I'm as entertained as anyone with the recent antics of Charlie Sheen, and if capturing the attention of the entire public was the goal, then Charlie is "winning."
Most of us are watching in a kind of awe-inspired horror. This would be great, we think to ourselves, if Charlie was actually in control, if his TV show was still in production and if his kids had not been carted away in the dead of night.
Charlie keeps saying he's tired of hiding who he is. He's tired of apologizing for his behavior and he doesn't see his choices as a problem. After all, he has tiger blood and Adonis DNA; he's special and he's tired of hiding it. This is where, in a free society, one has to ask, just how free are we, really?
Charlie has declared himself in defiance of social etiquette as a guy who does anything he wants to do whenever he wants to do it -- rules be damned. Society is now saying, "We can't stop you, but you won't be working for us, and you can't have custody of your kids".
For a lot of people in America, Charlie's antics are making him more of a role model than ever. They look at Charlie and say, "I want to party with you, man." These are the same people who say, "I love Jackass," and they go to shows where stunt men deliberately get into accidents. It's considered uniquely American to have the freedom to not care what society thinks, even if what you're doing is self destructive.
Most of us care about consequences; that's what keeps us in line. What other people think matters to us. We don't have our own definition of winning. We measure our success against a societal definition. As a result, most of us feel like failures, and as we watch a "free" man, we become frightened.
Charlie Sheen is fascinating, compelling, dangerous and exciting. We know it can't last. Eventually, Charlie will have to surrender and admit failure because too many people are watching. He'll either be reined in or become the societal definition. One way or the other, this will come to an end and we'll all say, "It was fun to watch while it lasted".
The funny thing is, there are lots of people living just like Charlie Sheen and no one is telling them to stop. Their children are not being removed and, if they don't work, many of them get money from the government or live completely outside the law. Charlie's problem is that he's experiencing too much of that societal definition of success and at the same time being too high profile. We all know you can't have it both ways.