Charlie Sheen: Working-class hero 

I've avoided writing about the Charlie Sheen situation for weeks now on the theory that there are many more important stories going on in the world. Surely, the story of a Hollywood actor's meltdown can't be as important as the fact that our state's lawmakers are political refugees or that tens of thousands may be dead in Japan.

And I am right. There are many, many items in the news that trump Sheen's fights with his studio, the police and the courts. But none of those stories have resonated as deeply with Americans in the past few weeks.

Surely, there is no need to recount Sheen's story by now. He was fired last week from his job on TV's most popular comedy, after public battles with the show's producer and Sheen's refusal to enter rehab for substance abuse issues.

I've never watched an entire episode of Sheen's series; from what I gather, it's a typical Red State comedy enjoyed by my grandmother and nobody else I know. I'm usually watching Intervention at 9 p.m. on Monday if I'm not reading or playing videogames.

But the media circus surrounding the story has not only been impossible to escape, it's also been the most entertaining program I've seen in years. The degree to which one man can hijack our television news and dominate the headlines is unprecedented in recent times.

Why has the Sheen story been so popular? It isn't because another star is having a meltdown; the media has fed us those stories for decades now. And it isn't because Sheen himself is such a paragon of virtue; his arrests for domestic violence and his preference for prostitutes makes him a less-than-sympathetic character.

The reason Sheen's issues have been so compelling is that his actions, and his employer's reactions, have made him what John Lennon and many others have aspired to be: a true working-class hero.

How many times have Americans been fired from jobs for what they see as bullshit reasons? And how many people have wanted the opportunity to not only tell off their bosses but to do it in the most public way possible? Most of us, I'd gather.

There have been several occasions in my own life where I would have welcomed a public forum to tell my side of the story after being fired from jobs where I had not only been productive but had also generated huge amounts of revenue for the folks who let me go.

In an era where trade unions have been demonized and in some cases outlawed, it's never been more clear that big business hates its workers and would fire them all if necessary to please their shareholders.

The millions who've lost their jobs due to outsourcing or because their employers wanted to cut costs are watching Sheen's antics and cheering him on, whether they ever watched Two and a Half Men or not.

The official explanation that Sheen's drug problems led to his dismissal falls short. He's been abusing drugs, by his own admission, for years. It was only after he criticized his employers that they fired him.

Again, this resonates with American workers. Employers don't want to hear that they're wrong, even — and especially — when they are. It's far easier to fire the messenger than to fix the problem about which the messenger's complaining.

After watching the legislatures of Indiana and Wisconsin — who seem not to care at all about the teachers and public-sector workers in their states and, in fact, would terminate them all and replace them with outsource workers from Mumbai if they could — Sheen has become a proxy for all the pissed-off workers about to be fired in the United States.

His catchphrases, whether inspired by drugs or not, have become our catchphrases. We all like to think that our opinions about our idiot employers are "torpedoes of truth." And we all want to believe that we are "winning," even after we've been told to clear out our desks.

Whether he intended to do so or not, Sheen has done quite an improbable thing: turn a millionaire actor with a history of drug abuse into a symbolic figure for all the hardworking men and women who've been wronged by their rich bosses.

He may be an imperfect messenger, but his message is like that of revolutionaries everywhere: The system is corrupt, its leaders are immoral and capricious, and an honest man can't catch a break from big business.

Unlike the millions victimized by the Bush Depression of 2008-12, Sheen will end up fine. In fact, I think he'll eventually be rehired for his old job after the current fervor dies down.

But politicians would be myopic to ignore the underlying issue that this issue has brought to the surface. Workers are tired of being treated as little better than slaves and tired of making others rich while they work for peanuts.

So we're on your side, Charlie! Keep throwing those fastballs at the millionaires! Keep winning! If you can, maybe we can too.


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