News & Politics

The Pursuit of Happiness: Why Charlie Sheen and Two And A Half Men Are A Reflection of America

Libertine elites or boozy couches -- this is us.

Charlie Sheen is in the news a lot lately because he can’t handle his liquor. Or his drugs. Or his porn stars. He’s a problem-partier; you know how there’s always one who freaks out on illicit substances, and cries, or starts a fight, or runs outside naked, or ODs and has to go to the hospital. Even at children’s parties, you’ll notice, one of the kids will have hysterics over too much excitement and cake. Charlie Sheen is one of those, and this allows millions of righteous gits to profess shock, shock I tell you, at the news that there are dedicated hedonists living in Hollywood. How can such a thing be allowed to go on?! Why don’t the producers of the Sheen show, Two and A Half Men, fire him for his own good?! Why isn’t Sheen tackled in the streets by the clean-living citizenry of Los Angeles, and frog-marched off to semi-permanent rehab?! Why don’t the cops arrest him on vice charges, just like they would if it was plain old you ‘n’ me?!

Here’s why.


In America, it’s part of our social contract that we should all try to “make it,” i.e., become rich and/or famous. If we do manage to beat the incredible odds against us and become rich and/or famous, we get invited to “The Party.” “The Party” is a never-ending round of pleasures, many of them illegal, that are going on constantly in mansions, yachts, four-star hotel rooms, restaurants reserved for private use, the roped-off section of invitation-only events, upstairs at fancy ski condoes, etc. It’s not a myth; it’s really happening. Even if you edge close to the rich/famous, or their kids, or their friends, or their colleagues, you can get a taste of it, or maybe just a glimpse of it in action.

But once you’re well and truly IN, you’re actively encouraged to stay there by almost everybody, except during those times when you’re actually out earning the money or making the public appearances necessary to maintain your wealth and/or renown. And why wouldn’t you stay? It was the whole point of becoming rich/famous, to live a life of untrammeled freedom and ecstasy, and to have the waters part before you everywhere you go.

The cops, of course, realize that this has become the chief goal and purpose of our contemporary culture, to create just such a libertine elite, and they look the other way when not getting a piece of the action themselves. You’ve got to pull a real Mel Gibson to actually get arrested and have your mugshot in the paper and all that. Or a real Charlie Sheen.

The idea that the Two and a Half Men producers would interfere with Charlie Sheen’s revelry, as long as he made it to work on time and said his lines more or less correctly, is insane. For one thing, it’s the right of every American to party like the world’s going to end—which it might!–every day of his or her adult life, if so desired. That’s what we call “the pursuit of happiness,” and it’s written right into the Declaration of Independence, in a prominent spot. Look it up!

Besides, that’s business as usual in the entertainment industry, where parties are thrown for every conceivable reason—kick-off parties, wrap parties, birthday parties, award show parties, Tuesday parties, Thursday parties. The producers and CBS honchos are no doubt very, very sorry Charlie Sheen is such a problem-partier. They just had to shut down the show, put it on hiatus, till Sheen recovers, and that’s real money down the drain. Plus it’s putting another nail in the coffin of the benevolent, amusing, good-time-Charlie persona that the show has cultivated with Sheen’s alter-ego character, Charlie Harper.

The whole conceit of the show is that the most crassly hedonistic characters are the highest-functioning and most successful, because they’re just what our culture ordered. We may claim we want restrained, hard-working, capitalistic church-goers, but it’s been many, many years since we put a convincing face on that. Charlie and his ferocious mother, Evelyn (Holland Taylor), are both sexually insatiable gluttons for alcohol and consumer goods, indifferent to the conventional pieties about family and religion and the Protestant work ethic. Meanwhile brother Alan (Jon Cryer), perpetually anxious and eager for respectability, gets nowhere in life, and can only survive by sponging off Charlie. That leaves the half-man, Jake (Angus T. Jones), Alan’s thick-headed teenage son. Jake has two dicey male role models, but he also has enough sense to lean Charlie’s way to the best of his limited abilities.


A lot of bloggers are excoriating Charlie Sheen’s dreadful behavior and then adding the unkindest cut of all: “…And besides, your show is lousy!” But it’s actually not bad. Pretty funny, in fact, for an old-fashioned sitcom that’s been running for eight years. And oddly bracing in its honesty about certain aspects of American life. Of course, it has to enforce a base-level morality that’s sort of suspect—the fractured family members all have to love each other deep-down and all that—but the rest of the time, no holds are barred. Who’s happier, who’s getting more out of life, Charlie or Alan? Charlie, every time, even with all the embarrassments and inconveniences attendant upon a life of adundant sex, drugs and alcohol in a society that both worships and pretends to condemn them.

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