How winning is Charlie Sheen? So much so that he mastered Twitter before he even joined, and then mastered it all over again when he snagged 500,000 followers within hours of signing up. His media rampage of the past few days has been fueled by a formidable cocktail of tiger blood and tweet-sized musings (you already know them all, but "I have a 10,000-year-old brain and the boogers of a seven-year-old," is my absolute favorite, with "I'm bi-winning. I win here and I win there," in second). To say that he's mastered the art of the soundbite is to downplay the magnitude of his skill. He has mastered the art of how we communicate now.
This is not a train wreck -- it is a joy ride, a violent embrace of a wild lifestyle. Sheen has as much control as a man can when his one gear is go! But how he asserts that control! He shows up to interviews orchestrating, for one thing. On Piers Morgan Tonight, he signaled a nonexistent audience to clap, threw to commercial on his own accord and told Piers how and when to set up their existing association -- all during the first segment. On 20/20, he called certain questions and assertions "stupid" and directed Andrea Canning's line of questioning at one point. He flat-out mocked the TMZ reporter who was sent to sit with him poolside.
That 20/20 interview was shot before the past few days we've spent as a culture poking around in Charlie Sheen's head, and yet even (what feels like way back) then, he reviewed his own public performance with more clarity and precision than anyone else I've read since: "Stuff just comes out and it's entertaining and it sounds different than the other garbage people are spewing." Yes. This is exactly why he is holding the world of pop culture in rapt attention.
This is unlike anything we've seen thus far, and yet it makes so much sense that it's happening. This is not some postmodern parable; this is now, period. TV's highest-paid star is essentially using mass media as his blog, sharing his life and musings through what feels like a 24/7 feed (and he's in that honeymoon stage of blogging -- the starting point when you want to do it constantly). Why bother with Wordpress when you can harness the networks? He's not afraid of indicating how hyper-aware of his status he is (versus that of most people who are watching), so I doubt he'd settle for less, anyway.
We are watching the entertainer's equivalent of a freestyle routine and he keeps on winning the gold. He's giving us so much of what we appreciate as a culture: self-aggrandizement ("I'm the best at what I do...sorry Middle America, yeah I said it"), self-awareness ("People can't figure me out, I don't expect them to"), punchy words to live by ("I don't sleep. I wait."), flippant juvenile humor ("Thanks Dr. Loser!"), the impossible ("I can function without sleep"), absurdity ("Can't you be in a pink cloud all your life?"), a bit of Yoda ("They didn't give me great advice and within that, there's great advice"). His mastery of the media is so enchanting, he might actually be the warlock he claims he is.
It is the performance of a lifetime (the Twitpic of him holding a cake with an Oscar on it suggests that he knows as much). Who knows where it goes from here. It could just go on and on forever, or he could die when he takes the next corner of the NASCAR race that is his life. Will he turn this thing into a test of our endurance, force-feeding us with his shit even after we've had enough and looked away? (After all, have we ever gotten our comeuppance for being such voyeurs?) Will we ever be able to avert our gaze from this? Even after 10 years? 20? Will it turn out to be a calculated mess or a messy calculation?
While the Sheen show is fascinating in the scheme of everything, it is somewhat dull aesthetically. I started to feel fatigued during the Oscars as ABC ran the promo for Tuesday's special 20/20 repeatedly (all together now: "I am on a drug. It's called Carlie Sheen!"). We get it: Charlie Sheen says outlandish things in public. As much as his display is a perfect reflection of our time, it is only that. Yes, he's mastered the art of how we communicate now, but we are increasingly lazy and incoherent communicators. Fittingly, Sheen's message is muddled -- he purports to just want to have a conversation with Les Moonves regarding the future of Two and a Half Men...and yet, all the sound bites and tangents are somehow obscuring his intent. He complains about scrutiny while thrusting himself in the thick of it. No, Charlie, you cannot have one corner of your life that's not TMZ'ed up the butt, not as long as you're willingly giving TMZ your time and sitting down for their interviews.
And yet, who can resist the earthly desire of spectacle? Who doesn't want to play with this puzzle? (Is he high? Bi-polar? Shitting us?) Just like he said he did with his recent porn-star-filled bender (the one at his mansion), he's exposing us to magic. But he's also pulling back the curtain on the extent to which we are seduced by fame, falls from great heights and funny sentences. By the way, these are all things we already knew about ourselves. Yes, Charlie Sheen is winning, but some games are easier than others.