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Charlie Sheen, or the Empire of Illusion

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“Fame is a fickle mistress. It’s very deceiving. It looks really bitchin’ from the outside, and then you get it and it’s very confusing professionally, socially, emotionally. It’s confusing because you’re so worried about how you’re perceived. A lot of my exploits were guilt-driven, shame-driven. And all this because one day I was a working actor, just trying to pursue something I enjoyed and trying to make a living, and the next day I was a commodity” – Charlie Sheen

In Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle, by Chris Hedges, who wrote for 15 years for The New York Times and won a Pulitzer, we are told: “Television speaks in a language of familiar, comforting clichés and exciting images. Its format, from reality shows to sit-coms, is predictable.”


Charlie Sheen was the best-paid actor in 2010, doing a popular TV sitcom in America, Two and a Half Men. (Antagonizing his neurotic divorced brother, played by Jon Cryer, Sheen plays Charlie Harper, a milder version of his womanizing and narcissist real-life personality). Because of his erratic behaviour and differences with producer Chuck Lorre (who at the end of Two and a Half Men and The Big Bang Theory episodes inserted vanity cards) Sheen was fired by CBS and Warner Bros, specifically after Sheen’s verbal attacks directed at Lorre in a radio interview hosted by Alex Jones on March 7, 2011. On March 20, 2006, Sheen had stated that he questioned the U.S. Government’s account of the September 11 attacks.

Sheen has subsequently embarked a nationwide tour called “My Violent Torpedo of Truth/Defeat is Not An Option,” which is receiving mixed reviews: a disastrous debut in Detroit followed by warmer welcomes in Chicago and Cleveland.

Sheen seems to personify disturbing physchological traits shared on a lesser scale by his fellow American people, who, according to a 2006 study cited in The Guardian, are six times more narcissistic than they were 50 years ago: “Solid World Health Organisation data shows that an American is 14 times more likely than a mainland western European to suffer from the kind of personality disorder that seems to be afflicting Charlie Sheen. There are many reasons, but the media and consequent celebrity culture are significant. As long as you are rich or famous, it does not matter how desperate and miserable you are.”

Bret Easton Ellis, author of the controversial novel American Psycho, wrote an article praising Sheen’s appeal in The Daily Beast, saying: “To Empire gatekeepers, Charlie Sheen seems dangerous and in need of help because he’s destroying (and confirming) illusions about the nature of celebrity. He’s always been a role model for a certain kind of male fantasy. The midlife crisis is the moment in a man’s life when he realizes he can’t (or won’t) any longer maintain the pose that he thought was required of him. He’s raw and lucid and intense: the most fascinating person wandering through the culture. It’s an irresistible spectacle.”

Sheen shamelessly declared his love of adult actresses during a wild interview with ABC News last month, telling Andrea Canning that porn stars are “exciting.” Capri Anderson, who was a relative unknown in the porn world, shot to porn stardom because of her association with Sheen. “She’s now a contract girl for Vivid,” Anderson’s manager told FOX 411. “Associating with Sheen has definitely heightened Bree Olson’s cross-over appeal.”

Vivid cofounder Steven Hirsch sent Sheen a letter asking him to direct one of their movies. Hirsch dated ’80s porn queen Ginger Lynn Allen, who had an intense relationship with Charlie Sheen in the ’90s (she met him on the set of Young Guns II). Allen says they fell in love and they supported each other during rehab time. In the film Rated X (2000) Charlie Sheen and Emilio Estevez played a couple of 1970’s porn “impresarios.”

There are some 13,000 porn films made in the United States generating near $100 billion per year. General Motors owns DirectTV, which distributes over 40 million streams of porn into American homes every month. AT&T and GM rake in approximately 80 percent of all porn dollars.


Chris Hedges analyzes the increasingly gonzo angles from the adult industry in Empire of Illusion (2009): “Porn reflects the endemic cruelty of our society. The more society loses touch with reality, especially in relationships, the more they turn to porn. They retreat further and further into their illusion because porn can never be real. It does not work in the real life. Porn is a sickness.”

Robert Jensen, author of Getting off: Pornography and the End of Masculinity: “Porn glorifies the cruelty and domination of sexual explotation in the same way popular culture glorifies the domination and cruelty of the war.”

Chris Hedges in Empire of Illusion: “The cult of self dominates our cultural landscape. This cult has within it the classic traits of psychopaths: superficial charm, grandiosity, and self-importance; a need for constant stimulation, a penchant for lying, deception,and manipulation, and the inability to feel remorse or guilt. This is, of course, the ethic promoted by corporations.”

In his masterful essay “The work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction,” Walter Benjamin wrote: “The cult of the movie star, fostered by the money of the film industry, preserves not the unique aura of the person but the spell of the personality, the phoney spell of a commodity.”

Chris Hedges in Death of the Liberal Class (2010): “Artists who use their talents to foster the myths and illusions that bombard our society live comfortably in the Hollywood Hills. The media, the church, the university, the Democratic Party, the arts, and labor unions have been bought off with corporate money and promises of scraps tossed to them by the narrow circles of power. The media, catering to corporate advertisers and sponsors, at the same time renders invisible whole sections of the population.”

Hedges in each chapter of his thought-provoking Empire of Illusion makes a poignant journey through different illusions in the five chapters: “The Illusion of Literacy,” “The Illusion of Love,” “The Illusion of Wisdom,” “The Illusion of Happiness,” and “The Illusion of America”: “A culture that cannot distinguish between reality and illusion dies. And we are dying now. It is the cult of self that is killing the United States. It is this perverted ethic that gave us Wall Street bankers.”

In his book Public Opinion, Walter Lippman distinguished between “the world outside and the pictures inside our heads.” He defined a “stereotype” as an “oversimplified pattern that helps us find meaning in the world.” “The fame of celebrities,” wrote C. Wright Mills, “disguises those who possess true power: corporations and the oligarchic elite.” Philip Roth observed that the reality of celebrity culture “stupefies, it sickens, it infuriates, and finally it’s even a kind of embarrasment to one’s own meager imagination.” “The social role demanded of all in the new culture of personality was that of a performer,” Susman wrote: “Every American was to become a performing self.”

“I have got to fuel this fire,” Sheen confessed in TV Guide, “‘This is what I do and this is who I am’ which is the complete opposite of who I am. I am a pretty shy, pretty introverted, mellow guy.”

After his firing, Sheen showcased a series of webcast episodes called “Sheen’s Korner”; in one of his rants/manifestos he critiziced his ex-boss Chuck Lorre’s opportunism: “Trust not your evil overlords, they will discard you and then abandon your precious family. Hiya Chuck-E-Cheeseball. Where ya hiding, silly clown? Behind your narcissism? Your greed, your hatred of yourself or women? I see you, you little worm. I see you behind your plastic smile, your bitchy pout and your desperate need to be liked. You’re an ugly clown sent by corporate fools to collect your fill.”

Sheen also spat out outrageously narcissists statements: “I’m not Thomas Jefferson. He was a pussy,” “I’m just giving them what I guess they want, I just don’t know if they can handle,” “I won’t live in the middle anymore. That’s where you get slaughtered. That’s where you get embarrassed. From the prom queen,” “I’m special and I will never be one of you,” etc.

“Intelligence is morally neutral,” Hedges cogitates. “Pseudo-events, dramatic productions orchestrated by publicists, politician machines or Hollywood are very different. They have the capacity to appear real, even though we know they are staged. Those that fail to create a believable illusion are deemed failures. Truth is irrelevant. A public that can no longer distinguish between truth and fiction is left to interpret reality through illusion. To confront these illusions, to puncture their mendacity by exposing the callousness and cruelty of the corporate state, signals a loss of faith. It is to become an apostate. The single most important quality to resist evil is moral autonomy. As Kant wrote, ‘it’s possible only through reflection, self-determination and the courage not to cooperate.’ The corporate state holds up as our ideal what Adorno called ‘the manipulative character.’ The anonymity of corporate forces – an earthly Deus absconditus makes them unaccountable.”

Sheen publicly trashed his corporate bosses, saying he “violently” hated executive producer Lorre. He called his own drug and alcohol-fueled partying “epic” and renamed his home The Sober Valley Lodge.

From Chris Hedges’ Empire of Illusion, Chapter IV, “The Illusion of Happiness” (pp. 138-139): “There is a dark, insidious quality to the ideology promoted by the positive psychologists. They condemn all social critics and iconoclasts, the dissidents and individualists, for failing to surrender and seek fulfillment in the collective lowing of the corporate herd,” “Our government is being wrecked by corporations, which now get 40 percent of federal discretionary spending,” Empire of Illusion‘s last paragraph: “Our culture of illusion is, at its core, a culture of death. The power of love is greater than the power of death. And power elites have for millennia tried and failed to crush the force of love. Blind and dumb, indifferent to the siren calls of celebrity, unable to bow before illusions, defying the lust for power, love constantly rises up to remind a wayward society of what is real and what is illusion.”



Charlie Sheen gave us great performances in the past: he played a junkie in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (he went Method, not sleeping for several days), and was in two important Oliver Stone films: inexperienced recruit Chris who suffers war trauma in Vietnam (Platoon) and stockbroker Bud Fox in Wall Street. He was Richard “Dick” Brewer in Young Guns, Oscar “Happy” Felsch in Eight Men Out and Ricky “Wild Thing” Vaughn in Major League, among other versatile roles that had in common a determinated manliness which would become his trademark.

His career began to show signs of fatigue in the ’90s decade (although he maintained his popularity thanks to the Hot Shots saga and other minor hits.


In his live shows Sheen offers acid pleasantries, his Warlock catchphrases, and a Q&A-type session interacting with his fans, looking inspired in Andy Kaufman/Lenny Bruce’s stand-up artillery: “I am finally here to identify and train the Vatican assassin locked inside each and every one of you,” “I discovered the Internet and crack on the same night,” “Martin Sheen is still my dad, he still murdered Colonel Kurtz,” “I don’t know, what do I know? Nothing,” “They have not disallowed me everything that makes me happy,” “I love baseball – the only sport that isn’t governed by time,” “I made five billion dollars for a company and they fired me, they didn’t care I was hammered for eight years but when I spoke back they fired me,” “LeBron is like Superman, but the Superman I knew always came home to Lois Lane.” In his recent show Sheen has toned down his effrontery and said he was open to coming back to Two and a Half Men. The ball is in WB & Co’s court now.

Is the Charlie Sheen phenomenon part of an onrushing trend of media milking idle celebrities’ meltdowns for the vicarious pleasure of uneducated masses?

“She knows there’s no success like failure. And that failure’s no success at all” – “Love Minus Zero/No Limit” (Bob Dylan)

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About Kendrac

I'm a Catalonian freelance writer, poetress and film critic. My favourite genre is Noir. My real name is Elena Gonzalvo.