Charlie Sheen Fail: Why We Can't Get Enough of Celebrity Meltdowns
But why can't we? What is it that makes us become so absorbed in a star's misfortune? The Charlie Sheen hype isn't the garden-variety schadenfreude we experience when someone like Christina Aguilera gets caught in an unfortunate moment (arrested for public intoxication, anyone?), but something bigger.
He's acting nuts, and he's not going away. You can't glance at your Facebook or Twitter feed without reading a mention of F-18s or "WINNING" or how the only drug anyone is doing these days is "CHARLIE SHEEN!" As far as celebrity meltdowns go, this one is up there with Anne Heche's admission that she once thought she was an alien named Celestia and when Britney Spears decided Sinead O'Connor was her new style icon and spontaneously shaved her head.
And as of yesterday, Sheen joined Twitter and had tweeted a few times, alluding to how he's always "winning." Who knows what else he's going to spew out in unfiltered, 140-character bursts. We're all just along for the ride, and we might be reaching the point where we want to jump off.
You know that feeling you get during the holiday season, when you're just begging for a break from all the rich food, fancy drinks and general merriment that hits you all at once? That's kind of what it's felt like over the course of Charlie Sheen's media blitz of the last few days. It was fun at first -- who doesn't want to chuckle at quotes like "I'm tired of pretending I'm not a b----in' rock star from freaking Mars?" But after a while all the winning turns to losing and we move on. We're reaching the "I desperately need to exercise and eat a ton of vegetables" point that most people hit on January 2 after a month of parties and fattening family visits.
We take pleasure in when celebrities like Charlie Sheen, Lindsay Lohan or Christina Aguilera meltdown because it ultimately makes us feel better about ourselves. Sure, we don't have millions of dollars, fabulous wardrobes and handlers at our beck and call, but we can take comfort in the fantasy that if we did, we wouldn't "throw it away" like these people did. We get to feel some moral superiority.
Celebrity meltdowns also bring us together because they give us something to talk about that isn't usually as contentious as politics and the other issues of the day. It's much easier to cluck with a co-worker around the water cooler about how Lindsay Lohan is blowing her second chance at a career than it is to discuss the occupation of the Wisconsin capitol by public employee unions. Lohan's latest is just harmless and weird, while bringing up something political could quite possibly offend.
Ultimately, celebrity meltdowns are about conforming to social norms. These people are "special," and by acting out in these ways, they reaffirm our society's standards because we condemn them for misbehaving.
They are the ultimate example of the exception that proves the rule.
Heather Muse is a media scholar who's tired of pretending she's not special. She does not, however, have tiger blood or Adonis DNA.
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