Friday, March 11, 2011

Charlie Sheen, the Media and You

The whole Charlie Sheen Dealio has gotten me quite up in arms, though not the way you might expect. I wrote a piece and submitted it to an online journal I like. They probably won't publish it, so I thought I'd share it with you fine people. It's a Christian website, but don't let that fool you, it's cool n stuff. So yeah, it's written from a Christian perspective, but I don't lay it on too thick, so I think the unbeliever among us might still be able to appreciate it:

One would think you're dishing about the news of the day if they overheard you talking about the Sheen Situation, but seen properly, the circus surrounding Charlie Sheen is only but synecdoche for the day to day operations of our entertainment-media complex. Our entertainment media, which bleeds into our new media, specializes in making money off of sick people. Sheen is only the latest clear example of one of our favorite media projects: exploiting the weak. Lindsay Lohan, Paris Hilton, Mel Gibson, Tiger Woods. These names serve as cultural shortcuts to a sense of relief—they are celebrities (i.e. gods), and I'm doing better than them? Yes, I’ll pay a fair price for that smug sense of satisfaction. From the great shores of New Jersey, to the fruited plains that contain the real housewives of Orange County, we are delivered a steady diet of people making messes of their lives, and our tacit marching orders are to laugh, deride and jeer.

The endeavor of naming things is a sacred act that brings clarity to the haze. What is the thing that draws our undivided attention to the fallen celebrity? Are the incoherent ramblings of a substance abuser, as within the case of Sheen, funny? Indulge the question for a moment. What kind of person laughs at their own drug-addicted child? What parent would rush to put a microphone in front of their face, eager to make money from the lunatic ravings? We have universally agreed upon names for parents like that: disgusting, sicko, monster. Now, what's the difference between laughing at a neighbor's child instead of your own? What really is the difference? Are we tempted to ask, as Jesus was asked, who is our neighbor?

How can you possibly talk about the media implications of Charlie-gate without coming off as self-righteous? The last thing I want these words to be viewed as is criticism of our media. Don't confuse that with what they actually are—mere description. I can't criticize our media because to do so would miss the point. The media is giving us what we want. "No, they have shaped our tastes; we have been manipulated at their lead," some might say. To deal with this argument quickly and simply: Nothing the media has ever produced thrived without popular consent. How could it? Anything that doesn't catch on, and therefore generate revenue (to varying degrees, to be sure) is consigned to the trash heap of history. The media is feeding open mouths. Mine included. It’s only a simple gift of grace that I happen to be disgusted by the handling of Charlie Sheen. Most of the time I get in line with the rest of America to laugh at the failure of the week.

Another common response is that it isn't our fault that Sheen is going out and looking for attention. It was his choice. Ah, yes. But have we forgotten that eternally maternal reaction to our petty instincts? Two wrongs don't make a right.

If this were simple chastisement then it would be, frankly, boring; only so much more white noise that I would advise you just as soon tune out. But my hope is that these words ring out as an admission of guilt, and a cry for help. Lord, we are guilty, and none of us is exempt. Lord, deliver us from this body of death that is entertained by the death of others. Lord, make ugly to our eyes the celebration of our neighbor’s fallen and hurting children.


dear_prudence said...

Now I realize that I've been hiding behind the newspaper, remote and laptop while laughing at other peoples tragedies. You point out the truth that celebs in crisis are no different than us and those we know directly, they just have more money to waste and more people to laugh at them. I feel like crap now. Thanks for that. I'd rather feel bad for doing something wrong than feel bad while trying to feel better by comparing myself to a loser. Because that makes me a loser too. Does that make sense. And good luck publishing something this honest.

JD said...

Yeah, it made a lot of sense. And I still haven't seen another post, what gives?!