Charlie Sheen and the bedlamite approach to insanity

England’s Bethlem Royal Hospital, founded in the 13th Century as part of a convent, eventually transformed itself into the world’s first facility dedicated to the mentally ill.  By the 16th Century, when it housed only the mentally ill, it was famous for the cruelty with which those patients were treated.  The word “bedlam,” which describes a situation that is completely out of control, is a bastardization of the hospital’s name.

For centuries, Bethlem Royal Hospital was also once of London’s most popular tourist attractions.  For a penny, people could walk through the facility, staring at the inmates, many of whom were chained to walls, lying in their own filth.  It was considered a good show to see the crazy people rant and rave.  No wonder, then, that many British people chose to incarcerate mentally ill relatives in their own homes (rather as Rochester did with Bertha).  Those homes may have become prisons, but at least they were safe and private.

The practice of making insanity a public show changed only when people realized the indecency and immortality of laughing and staring at people who were helpless victims of their own mental illnesses.  People of good will now think to themselves, “I never would sink to such a low practice.”

Apparently the American media is not made up of people of good will.  For as long as I’ve been aware of him, Charlie Sheen has been a substance abuser and a loathsome individual.  Now, though, it’s apparent that his vices have caught up with him and rendered him mentally ill.  Reading the transcripts of his interviews his definite evidence that he has parted with reality.  Normal people, even eccentric people, do not say “I am on a drug, it’s called Charlie Sheen.  It’s not available because if you try it you will die. Your face will melt off and your children will weep over your exploded body.”

In a decent world, Sheen would get the treatment he requires.  In an indecent world, he’s paraded around for the media’s profit, just as the inmates at Bethlem Hospital were once paraded around for the profit of their ostensible caretakers.  It’s embarrassing to watch someone sink into such complete degradation.

Some might say that Sheen wants this publicity.  He’s actively seeking it, after all, as he has done for the length of his career.  There’s a difference, though, between a mentally functioning person (even a low functioning person) taking appropriate steps to advance his career, and a mentally ill person treading that same path.  It reminds me of the arguments the ACLU always makes about the paranoid schizophrenics on the streets of San Francisco:  “They want to be there.”  Yes, that’s true.  They do indeed want to live on the streets, eating garbage, crawling with lice, and having suppurating wounds all over their body.  But they want to live that way because they’re crazy as loons.  Their desire to be dysfunctional (starving, filthy and diseased) on the streets is evidence of their insanity.  A decent society, rather than saying “Great, eat garbage,” helps them out.

I find the Sheen spectacle disturbing, just as I find Lindsay Lohan’s collapse disturbing, and Miley Cyrus’ journey from wholesome comedienne to drug-experimenting slut disturbing.  All of these people are victims of Hollywood, which cultivates their weaknesses, addictions and insanity for its collective profit, and then further profits from their spectacular, pathetic, demeaning, and always very public, implosions.

Cross-posted at Right Wing News

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  • Randall Woodman

    Either that or he’s a comic genius.

  • jj

    It’s perhaps a touch broad to say they’re victims of Hollywood.  What they are seems more symptomatic of the age, and maybe of their age than it does of Hollywood.  Oshkosh has plenty of drug sucking loopiness too; and so does Elizabeth, New Jersey.
    Nor is it a surprise that the media is not made up of people of good will.  (Are you kidding?)  I can think of a lot of people who routinely pronounce in just as off-the-wall terms, from the good old Maharishi right on up to Obama, who announced, as you may recall, that he’d lower the sea levels beginning with the day of his inauguration.  Nuts?  Sure, but though certifiably off the wall grandiose, probably not actionable.
    he isn’t dysfunctional, either.  He shows up, does his job – and functions rather well, too, that’s been the #1 show for a while, and it’s not because of Jon Cryer – and goes home.  Or out to whatever party he can find, which has been the pattern of his entire life.  (He’s been nuts the whole career?)  He’s certainly not a swell person, but he did quite publicly leave a deposit in a jar, and allow some blood to be drawn, and the tests came back with no true bill.  So does he use on the weekends?  Probably, but he’s apparently entirely capable of quitting pretty much at will to allow time for it to clear his system and let the blood and urine tests come back clean.  So while he may be many things, one of the things he evidently is not is an addict.
    I don’t defend him, and I think there’s little doubt he’s experiencing some sort of breakdown, but that’s what it likely is.  We’ve seen lots of those, from Jonathan Winters to Robin Williams to Elizabeth Taylor to think of your own favorite who not too long ago went off for a “rest.”  Charlie’s not going off anywhere, he’s right there in front of your face, so you’re going to watch it all happen in prime time instead of behind closed doors.  I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing, but it’s pretty easy not to watch.

  • Charles Martel

    I don’t get any pleasure out of watching people disintegrate before my eyes—Sheen, Lohan, Olbermann, Biden. I caught a snatch of an interview with Sheen and he looked old, wild-eyed and disheveled. However cocky or proactive he’s trying to appear to be, I think there’s some genuine suffering on his part.

    Being a spectator to celebrity meltdown is nothing new in our society, but the speed at which it can be reported and the technological prowess that lets it be recorded in such graphic, close-up terms has turned it from mere voyeurism into a sort of sitting in an electronic colosseum with thumbs at the ready to jab up or down in pity or condemnation.

    I just look away. I wish no ill on the man and I hope he gets his demons under control.

  • Friend of USA

    All of these people are victims of Hollywood, which cultivates their weaknesses, addictions and insanity for its collective profit, and then further profits from their spectacular, pathetic, demeaning, and always very public, implosions.

    And Hollywood is setting the bar lower and lower every year.
    The immorality of last year will not sell as much this year so they lower the bar to more immoral things.
    Music videoclips contain more and more sleaze adn the bar is set lower every year.
    These days music videos are more about showing women’s curves than anything.
    It is pornography more than art, if there is any art left in them.
    I know I sound like a broken record but all those things are signs of a civilization in serious decay.
    But who says ” ah common don’t be such a party pooper, it’s all good clean fun!!!”
    The decays is a result of decades of liberalism.
    Oh yes my biggest pet peeve is Liberals and what theu are doing to my civilization.
    I am beyond appaled at what Liberals are doing.
    They always take the side of what is bad for Western Civilization.
    From immoral videoclips to illegal immigration, the list is too long.

  • Charles

    Charles Martel:  ditto to everything that you’ve said.  I, too, find it distrubing to watch others (celebrity or not) go through a complete melt-down.  What amazes me is the “glee” some many folks find in watching others fall to pieces.  Is it envy?

    I was living in the DC area when Marion “the-*itch-set-me-up” Barry went through his complete meltdown and even go to prison.  While so many folks that I knew (and surprise, surprise, many of them were self-proclaimed liberals) would gloat over his problems; I truly felt so sorry for the guy.  Even though I didn’t like his politics, I thought that he truly believed that he was doing good for the city and its residents.  He was a classic case of power corrupts.  There, too, I felt that so much of the gloating was a case of being envious – enjoying the fall of the powerful.

  • Ymarsakar

    Who are these people again? I don’t know them.
    Hollywood is what the Left accuses capitalism and corporations of being: evil.
    What more is there to say.