“What do you do when you’ve got studio heads that won’t hire you, even though you screwed the same whores? Yet they pull you aside at a party and say that you’re their hero for the things that you do … If I go away and start wearing wooden shoes and fake leather, who’s left? I feel like Vicarious Man. I am Vicarious Man!”
—Charlie Sheen to Details, March 1998.
Oh well, I guess we can all stop living vicariously through Charlie Sheen — except, of course, for the media, which, let’s face it, can’t get enough of him for all the obvious reasons.
The news media does, indeed, live vicariously through characters like the “Two and a Half Men” star, mostly because they give us all an excuse to talk about things that we know generate web traffic and ratings — like pampered millionaire actors cavorting with hookers and (allegedly) hosting two-day cocaine parties.
This morning, the anchors on KNX-AM radio in Los Angeles sounded positively indignant about Sheen’s behavior, with one pointing out the rumored drug use is illegal. Still, they covered what little they knew about his recent hospitalization dutifully and extensively — taking their lead, increasingly, from Harvey Levin and his merry band of jackals at TMZ — as if it was the most important thing going on in the world.
Well, sure, it’s not like the Middle East is in chaos or anything.
Sheen might be self-destructive, and it’s probably high time that CBS and Warner Bros. stopped coddling him and ignoring the tasseled elephant in the room — just because he’s worth tens of millions to them — and did something that just might help save the guy’s life. Consider it a good investment.
But the actor had it right in that melt-down interview a dozen years ago: People do like to live vicariously through the extragavant excesses and shenanigans of the rich and famous — and the mainstream media pander to those impulses now, I’d argue, more blatantly than ever before. Otherwise, the pages of US Weekly would be 80 percent blank, and “Nightline” would have to come up with a real news story to rock us to bed each night.
So there, we’re all part of the problem — and I’m just manly enough myself to admit it.