Wednesday, 2 March 2011

Wider Reading | Twenty Minutes With Charlie Sheen

Mr Sheen, as he arrived for our interview.

I recently had the pleasure of sitting down with our 8th-season-Two-And-A-Half-Men star Charlie Sheen while he was out promoting his latest self-consciously insane rant for the benefit of delightedly ironic hipster Internet viewers and waging his war against Warner Bros. I asked for thirty minutes; I was told that I could have twenty, and was informed that further time with Charlie Sheen could cause me to 'burst like an over-ripe raccoon'. Twenty minutes, 1200 seconds, not a lot of time to interview Charlie about one of the most important events in the Internet's stupid giggling adolescent history. The following is a transcript of our remarkable discussion.

Jon Ware: Mr Sheen - thank you for taking time out of your demanding schedule.

Charlie Sheen: My pleasure - the content of your request seemed like something I should carve out a few minutes for.

Jon Ware: I should point out that your film, Hot Shots! Part Deux struck a comical chord in me that I hadn't felt for quite some time. The recreation of the boat-fight from The Guns of Navarone was loving and funny in the best traditions of scattershot spoofery.

Charlie Sheen: Thank you, Jon - big fan of Silkworms Ink, by the way.

Jon Ware: Sir, I can't imagine when you'd have the time to read it.

Charlie Sheen: I like to sit back with the laptop on Sunday mornings. The literary articles and sardonic spoofs really take my mind off the tabloid headlines. (He glances at his watch) Not to be abrupt or rush you, but you have 19 minutes left.

Jon Ware: I'll take that as an invitation to cut to the chase. Sir, in 2009 you created an imaginary screenplay in which you confronted Barack Obama for twenty minutes with evidence that could have been said to imply that Dick Cheney planned the tragedy of 9/11 in an attempt to create excuses for Western invasions in the Middle East. In this scenario, Mr Obama considered himself a fan of the programme Two and a Half Men. He listened to your theories politely and, while no conclusion was reached, he left with your folder of 'evidence' under one arm. Sir, it was not the conspiracy-theory content of the screenplay so much as the tone, which belonged to a Hollywood thriller in which the conspiracy theorist hero could well have been played by a young Charlie Sheen (Martin Sheen could have played the President), which suggested not only that you were a fantasist, but that you were very much uncertain of your own identity.

Charlie Sheen: Uncertain of my own identity?

Jon Ware: That you were playing a part, sir. That you were revelling in your own persona, just as you now revel in describing yourself in a deliberately absurd, almost abstract sense to the world's press.

(At this point one of Sheen's two girlfriends comes up and whispers in his ear. Sheen nods and checks his watch again as the girlfriend takes up her position again, directly in front of the doorway, behind me.)

Jon Ware: (Producing a folder) I'd like to present to you a few case studies, sir, if I may. The impact of Internet collective thinking on celebrity. 'Memery', if you will.

Charlie Sheen: You've come prepared, Mr Ware.

Jon Ware: I always said it's better to over-prepare, Mr Sheen.

Charlie Sheen: In that respect, you're a little like my ex-wife.

Jon Ware: I'll take that as a compliment, sir.

Charlie Sheen: As you wish.

Jon Ware: Case study number one - Keanu Reeves in 2010. His last film had been When The Earth Stood Still, an immense critical flop. He was mocked for his lack of emotion in various roles - treated as a caricature, of sorts. He was photographed sitting on a bench looking sad - and the Internet world reacted. It began to make fun of him in a gentler, more inner-circle way, creating viral art of him. Stories abounded of his apparently endless charity. He became another caricature - 'Sad Keanu' - but it was a happier identity, and to some extent it appears to have pleased him. Compare this to Chuck Norris, however, case study number two-

Charlie Sheen: No disrespect, Mr Ware, but I have to ask - what is it you were implying?

Jon Ware: Aside from one possible case of seriously unpleasant behaviour, Mr Sheen, with regards to your assaulting Brooke Mueller, you have also behaved in recent decades in the manner most likely to cause the reactionary tabloid press to howl about you. Tellingly, in the film Being John Malkovich, you played up to this, appearing 'as yourself' as an entertaining yet boozed-up, wild-eyed, sex-addicted mess. In Two and a Half Men, you appeared as a boozed-up, wild-eyed, sex-addicted mess...named 'Charlie'. The point of the vehicle, as far as I can tell, was that this was supposed to be charming.

Charlie Sheen: In 'Men', I was an 'entertaining' boozed-up, wild-eyed, sex-addicted mess.

Jon Ware: As you wish. My point, sir, is this - ratings for the prematurely cancelled 'Men' have shot up. And while many online are, indeed, mocking you, how many of them have also recently used your name in conjunction with the Reevesian term 'awesome'? 8 million Google results, Mr Sheen, for 'Charlie Sheen awesome'. Not including similar results.

(I hand him the folder.)

Jon Ware: Your caricature has altered, sir. With some well-chosen, colourful wordplay about warlocks and sabres, you've very nearly gone from being an anti-Semitic Mel Gibson into a Keanu Reeves. You've become an insider - even if not everybody thinks you're in on the joke. Because the fickleness of the Internet - and its willingness to pick up whimsical fashions and popularities and run with them ad nauseam - is almost as important as its possibilities for communicating truth. Frankly, Mr Sheen, if Muammar Gaddafi appeared on TV wearing a big top hat, a monocle, and raving about blue Smarties, he'd pick up a lot of Western Internet fans who worship irony above all. Because post-modernism is striving towards a new law - fashionably ironical action with serious consequence. Christ, I wonder how many people were momentarily charmed by the sheer absurdity of his moment with the umbrella and when he ranted about Nescafe - charmed enough that the horrific implications of his words became...unreal. We live in an age when we make our clowns kings, Mr Sheen.

Charlie Sheen: Of course. The Mayor Boris Johnson effect. But tell me, Mr Ware - having read your blog, I understand that you're presenting this scenario as part of your wider concern with the deteriorating effect irony (your favourite literary technique) can have upon culture and even politics when it becomes a fad spread collectively by those disenchanted with the current system and detached from any care for its well-being. Because this is a topic you've brought up, like, a bajillion times before. But is it not counter-productive to attempt to address this serious issue while yourself using irony?

(A curious sort of silence passes between us.)

Jon Ware: (a little sadly) Mr Sheen, it's the only language I was ever taught.

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