One Toe Over the Line

I took one too many classes in literary criticism, I think.  I am spending a lot of time these days thinking about the line between funny and offensive/insensitive.  A friend of mine who is a music director for a lot of topical improvisation/sketch shows wondered on Facebook how and if they should acknowledge the tsunami in Japan before this week’s show. 

I applaud her even approaching the question.  I am tired of the onus being put on me, the audience, to accept that funny is funny and if I can’t find something funny in tragedy, something is wrong with me (as I was told after seeing a sketch show containing scene where Anne Frank was actually taken away to a concentration camp for writing…wait for it — porn!)…or the assumption being made that if I’m paying for a show, I want to escape reality completely, thus ignoring all troubles.)

I am still struggling with a lot of these lines.  It’s the art and craft of comedy.  Be bold.  Be smart. Be sensitive. Be stinging.

Here is something I posted on Facebook a few days ago regarding the much less tragic but still sorrowful on a micro-level crapfest that is Charlie Sheen:

I am not apologizing for Charlie Sheen. 

 In my life, I have spent significant time with people who are/were dealing with various mental and emotional issues — many, but not all, diagnosed.  I am not a psychologist or psychiatrist.  I have the very dangerous “teacher psychology courses” background; those classes often do more harm than good when dealing with human beings and the ebbs and flows of their lives.

 Charlie Sheen is ripe for mockery.  For years he has woven himself quite a public persona: he is obnoxious, he is famous, he is egotistical, he is callous, he is misogynistic, he is anti-Semitic, he is anti-work, he is anti-good taste (which, one could argue, was made clear when he signed on for Two and a Half Men)

The media loves to report this type of star’s fall from grace.  We all cluck and shake our heads in dismay, in mock pity, in disbelief.  We have little empathy. We laugh.  We gasp.  We mostly fold the “he brought it on himself” into an origami screed of Hollywood and personal responsibility and ego and fame.  Our handy analyses are beautiful, intricate, well-crafted, but when unfolded, it’s plain to see: we think there has to be clear choice involved.  His choice.  His stupid, poor, irresponsible choice.

I would venture a non-professional, armchair guess that Charlie Sheen suffers. He suffers a lot.  He may have taken so many substances to numb himself to that suffering.  He may lash out at loved ones and kind ones and good ones and bosses and hands that feed him because sometimes that’s what people who suffer do.

Yes, he is responsible for his behavior.  Yes, he has a lot of soul searching to do.  My guess is that that isn’t going to happen quite yet, if at all.  I will not be surprised if in the not-so-distant future the words, “All the warning signs were there” are uttered by us and by the oh-so-somber media in a report of this human life coming to an end.

The man is in pain.  He is out of control.  He is whirling towards almost certain career suicide (and let’s hope it stops there.)

 I am sure his children are in pain. His five children who in no way chose their parents. 

 He’s got quite a cushion of ridiculous, blowhard, off-putting,  odd, weirdly engaging, engrossing, abnormal behaviors to “protect” himself from scrutiny of others and his own soul searching.

The man is lashing out.  He is hurting people.  And, it must be said and cannot be emphasized enough, his family are true victims of Sheen’s actions.  His coworkers are true victims.  His inner-circle are victims.  I’m in no way trying to deny that.  He’s responsible to them.  He’s wronged them.   My gut tells me he’s hurting.  My experience tells me that the people around him are furious, hurt, and ready to give up.  Soon he’ll be alone, or perhaps only surrounded by eggers-on.

 Again, I know that my anecdotes and my life experience aren’t data, nor may they be relevant to Sheen at all.  Perhaps he is just loony in a non-clinical sense.  Maybe he is just that big an asshole.

 I doubt it though.

 Either way, how much more are we going to poke at this poor beast with a stick?

The article below says it much better than I; it argues, however, that mental illness followed the drug addiction, where I believe the drug addiction masked mental illness.

http://www.npr.org/blogs/monkeysee/2011/03/01/134161063/paying-a-penny-at-bedlam?sc=fb&cc=fp

 In any case, I really will be glad when some other fool takes over the headlines.

I am not apologizing for Charlie Sheen.  This just looks familiar and not particularly funny anymore. 

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