Charlie Sheen buzz distracts from more important issues

A new drug is sweeping the nation. The name of that drug: Charlie Sheen.

We’ve been told, straight from the warlock’s mouth, that the drug is “not available because if you try it once, you will die. Your face will melt off and your children will weep over your exploded body.”

Yet, the American public has not been deterred.

In the past week, the now former Two and a Half Men star has given “exclusive” interviews on countless networks, started a Twitter account and posted an online talk show, all while offering a seemingly infinite number of sound bites of rambling incoherence.

Unfortunately, the Sheen drug, however appealing and addictive, risks removing more important issues from the public eye.

The Sheen madness began after he claimed to have completed his time in rehabilitation last month.

The actor then gave a public rant blaming Two and a Half Men creator and executive producer Chuck Lorre for delaying the return of the show from hiatus. Sheen was officially fired Monday.

On Feb. 24, Lorre officially shut down production of the top-rated show for the rest of the season.

Sheen began his now-ubiquitous media coup last Monday with interviews on shows such as ABC’s Good Morning America.

The true wonder might be how his interviewers manage to keep a straight face as he describes, in all seriousness, his “fire-breathing fists,” “tiger blood” and commitment to “winning.”

But the actor bypassed the reporters altogether  when he aired “Sheen’s Korner,” a 50-minute show Sheen described as a “disorganized random experiment of sorts,” on Ustream.

“Sheen’s Korner” attracted more than 100,000 viewers in one night, and Sheen’s appearance earned Piers Morgan double the number of viewers his show, Piers Morgan Tonight, usually gets. According to the numbers, if not his psychiatrist, Sheen does, in fact, seem to be winning.

Last Thursday, Sheen set a Guinness World Record for the fastest time to reach one million followers on Twitter. Sheen might be the one instigating a lot of the media hype, but no one has hesitated to latch on.

Sheen-related memes, including pictures of cute animals with quotes from Sheen as captions, are circulating on Facebook, and ‘fans’ continue to post spoof videos on YouTube.

And how could interviews in which Sheen declares he is “a total freakin’ rock star from Mars” not become fodder for satire?

He has turned himself into an unrecognizable caricature, a move that allows people to look past the tragedy of the disintegration of a man’s life and career and only see comedy.

Sheen’s absurdly overblown narcissism makes it hard to feel sympathy for him, but there is still something unsettling about the public’s fascination with an odd brand of loyalty to the actor.

And networks seem to have no qualms about capitalizing on the schadenfreude we feel watching a celebrity fall from grace, no matter how little news value his story might hold.

Today Show executive producer Jim Bell told the Associated Press, “It’s a great story. We don’t have this much interest when we have a big interview on Libya or a powerful, smart series on the brain.”

Interestingly, a number of online news sources and memes have recently taken to comparing Sheen and Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, who is also known for his flamboyant self-aggrandizement and radically out-there statements.

But the tragedy overlooked by the popular focus on Gaddafi’s easy-to-ridicule delusions of grandeur is an unfathomably more serious one than the problems of America’s highest-paid TV actor, and the comparison between the two men, albeit a satirical one, reveals the superficiality of so much media coverage.

Sheen has allowed us some good laughs and plenty of confusion in the last two weeks, but the media continues to dissuade us from looking too deeply or thinking too hard about what any of it means.

Such a tendency might be a little disheartening when it comes to celebrity scandal, but it becomes a slippery slope when it allows us to ignore the violent crimes against humanity being committed by an oppressive dictator in favor of comedic sound bites from a ridiculous character.

Cara Dickason  is a senior majoring in cinema-critical studies and English. Her column, “Cine File,” runs Tuesdays.