes freebies like nothing matters except being liked by the masses. People create false prophets at the drop of a hat, faux heroes like Barack Obama who are catapulted from being two-bit “community organizers” into the man who would save the world, greater than Jefferson, Washington, and the mythical Jesus Christ combined .. and then dropped like so much fast food garbage the next day.

Fawning and preening, self-important fools like Oprah are cultural heroes, who in turn elevate people like Sheen into helpless creatures to be inexplicably admired rather than seen for the sadly wasted specimens of human talent that they in fact are. Nobody can find a movie worth watching, and there increasingly seems to be nothing or nobody worthy of admiration in this culture. The common or average man becomes the new hero since all notions of greatness have been smashed. In such a context, Charlie Sheen is merely cashing in on the attention by masses of people who would otherwise have better things to focus on in a more important era than our own. Like other madmen, Sheen sometimes almost speaks the truth — not because of any rational convictions he himself holds, but only in contrast to the inconceivably hypocritical insanity that surrounds him and the rest of us. Think of Sheen as the cultural court jester in a culture where values, by definition, have been obliterated.

If you ask me, what’s interesting and noteworthy about all these celebrity implosions are not the trite mental health issues of these poor souls who managed to get ahead in the acting field but accomplish little else as human beings. What’s interesting is a society filled with people who have the time and inclination to watch such messes with any interest at all. Life is much more important than Charlie Sheen or what he embodies. It may be too late for Sheen, but not for the rest of us, to find the beauty and importance in life and to embrace it.

Dr. Michael Hurd is a psychotherapist, columnist and author of "Bad Therapy, Good Therapy (And How to Tell the Difference)" and "Grow Up America!" Visit his website at: www.DrHurd.com.

The views expressed above represent those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the editors and publishers of Capitalism Magazine. Capitalism Magazine sometimes publishes articles we disagree with because we think the article provides information, or a contrasting point of view, that may be of value to our readers.

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