October 2, 2006

The Sheen of American redemption

During my summer journey through Sicily, on an overly ambitious B.A. project, I had the pleasure of being assaulted by a variety of politically conscious thieves and would-be demagogues not wanting to splurge for first class seats on TrenItalia. On a midnight train from Palermo to Bari, as a Moroccan man was berating me in broken Italian about FEMA, I realized that there are apparently myriad reasons to hate America. But, no matter how many Yale-educated, sadly kung fu–deficient Texas Rangers we elect into our highest office, no one can ever deny the inexhaustible supply of one key element in the United States: redemption.

From the rags-to-riches plutocrat Andrew Carnegie to the innocent-by-million-dollar-settlement Kobe Bryant, there is no refuting that redemption springs eternal alongside amber waves of grain. The most recent and perhaps one of the most uplifting instances of this truly American phenomenon just so happens to be embodied by Charlie Sheen, the fortunate son of actor Martin Sheen. Charlie Sheen exploded onto the Hollywood scene with powerhouse pictures on the order of Platoon and Wall Street. Sheen would ominously end the ’80s (although the ’80s would not necessarily end for Sheen) with the unclassifiable Major League. Throughout the ’90s, the once-promising young actor’s glory train came to a screeching halt as he punished audiences with an improbable second Major League movie, and the nauseating Hot Shots saga. It appeared that it was all over for Sheen—his waxen wings were melting and he was plunging into the ocean of anonymity, disgrace, and court-mandated rehab.

As if propelled out of rehab by some force triumphantly beyond himself, however, a decidedly calmer, more robust Sheen gradually began to stagger back into the limelight in the new millennium. Taking over for Michael J. Fox’s on the sitcom Spin City, the damaged yet resilient Sheen started to cross his own personal Delaware River. No different than the heartrendingly perseverant Yuletide labor of Washington’s weary Continental Army, Sheen’s comeback would be as arduous as uncomfortable. Sheen was first resurrected in the leading role for Scary Movie 3, which seemed dangerously similar to his protagonist in the Hot Shots disaster. Freezing and exhausted, Charlie Sheen would rise from the wintery Delaware onto the shore of retribution with the show Two and a Half Men in 2003. The sitcom, although seemingly preposterous in its premise and numb in its comedic writing, would cultivate Sheen’s loveable vileness, a serendipitous hybrid of his early lovability and more recent vileness. Four seasons later, Sheen is fixing to make a per-show salary comparable to that of comedians who had a lot less fun in the ’80s.

Perhaps Sheen is far from a true American hero. Perhaps he should suffer more for his crimes against cinema throughout the ’90s. But not to rejoice upon the redemption of Charlie Sheen would be to deny a veritable affirmation of a truly American phenomenon. No doubt that a great deal of the world believes we are plundering oil under a ridiculous pretense. Certainly, the U.S. soccer team made all of us feel a little emasculated. Nevertheless, despite such grievous shortcomings and indiscretions, Sheen still rises from the ashes like a phoenix. The development of Iraq into a gladiatorial school for international terrorists and the continued ignorance of the Sudan crisis may be situations for which the United States will never find redemption. But Charlie Sheen, as he goes to drain his first 350K on Sunset Boulevard on an imminent Friday, reminds us that there will always be hope for the individual in the United States, even if the country seems on the verge of brutal disintegration. You can be sure that Bush will catch Scary Movie 4 in his home theater on Crawford with none other than Charlie Sheen.