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
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
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
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
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
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
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.