Charlie Sheen’s one man show, “My Violent Torpedo of Truth,” which will open in Chicago and Detroit, sold out in eighteen minutes. That represents a feeding frenzy on the misery of a tragic individual, and is perhaps a gauge of how miserable much of the American population truly is.
A few months ago, in response to the Bishop Eddie Long sex scandal, I wrote and podcasted about Christian Cannibalism – the tendency of self-proclaimed Christians to respond with a feeding frenzy not unlike a piranha in a fish tank that contains a pound of ground beef to the fall from grace of Christian preachers. While the tendency toward cannibalism certainly does exist within Christianity, it clearly is also a part of the broader culture, although in a different way. Christians eat their young. The broader culture chooses to prop up suffering and enable it so that as many people as possible can witness the pain of the suffering person or persons and enjoy it, thereby convincing themselves that they aren’t so miserable themselves. It’s as if they are saying, “Sure, I’m a miserable wretch, but look at this slob – he’s so messed up he makes me look good!” The problems with that perspective are legion.
One of the biggest problems with that perspective is that it is self deceptive. If I am miserable, then I am miserable. The relative misery of other people has no bearing on my misery. Propping up Charlie Sheen so that others can feed on his misery is nothing more than a distraction from my own situation. It doesn’t change my situation, and in that it enables Charlie Sheen’s own delusion it actually causes others harm.
Another problem is that this perspective devalues human life by saying that other human beings exist for our amusement. In this case, our amusement involves enabling an addiction and other self destructive behaviors. In the end, we don’t really care what happens to Charlie Sheen. When his self destruction is finally complete we will look for our next victim. Six months later, Charlie Sheen will be a tragic afterthought, if we think of him at all. Human beings, however, are not pawns in our individual misery plays. Human beings have intrinsic value, which we deny and damage by our callous indifference toward their wellness.
Perhaps most importantly in terms of long range impact, like all kinds of self medication this perspective fails to address the underlying problem – our own misery! To borrow an expression from AA, we need to take a “fearless moral inventory” to determine the source of our misery. Healthy people respond to the misery of others with compassion, not by taking actions that enable the other to continue deepening their misery.
Much of our dissatisfaction with life results from the unrealistic expectation that bad things will not happen to us. Bad things may happen to others, but we somehow suffer from the delusion that we are exempt from dissatisfaction. Twenty five hundred years ago the Buddha taught that unsatisfactoriness exists, and the we contribute to our own dissatisfaction. (He also taught that there was a way out of unsatisfactoriness and taught the path out of dissatisfaction.) One of the ways that I believe we most contribute to our own dissatisfaction is by feeding on the misery or others – and those others are most often celebrities.
From People magazine, to the National Enquirer, to Entertainment Tonight and other celebrity based media offerings, we are bombarded by an ample supply of celebrity misery. A trip to the grocery store checkout lane offers a variety of gossip rags at arm’s reach that a shopper can take home and read during the commercials shown while watching TMZ on television! The problem is that none of this is real! It’s all manufactured. We believe we “know” celebrities because we have watched their movies or bought their music, and this leads us to believe we are being concerned about our “friends.” At the same moment, our neighbors could be suffering through some personal crisis and we are completely oblivious because we are busily distracting ourselves with our “celebrity friends.” Is there any chance at all that, in the middle of all this distraction, we know what we ourselves are feeling?
Real life may be unpleasant at intervals, but it has the advantage of being real. For most of us, Charlie Sheen is essentially a fictional character of our own creation who we will never meet. It’s time we all take a step back and engage our own lives and stop all of the distraction. If we don’t, we will continue to be absent to our own lives. Imagine the tragedy of reaching old age only to realize we missed our own lives over the likes of Charlie Sheen!