"Regardless of how erratic, irrational, self-defeating and self-destructive a person's behavior, somewhere in their mixed up mind, it is in the service of self-preservation." --From "Charlie Sheen: What Makes Charlie Run, Crash and Burn... Again"
"The unexamined life is gross." --Socrates
I had the most bizarre experience of my life on Sunday, April 10th.
I went to see Charlie Sheen's "Violent Torpedo of Truth" tour at Radio City Music Hall. I'm working on an article about narcissism and I was hoping to get a juicy quote from the warlock. Little did I know, but I was about to get the most surreal quote a writer could possibly get.
To be expected, things started out pretty crazy. When a young girl who wanted to be goddess #3 was brought up on stage so Sheen could assess her assets, people all around me started chanting "take off your top!"
Things just got crazier from there. Early on in the show, Sheen asked if there were any "real" doctors in the house. I was amused by this and raised my hand about half mast, thinking to myself that I wouldn't know what to say if I was actually called on but -- how bitchin' would that be to be on that stage, perhaps even having a serious dialogue with Sheen about the realities of mental illness! Of course, I'm naive (as I often am in life). Moments later, an older guy goes on stage and sits in the seat right next to Sheen. It is evident fast that this guy is *not* a real doctor. I wouldn't be surprised if he was actually a plant. He placates Sheen, acting like a complete buffoon, saying over and over again, something to the effect: "You're Winning Charlie, You're Winning!"
At this point, I start to get acid reflux. What started as just bad entertainment is now turning into something actually, well, WRONG.
After the fake-doctor-clown leaves the stage, Charlie mocks the guy (which I was happy to see), and again asks the audience if a real doctor is in the audience. He also asks "Is Dr. Drew here?" The way he elongates the name "Drew" suggests that if Dr. Drew really were there, it wouldn't have been a fun conversation for Dr. Drew.
At this point, my thinking shifts from "how cool would it be to chat with Sheen on that stage" to "I need to go up there and say how ridiculous this is. He is trivializing mental illness and this is all messed up." So I run down to the front. One of Charlie's "people" asks who I am and I tell him a professor of Psychology at NYU. He looks giddy. I give him my business card and he tells me he'll call me if they need me.
I go all the way back to my seat near the back, half relieved it didn't actually pan out. What the heck would I really say (what would you have said)??
Then, the idea grows on me. During intermission, I think about what I would actually say, given the chance. I would remain calm, friendly, and nonjudgmental. I wouldn't try to provoke him. I would ask him a series of questions that would allow us to better pinpoint what exactly is going on with him, since there are a million things that could be going on with him, including drug withdrawal symptoms and/or hypomania induced sheerly through the attention he is receiving. He keeps talking about bipolar, but I would look at that as a last resort.
Intermission is over, and so are my thoughts. Shortly after the circus begins again, he has a moment of silence. He hesitantly says, "you know what happened at intermission?" He looks, I think for the first time in the show, reflective. Then he pulls a business card out of his pocket. The people sitting next to me immediately looked at me and said "dude, that's your business card!". I hear the words, but it didn't feel real. I watch Charlie stare at my card for a good 10 seconds and then I realize that is my business card he is staring at. I gasp, "Oh shit, oh no, my name's on that card". My heart starts racing, as I have no idea what's going to come next.
Then, without even giving me a chance to speak, he goes off on me. Right there. On stage. At Radio City Music Hall. Not only that, but he trivializes mental illness in such a vehement way that as far as I'm concerned, things are now *very* wrong: "I'm OK being bipolar. I'm a bipolar fuckin' bear", I think is what he said.
Apparently, his "people" wanted to bring me up to have a conversation with him. He rejects this suggestion like a torpedo. Now that things are really real -- there is actually a real doctor in the house who won't placate him -- he wants nothing to do with it. Any dose of reality could lead to introspection. And introspection is not nearly as gnarly as risky sex with porn stars, cocaine, and speakin' the "truth" by going on attack against everyone and everything.
Charlie reconsiders for a moment, and asks, "Where is Scaaawt??" (in a similar way to how he pronounced "Dreeeew" earlier). People in the audience start shouting to bring me up. Charlie looks genuinely concerned. And in what could be one of the top 10 most disgusting moments of the evening, he says to the crowd "you guys like being bipolar, don't you?" and the crowd shouts back "yea!!!"
I don't know about Friday night, but Sunday night was packed full of Sheen fans who loved virtually everything he said. I asked a bunch of people why they were at the show and most everyone's answer pretty much took the form: "Because he's a truth-teller! He doesn't take bullshit from those in charge of the media!". It dawned on me though that these people would have loved anything Sheen said, justifying to themselves that whatever he said, no matter how ridiculous, it was cool because it was the "truth". "True, it's a (Violent Torpedo Of) Truth, but it's still the truth just the same!", they might think to themselves. He probably could have said "let's sacrifice a virgin!" or "let's all overdose on cocaine!" and people would have said "yea!".
This side of human nature scared me. To watch so many people act like sheep as a man is having a meltdown and is clearly, to me, crying out for help, was really very sad.
To me, the most interesting and revealing moment of the show was when he spent those 10 seconds looking at my business card. What was going through his mind? Was he doing the thought experiment about what would happen if he actually had a reasonable conversation about what was happening to him? Was he thinking about how he would respond if he was actually diagnosed with bipolar in public by a real psychologist (not that I would have done so)? What was particularly telling was his response to his own internal dialogue, when he said "I'm OK being bipolar." In this moment of vulnerability, I think I saw a man trying desperately to convince himself of something that he perhaps didn't really believe.
Let's have compassion for Charlie Sheen. As fellow human beings, let's care about what he is going through -- whatever it is he is going through (I think he's going through a combination of things). But let's please, out of respect for those legitimately suffering with serious mental illness, stop encouraging him.
You can watch a short clip of this incident here: