media manipulation


Charlie Sheen in March 2009

Image via Wikipedia

In spite of my pleading last week for Charlie Sheen to go away, he is still everywhere. He is now not only haunting our TVs but also the web. After opening a Twitter account, he zoomed to 1.3 million followers after only two days. He has also done a 50 minute internet show called “Sheen’s Corner” and SiriusXM Radio created a special channel called Tiger Blood Radio to broadcast Sheen 24 hours straight.

Finally, CBS and Warner had enough and fired their star from his show Two and a Half Men. What brought us to this point? Surely, he had it coming but would it have reached this climax if Charlie Sheen hadn’t been spewing venom hourly in the media and on the web. Did he create career suicide, did the media’s over indulgence cause this, or did we, the gawking public, cause his demise?

Some interesting questions have been raised about incessant media exposure and its affect on the victim. With producers trying to outdo one another, this fed into Sheen’s massive ego and his need for constant exposure. Some have even asked the question, is the media “enabling” Sheen to continue on his path of self-destruction to his career, his health, and his family? Is the media exploiting him? if so, does the media have a responsibility to consider what is best for their subject?

This same scenario can be applied to what happened to Ted Williams after he was snatched from the streets of Columbus and plucked down in the middle of a spot light on fame’s stage. Was Dr. Phil and the media exploiting him for better ratings? In both cases we have someone eager for the attention and publicity but what does this do to an unstable person? Surely, the intense scrutiny can’t be good for someone already struggling with inner demons. Psychiatrist Gail Saltz said, “The spotlight is almost never helpful to people in these situations. It makes it harder to evaluate mistakes, to think things through, to take a different turn.

It was probably best for Ted Williams that he left the chaos and opted for an alcohol and drug free house where he would receive constant supervision and support—AND MAINTAIN HIS PRIVACY.

In Charlie Sheen’s case he is accustomed to the bright lights of fame. Jeff Jarvis, a prominent media blogger, said, “The drug Sheen is on right now is attention, and he’s overdosing on that drug. This is a cynical act by the media. It’s exploitation.” He added “if what we’re seeing is bipolar disorder, then it isn’t Charlie Sheen we are hearing…it’s the disorder, and we are delaying his recovery.”

Predictably, the networks don’t agree. Andrea Canning of ABC, who did an interview with Sheen for a hugely rated 20/20 show, said she still thinks he has some things to say when asked if he had had enough air time. And you can be sure she will be there to eagerly report anything else he has to say–that is her job.

Marty Kaplan, director of the Norman Lear Center at t he USC Annenbeusrg School of Communication agrees that the media has been Sheen’s enablers.  However, he added that he wouldn’t be getting such intense exposure if it didn’t bring big ratings “so it’s the audience—us—who are his codependents. Is the attention making his behavior worse? Maybe. But the media didn’t invent people’s urge to rubberneck at car crashes.”

But even if the media suddenly stopped all interviews and coverage, Sheen still has access to the public through Twitter and the web. Because he was, literally, an overnight sensation, advertisers are eager to attach to his site. Thus, he will gain more exposure and money.

Todd Boyd, professor of popular culture at University of Southern California, said, “Fame is perhaps as much a drug as the real drugs. And it’s legal.” As long as there is a Charlie Sheen or a Ted Williams, the media will continue to flock to them like vultures; and, sadly, the bystanders—you and I—will continue to stand by to watch the train wreck.

So, who is to blame for this circus—the media, the audience, or the fame seeker. Each feeds on the other. The media would not continue to cover attention seekers if it had no audience. The audience would not watch it if the media did not cover it. And, the fame seeker would not cavort in public if he did not have an audience. Whatever the reason, one fact remains, if something isn’t done soon the fame seeker will go down in flames like the moth drawn to the light of a candle.

Regardless of who is at fault, the media is the constant that drives this scenario. Maybe it is time the media take a long look at itself to analyze its role in dealing with ego maniacs and how it will handle future situations.