Charlie Sheen: Bi-Polar D-Bag or Szaszian Hero?


Spiked Online editor and Reason contributor Brendan O'Neill gives props to amateur metallurgist, Obama p*wner, and Men at Work star Charlie Sheen for his refusal to be clockworked orange. O'Neill is no fan of Sheen's stereotypically sybaritic behavior (behaviour?). Rather, the Brit says:

He's my hero because he refuses to allow his behaviour to be psychologised. He refuses to genuflect before the Oprahite altar of psychobabble and blame his antics on his "inner demons". Instead he's fighting like a terrier against experts' attempts to brand him as "disordered" and in the process has made himself into a one-man army of resistance to the tyranny of therapy that has the twenty-first-century in its grip.

Easily the most shocking thing about the Charlie Sheen affair is not his recent debauched behaviour – Stop the press: Hollywood actor behaves hedonistically! – but rather the unstoppable march of a zombie-eyed army of therapists who want to diagnose Sheen from a distance as "mentally ill". Every cod-psychologist in search of a headline, and increased business, is offering to write a prescription for Sheen. Under the headline "Addict or Bipolar? Examining the 'Passion' of Charlie Sheen", Time magazine admits "it isn't possible to diagnose patients at a distance". And yet it proceeds to do precisely that, employing two experts to discuss whether Sheen is suffering from narcissistic personality disorder, bipolar mania, depression, anxiety or addiction…

To the fury of these overlords of therapy, Sheen is swatting aside all suggestions that he is disordered. He has denounced Alcoholics Anonymous for encouraging debilitating dependence on a Higher Power; he has slated those who blame their behaviour on demons from their past ("Like, 'Oh my God, it's all my mom's fault!' Shut up", he recently said); and he has even challenged the very language the therapy police use. Asked on ABC if he was still "using" – that annoying Oprahite word for "taking drugs" – he said: "Using a blender? Using a vacuum cleaner? 'Use' is such an AA expression!" In his refusal to speak their lingo, to play their game, to do what all celebs in his situation must do these days – arrange to be interviewed by Hello! so that they can be photographed weeping while confessing to having suffered a mental breakdown – Sheen is rebelling against the super-conformist modern narrative of weak individuals who need to be saved by psycho-priests. They won't forgive him for this.

Whole thing here.

Hmm. I don't know where I stand on this sort of analysis. I agree with Brendan that we live in a thereapeutic culture and in both England and the U.S. and most of the developed world, there's simply too much medicalization of all sorts of behavior, both good and bad. I very much fall into the Szaszian camp (named after Thomas Szasz, Reason contributor and great critic of psychiatry) that psychological terms are often used to stigmatize annoying and non-conforming people rather than convey scientifically valid insights. Certainly there are few spectacles more redundant and nauseating than celebrity addicts coming clean in full view of TV cameras and small-screen shrinks, promising that they're cured (and then turning up dead or in custody mere weeks or months later). Jeebus save us from yet another David Duchovny or Tiger Woods or Lindsay Lohan presser and/or arraignment.

Yet while Sheen may refuse to talk the psycho-lingo of the stars, he's playing out another equally tired script, that of self-destructing movie or TV or political celeb, which is equally cliched and equally tiresome. His forays into 9/11 trutherism, attacks on the creators of the sitcom that made him the highest-paid high-school dropout on TV, and possession of "tiger blood and Adonis DNA" are tedious in more than 30-second bursts. More disturbingly, his ability to avoid the sorts of regular-joe penalties for violent threats and actions is, alas, nothing new in a criminal justice system that enforces different codes of behavior for Sheens and the rest of us.

I do think the celebrities exist to provide entertainment for us, the paying and free-riding audience. And in his latest incarnation, Sheen is delivering far more than he did on Spin City or Two And a Half Men. But he's hardly a hero, even if he refuses to submit to the culture-of-therapy couch (a step up for actors from the casting couch). I suspect that one way or another he's going to disappoint us all by becoming even less interesting as a person than he had become as an actor.