Charlie Sheen Is Winning

By Ellis, Bret Easton | Newsweek, March 21, 2011 | Go to article overview

Charlie Sheen Is Winning


Ellis, Bret Easton, Newsweek


Byline: Bret Easton Ellis

With his tweets, his manic interviews, his insurgent campaign against the entertainment world, the star is giving America exactly what it wants out of a modern celebrity.

"Drugs" is the first word Charlie Sheen utters in his only scene from Ferris Bueller's Day Off, a cinematic relic from 1986. It takes place in a police station where Jeannie Bueller (Jennifer Grey), waiting to get bailed out by her mom and fuming about brother Ferris's charmingly anarchic ways (he breaks all the rules and is happy; she follows all the rules and is unhappy), realizes she's sitting next to a gorgeous (he was!) sullen-eyed dude in a leather jacket who looks like he's been up for days on a drug binge. But he's not manic, just tired and sexily calm, his face so pale it's almost violet-hued. Annoyed, Jeannie asks, "Why are you here?" and Charlie, deadpan, replies, without regret: "Drugs." And then he slowly disarms her bitchiness with his outrageously sexy insouciance, transforming her annoyance into delight (they end up making out).

That's when we first really noticed Sheen, and it's the key moment in his movie career (it now sums up everything that followed). He hasn't been as entertaining since. Until now. In getting himself fired from his hit TV show Two and a Half Men, this privileged child of the media's sprawling entertainment Empire has now become its most gifted ridiculer. Sheen has embraced post-Empire, making his bid to explain to all of us what celebrity now means. Whether you like it or not is beside the point. It's where we are, babe. We're learning something. Rock and roll. Deal with it.

Post-Empire started appearing in full force just about everywhere last year while Cee Lo Green's "Fuck You" gleefully played over the soundtrack. The Kardashians get it. The participants in (and the audience of) Jersey Shore get it. Lady Gaga arriving at the Grammys in an egg gets it, and she gets it while staring at Anderson Cooper and admitting she likes to smoke weed when she writes songs--basically daring him: "What are you gonna do about that, bitch?" Nicki Minaj gets it when she sings "Right Thru Me" and becomes one of her many alter egos on a red carpet. (Christina Aguilera starring in Burlesque doesn't get it at all.) Ricky Gervais's hosting of the Golden Globes got it. Robert Downey Jr., getting pissed off at Gervais, did not. Robert De Niro even got it, subtly ridiculing his career and his lifetime-achievement trophy at the same awards show.

James Franco not taking the Oscar telecast seriously but treating it with gentle disrespect (which is exactly what the show deserves) totally got it. (Anne Hathaway, unfortunately, didn't get it, but we like her anyway for getting naked and jiggy with Jake G.) Post-Empire is Mark Zuckerberg staring with blank impatience at Empire Lesley Stahl on 60 Minutes and telling her how The Social Network and its genesis story (he creates Facebook because he was rejected by a bitchy girl!) got it totally wrong (which it did; he was right; sorry, Empire Aaron Sorkin). Empire is complaining that the characters in Jonathan Franzen's great 2010 novel Freedom aren't "likable" enough.

For every outspoken I-don't-give-a-shit Empire celebrity like Muhammad Ali or Andy Warhol or Norman Mailer or Bob Dylan, there were a dozen Madonnas (one of the queens of the Empire who was never real or funny enough to get it--everything interesting about her seems, in retrospect, dreadfully earnest) and Michael Jacksons (the ultimate victim of Empire celebrity--a tortured boy lover and drug addict who humorlessly denied he was either). To someone my age ( 47 ), Keith Richards ( 67 ) in his memoir, Life, has a rare healthy post-Empire geezer transparency. For my younger friends, it's no longer rare; it's now the norm. But nothing yet compares to the transparency that Charlie Sheen has unleashed in the past two weeks--contempt about celebrity, his profession, and the old Empire world order. …

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