I spent entirely too much time last night thinking about Charlie Sheen. War is raging all over the world, political dissent brought down the Internet in Egypt, and I was thinking about Charlie Sheen. That speaks, obviously, to my own entertainment-oriented consciousness, but it also, to me, is indicative of how our culture is so celeb-centric. And there’s a glee in it. At the same time that the Hollywood machine pays this man over a million dollars per episode for Two and a Half Men, you have consumers sitting on the edge of their seats, waiting for him to snort it his paycheck and go out in a blaze of hooker-fied glory. I mean, I was lying in bed last night thinking, “My God, Charlie Sheen might actually die this time.”
But how screwed up is it that I was thinking that at all, considering I’ve never met the man and what he does has no impact on my life? It’s not like I routinely sit around wondering if the Joe Blow coke addict down the street, who beats his wife, is going to overdose one of these days. Yet, there’s clearly a part of my consciousness that thinks because Sheen is Somebody, it’s worth having on my mind.
Obviously this is vastly different from the Sheen issue, but it reminds me of how, after the shooting in Arizona, the bulk of the attention turned not to the tragedy but to dogpiling on Sarah Palin. When the news media as a whole — both liberal and right wing — weren’t focusing on Palin and her supposed culpability, they were focusing on the face of the tragedy, Rep. Gabby Giffords, and telling us every little thing about her condition. She improved, she blinked, she spoke, she walked. What about everybody else who got shot? What about the federal judge who died, John Roll? What were they? Amorphous, anonymous collateral damage? I felt terrible for Giffords and her family, but I also felt for those whose loss wasn’t acknowledged at all because it wasn’t exciting enough for the 24-hour news cycle.
We iconify people, whether that’s in a positive or negative way, and gravitate towards their particular experience.
If some regular dude had a party with hookers and a briefcase full of cocaine, would the news media be covering it? No. Would people be morbidly holding a Death Watch? No. The guy would be in rehab or jail, and that would be the end of it.
By tweeting about it, by blogging about it, am I part of the problem? Absolutely. But there’s a reason my day job largely involves tracking the sins of fictional people. I’ve been asked frequently why I don’t cover “real” news, going for the political beat since I clearly have a rabble-rousing streak. And for me the answer is simple: Reality sucks.
War is Hell, death is wrenching and politicians and lobbyists have agendas that make the most passionate soap fan base look tame. I don’t want to deal with any of that if I don’t have to. In the soap world, drug binges amount to GH’s Jax and Ned pulling Emily off a roof or GL’s Olivia dosing herself to Tosca and then getting revived by Josh. Serial rapists are curbed by the love of a good woman and baby stealers walk free, but, generally, the bad guys do pay for their crimes. And if you die in your husband’s arms, a Moroccan prince will steal your body away and nurse you back to life. It’s not about watching some girl from the Jersey shore get so drunk that she can’t walk. It’s not about Michele Bachmann’s inability to crack a history book. And it’s not about Charlie Sheen’s briefcase of cocaine. It’s soap. It washes off.
Cleaning away the stain of harsh reality is a much harder proposition.