DEATH FROM ABOVE Sheen has penetrated the culture in ways that actual TV shows could only dream.
In 1968, after two seasons on NBC, the Monkees made a psychedelic film called Head that was written by Jack Nicholson. Free-form plotting, plenty of drug references, and a cameo appearance from Frank Zappa cemented the band in the firmament of the counterculture. True to the spirit of the times, they broke free of the production machine that catapulted them into stardom, writing and recording their own record. But Headquarters was a mess. It would seem that the music of Davy Jones and company required the friction generated by tangling with the squares.
So, apparently, does Charlie Sheen. In about a month, Sheen has completed the Monkees' career trajectory, from twitchy industry puppet to radiant drug zealot to self-indulgent bore. Two weeks ago, after tolerating years of open rebellion, creator/producer Chuck Lorre fired Sheen from Two and a Half Men. This past Saturday, Sheen released the first episode of Sheen's Korner, a 54-minute web series laden with lame jokes and fart noises. Hours after it appeared, he called it "a shameful train wreck filled with blind, cuddly puppies." On Sunday, he posted a second, shorter installment to Ustream in which he yelled into a phone and smoked cigarettes. The highlight came when Sheen mourned his dead pug, Betty, urging her to "kick ass in the next dimension." This is not good television.
But it was Sheen's appearances on The Today Show and 20/20 that taught us what good television is: a glorious rupture. While the Middle East raced toward democracy and Americans rallied in the hope of preserving the tenuous social contract between the nation and its workers, the highest-paid television actor in the world took breakfast with his porn family in a ranch house in California before spewing angry non-sequiturs to credulous network anchors.
Earlier this year, while watching his father's film Apocalypse Now, Sheen got a tattoo reading "Death from Above." The phrase works just fine as a slogan for his total domination of televised media. Through a handful of appearances on the network news magazines, some radio appearances, and the fastest-growing Twitter account in that platform's history, Sheen penetrated the culture in ways actual shows could only dream of. Fuck water-cooler conversation: Sheen introduced "Vatican assassin" into the general parlance and transformed a once workaday phrase, "winning," into a potent reminder that the rest of us are not receiving fellatio from a porn starlet while flying a helicopter made out of cocaine.
We know that celebrities get limitless freebies, special cars, and the warming glow of millions of adoring eyes, and yet most spend their time trying to convince everyone that they're regular humans or transcendent artists or humanitarians touched by God. Charlie Sheen pretends to be none of these. He's an unrepentant monster.
His monstrous visage, offset by a soft-focus news anchor, was endlessly compelling. Consider the head: blocky, dipping from left to right. The skin that stretches across it: sallow, abraded. The sunken, glittering eyes, the mirthless rictus, rumored to be filled with teeth of gold. But lo, what sprang forth from that terrifying hole!