I didn’t expect my next blog post to be about Charlie Sheen. I am writing a long comparative history of the Cuban and Guatemalan revolutions, but it seems to be without end, so I thought dissing “Two and a Half Men” would be some comparatively low-hanging fruit.

TwoandaHalfMen-CastThe dreaded sit-com was on in the corner of a hostel where I stayed for an afternoon in the Colombian city of Cali a few days ago. I asked casually of a young English tourist whether anybody actually found “Two and a Half Men” funny. “Are you kidding?” she asked. “It’s like the best thing on telly. It’s hilarious!”. I was put on the back foot, clearly the ‘uncool’ one in the room, and when I protested that “it doesn’t really seem to be about anything” she explained “it’s about having sex, drinking, taking drugs and getting fucked up. If you don’t like any of those things, then yeah, you won’t enjoy it”. Which made me feel even more on the back foot, obviously. To make me feel better an intelligent Israeli traveller broadly sided with my take on things. I observed to the English girl that she didn’t seem to be laughing very much at it, to which she claimed she just wasn’t paying attention. But I did pay attention to it, and, like all the other times I’ve ever seen it, I found it spectacularly unfunny, and after a few minutes clichéd, repetitive and depressing. I agree with the critic in The Australian who called it a “sometimes creepy, misogynistic comedy”, and in the New York Daily News who called it “occasionally funny”. It might be about sex, but it seems to be about having unfulfilling, predictable, boring sex. It might be about drugs and drinking but there doesn’t seem to be much fun involved. There instead seems to be lots of dissatisfaction, rather a lot of arrogance, and repeated trips to the shrink.

That English girl’s comments obviously got under my skin because I found myself thinking about “Two and a Half Men” again today, eating a veggie burger in a highland town in Ecuador. I also got to thinking, prompted by a song lyric on the radio of all things, what Charlie’s father Martin must think of his son’s exploits, which seem to be fairly similar off-screen to on. Can it even be called acting when your character has the same personality, same behaviour and even the same name as you…? Now Martin Sheen was – and still is – an actor, and a pretty great one at that. In strong roles such as in Badlands, Wall Street and in Apocalypse Now opposite Marlon Brando he became a heart-throb for a generation (so I’m told). As President Bartlet in “The West Wing”, every week for seven years he strode across the small screen as one of America’s greatest – albeit fictional- presidents. Martin Sheen, who is part of a tradition of Hollywood political agitators, was too politically savvy not to warn fans in interviews that “The West Wing” was a fairytale version of Washington, but he clearly enjoyed personifying the Democratic principles he holds dear and “The West Wing” dealt over the years with some of the highest and most profound issues that humanity ever has to consider.

And then we have Charlie. Getting drunk, getting laid, getting violent, and getting put back into rehab. To be fair Charlie Sheen used to be an actor too. In films such as Platoon and Wall Street he was his father’s son. He has even made political contributions, helping charities, and weighing-in, perhaps unwisely, on the side of the 911 Truth movement. But what happened? And is Charlie Sheen who he is because of a perhaps overly liberal (and decidedly not impoverished) upbringing, or because that’s what America wants him to be? After all, if America (and Britain it seems), did not want to see Charlie being Charlie, then the show wouldn’t have such high ratings. So what does it mean for Western culture that this show is even popular? I don’t doubt that “Two and a Half Men” can provide mild distraction and entertainment. But does it deserve to be so popular? And did Charlie deserve his monumental salary? And what does it say about the man that his reaction to having the highest ever salary on TV was, like a spoilt toddler, to demand more?

What “Two and a Half Men” represents to me is The End of History, what US philosopher Francis Fukuyama believed would be the culmination and plateau of Western democracy and culture, where all meaningful art that could be created had been created already, and where consumer capitalism and Western “democracy” as an economic force, an ideology and a culture had won out supreme. At the End of History, as with being Charlie Sheen, when you have millions of dollars that you spend on booze, drugs and uninteresting women, all you can think of to do is to get millions more for more of the same. It’s a kind of Groundhog Day loop of static silent terror, caught in the boredom of one’s own limitations and lack of imagination. But I don’t believe in The End of History. I believe there are still things to do. Maybe TV viewers in Western culture, thinking we are at the end of history, derive pleasure from the utter ordinariness of Charlie Sheen’s stunted life, a life in which he never grows, never learns and never contributes. But like Western society in general, Charlie Sheen is locked in a high-consumption, low-satisfaction nightmarish pleasure-loop, where the chasing of superficial sensation provides ever diminishing returns, and where the collateral damage is not just his liver and millions of wasted dollars but his viewers’ slowly mummifying minds.

Martin Sheen would know what to do. Tackle catastrophic global climate change, stop the growth of weapons of war, feed the hungry and cold of the world. Speak out against corporate domination and injustice. But his son, alas a sign of the times, is too busy laying around in a pool of his own over-indulgence. Or threatening those close to him with physical violence. For, contrary to the desperate slogan of his website “Winners Only”, Charlie Sheen is a loser. Despite the fact that he’s had sex (yes, hurrah) and drunk quite a lot (whoopee doo) and pretends he’s a huge winner, he’s a loser, a loser who keeps on losing, who can’t even seem to stay on his own show and keep earning $1.8million a time because he’s just so much of a greedy tantrum-throwing loser. A loser who has, yes, made more money per episode then anybody in history, which just shows how much Western culture values the wrong things and which underlines what a pointless loser he is, as well as what losers the people who’ve been paying him are. And in making him a role model, even in normalising his boring behaviour, Western civilisation is losing too. Both we and him need to pick ourselves up off the mat, dust ourselves off and live up to the legacy of Western civilisation that our fathers have given us.

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