Friday, March 04, 2011

As Long As You Don't Frighten the Horses. On Charlie Sheen and Women

Piers Morgan interviewed Charlie Sheen on Monday night, and during the interview told him: “You’re entitled to behave however the hell you like as long as you don’t scare the horses and the children.”

The debacle of Charlie Sheen (who appears to suffer from either the effects of long-term cocaine use or the manic phase of the bipolar disorder) is something I have not written about, mostly because an adequate number of scavengers is already pecking on his mental corpse.

But there is something else about Sheen which is worth discussing (as was done by Suzie in an earlier post), and that is his violence towards women. To put that initial quote into perspective, Anna Holmes from Jezebel writes about Sheen and his girlfriends and wives in the New York Times:
CBS executives, not to mention the millions of viewers of his “family” sitcom “Two and a Half Men,” have consistently turned a blind eye toward Mr. Sheen’s history of abusing women. Part of this, of course, is about money. The actor’s F-18 of an id — to borrow a metaphor from Mr. Sheen himself — had long provided the show a steady stream of free publicity. It also helped make Mr. Sheen the highest-paid actor on television, at $1.2 million an episode.
But it’s also about apathy. Even now — after Mr. Sheen began carpet-bombing his bosses in radio rants, prompting CBS to shut down production on the show — observers still seem more entertained than outraged, tuning in to see him appear on every talk show on the planet and coming up with creative Internet memes based on his most colorful statements. And while his self-abuses are endlessly discussed, his abuse of women is barely broached.
Our inertia is not for lack of evidence. In 1990, he accidentally shot his fiancée at the time, the actress Kelly Preston, in the arm. (The engagement ended soon after.) In 1994 he was sued by a college student who alleged that he struck her in the head after she declined to have sex with him. (The case was settled out of court.) Two years later, a sex film actress, Brittany Ashland, said she had been thrown to the floor of Mr. Sheen’s Los Angeles house during a fight. (He pleaded no contest and paid a fine.)
In 2006, his wife at the time, the actress Denise Richards, filed a restraining order against him, saying Mr. Sheen had shoved and threatened to kill her. In December 2009, Mr. Sheen’s third wife, Brooke Mueller, a real-estate executive, called 911 after Mr. Sheen held a knife to her throat. (He pleaded guilty and was placed on probation.) Last October, another actress in sex films, Capri Anderson, locked herself in a Plaza Hotel bathroom after Mr. Sheen went on a rampage. (Ms. Anderson filed a criminal complaint but no arrest was made.) And on Tuesday, Ms. Mueller requested a temporary restraining order against her former husband, alleging that he had threatened to cut her head off, “put it in a box and send it to your mom.” (The order was granted, and the couple’s twin sons were quickly removed from his home.) “Lies,” Mr. Sheen told People magazine.
Do read the whole article. It is excellent in pointing out what it is that makes us ignore the real pain of Sheen's violence to its victims, including his white-famous-guy standing and the assumption that these victims were sluts:
“Gold diggers,” “prostitutes” and “sluts” are just some of the epithets lobbed at the women Mr. Sheen has chosen to spend his time with. Andy Cohen, a senior executive at Bravo and a TV star in his own right, referred to the actor’s current companions, Natalie Kenly and Bree Olson, as “whores” on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” program on Tuesday. Arianna Huffington sarcastically tweeted that Mr. Sheen’s girlfriends “symbolize modesty, loyalty and good taste.”
Holmes links the non-reactions of the wider audience to reality television. Reality television turns gratuitous violence and humiliation into Entertainment Without Shame. The shame would be there if the participants had been tricked into playing the game, we think, but they have not: They volunteer because they so desire the prize at the end.

This attitude, Holmes argues, has spread wider. Thus, the young women competing for the attention (and money, we assume) of men like Charlie Sheen KNOW what they are in for: Slaps and threats are just par for that course. They volunteer. This means that the violence is partly their own fault.

I can't help seeing this also as a part of the new emphasis (brought by Men's Rights Activists) of mutuality in intimate partner violence. The more we focus on HOW the victims might have contributed to their own violence (they asked for it because they were gold-diggers or prostitutes), the less empathy we will feel when they turn up battered in some hospital or buried in some park.

But this emphasis on mutuality and volunteerism is ultimately extremely one-sided. We don't ask the same questions about the perpetrators of the violence, especially if they are famous celebrities like Sheen. He's a "bad boy", she is a whore.
Jennifer Pozner's Reality Bites Back: The Troubling Truth About Guilty-Pleasure TV is an excellent look into the deeper meaning of reality television.