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Why Is the Media Giving Charlie Sheen So Much Attention?

We Americans do love our bad showbiz boys running amok.

"I'm untouchable! I'm Charlie Sheen! I'm more famous than Obama!" -- Charlie Sheen, to his wife

It’s possible that Carlos Irwin Estevez, the actor known as Charlie Sheen, is ranting the simple truth when he claims to be invulnerable and indestructible because he’s fleetingly super-famous and has “tiger’s blood” running in his pharmaceutically enhanced veins. With “serious” journalists and TV bookers tripping over themselves to get him to vomit up something, anything, to feed us on his Roman circus, shrewdly timed, allegedly suicidal spiral caused by a diseased ego and an apothecary’s shopful of mind-blasting substances, it's no wonder he has such a heightened sense of his own importance. After all, he just broke the Guinness world record for gathering one million Twitter followers in the shortest time.

We Americans do love our bad showbiz boys (even more than out-of-control girls like Lindsay Lohan and Britney) running amok. It’s a tradition that goes from Mel Gibson, Dennis Hopper and Robert Downey Jr. all the way back to Robert Mitchum, Charlie Chaplin and Fatty Arbuckle. Sex, dope, a slug of violence (preferably against women) and most recently a soupcon of anti-Semitism will magnetically snag the electronic gatekeepers of TV’s celebrity-hungry audiences.  

A lot of us indulge in this pleasure of watching human train wrecks, otherwise the Charlie Sheens wouldn’t even get a local-access gig. Exposure is the ultraviolet ray that springs this hardy weed into life; without it he’d be dead or institutionalized. Look on the bright side: we keep Charlie alive.

But there I go, being judgmental, just like he accuses his esteemed actor father, the Catholic activist, Martin Sheen. Maybe it’s that predatory Charlie look, both feral and smug. In fact, he’s a sub-so-so actor of a string of rotten movies, except for Oliver Stone’s Vietnam war masterpiece, Platoon, in which Charlie superbly played a rookie grunt with divided loyalties. Platoon made Charlie’s career, from which he launched his now-notorious all-year drunks culminating in beating up women,including his wives, girlfriends, live-in porn stars, etc. 

Woman-beating never bothered his CBS network bosses while his really dumb show, "Two and a Half Men," is a hit and earns him up to two million smackeroos per episode. What exasperated CBS into firing him in mid-season, tossing hundreds of backroom workers onto the dole, was Charlie’s snide digs at Jews aimed at his main producer Chuck Lorre, and maybe at his business manager, too, though Charlie accuses his in-rehab wife Brooke Mueller of the latter. You can rape a dozen nuns at high noon in the village square and still catch an Emmy, but in my allegedly “Jewish” business, mind your mouth.

We did these things differently when I first got into movies, as a gofer, musclehead and playing a "native boy" on the magnificent cult film Bride of the Gorilla. Hush hush, sweet Charlotte was the studio’s law then. The "seven sisters" studios – MGM, Fox, Paramount, Warners, Universal, Columbia and RKO – had such a censoring stranglehold on stars’ pranks – rape, homosexuality, abortions, (especially mixed race) affairs, even murders – see Jean Harlow, Thelma Todd, Lana Turner, William Desmond Taylor – that nothing got past the publicity mavens except what they wanted the public to see, perfection in spike heels. This Gadaffi-like system of suppression operated via payoffs to LA’s then-bribable cops, coroners, doctors and ex-spouses to shut them up. [Though the cover-ups collapsed with monotonous regularity, as a glance at Kenneth Anger’s brilliant Hollywood Babylon makes pitilessly clear. Editors.]

The studios' conspiracy of silence began to crumble when Robert Mitchum was arrested for partying on Mary Jane and got his picture on Page One smiling sleepily, dreamily at us through the bars of a county jail cell. There goes his career…not. A whole new bobbysox audience aided by their grownups liberalized by war values surprisingly sprang to Mitchum’s defense and his career skyrocketed.

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