If you haven’t been in a deep coma for the past 48 hours, you’re probably aware of this Charlie Sheen fellow. He’s been saying the darndest things! He’s (coked?) out of his mind! And we’re all watching it live online.
Charlie Sheen has, like very few others in internet history, grabbed an immense amount of attention in jarringly little time. The last person to dominate the web’s astonishingly miniscule attention span, and to so completely command it, was probably Kanye West, whose Twitter follies were the toast of the summer.
But Charlie Sheen isn’t Kanye West. Whereas the latter won us over with accounts of sleeping on piles of golden robot models and building spaceships out of mink fur (or whatever), Sheen is simply highly unbalanced. Kanye is “crazy” – he says wacky things! He has emotional outbursts! He rants with caps lock on! But Kanye is cunning – he’s a brilliant artist who just loves to talk about himself. Kanye created the most deservedly critically worshipped album in recent memory last year, with the help of his ego supernova internet presence. Sheen starred in Two and a Half Men. Now he doesn’t. And he’s upset about this fact – upset, and, as mentioned, quite clearly sick in the head.
And it’s an internet spectacle, like nothing before. Celebrity breakdowns are an old phenomenon – they’ve been melting down with the help of drugs and chemical imbalances since there’s been a device to document it. But Sheen seems to be singular in his new internet fame – our eyes are on him for the sheer sake of how batshit out of his mind he is. How many eyes? The Atlantic’s Alexis Madrigal noted that before he had tweeted a single thing, Sheen’s brand new Twitter account hit 100,000 followers within an hour. As I write this, his account sits at almost 750,000 followers (Kanye’s hit over 2.5 million – but after over half a year). He had a TMZ livestream from his backyard. He received the obligatory Taiwanese animation treatment.
And it’s not just Twitter – it would appear Sheen’s consuming the entire internet this week, turning from grotesque media psychopath to silly meme within hours. It’s easy! Just take some deranged thing he’s said and slap it on an image – like we did above! It’s a cinch. Charlie Sheen quotes on superheroes! Charlie Sheen image macros all over Tumblr! Charlie Sheen nutcase quotes on New Yorker cartoons! Cats!
But is it possible, rather, that the internet’s consuming him? Whether or not you think he’s a spoiled, drug-addled, irresponsible arsehole deadbeat father – which he very possibly is – he’s imploding before our eyes. The things he says are hilarious at first blush, because the internet has trivialised him. He’s an online jester. We’re so hungry for crazy Sheen quotes that his possible mental illness is abstracted away – a side note. I’m not going to opine on whether the guy deserves sympathy or not (though his many kids certainly do), but what’s striking is that the internet now has the power to neuter psychology. His sickness isn’t in the way of the joke – it is the joke. Crazy Sheen is both grabbed in the internet microscope tractor beam for millions of people, and at once converted into a digital laugh, to be shared, mocked, and downloaded. Our internet now has the ability to turn a man who should be a hospital patient into breathing, ranting JPEG.