Anthropology of Charlie Sheen's "Jezebels"

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Today/NBC Source. Charlie Sheen with his live-in girlfriends Rachel Oberlin, center, and model Natalie Kenly, left.

The Charlie Sheen media storm this week has invoked a wide range of responses, from the inane to the profane to the profound. One commentator referred to this coverage as a reality TV "Rorschach test" {those ink blots that reveal psychological insights, some believe.) Frankly, I did not pay attention beyond the ambient noise produced by my TV set while getting ready for a new day, until I came across an Op-Ed in The New York Times by Anna Holmes, "The Disposable Woman."

Please note that my use of the term "Jezebel" is not to characterize any individual, but to illustrate Ms. Mueller's insights as described below. The last thing the women in this media storm need is further objectification.

Even in the midst of a story barely worthy of print in those ubiquitous entertainment magazines in grocery store aisles, when intelligent discussion is evoked, I believe we should listen and perhaps someday learn. Thanks to Letters Editor Thomas Feyer of The New York Times, I read and then re-read this Op-Ed, after seeing his Tweet:

@tomfeyer Thomas Feyer
I rarely say this, but this #NYT Op-Ed is a must read: The Disposable Woman http://nyti.ms/hOOJiG #Sheen
4 Mar via TimesPeople

Ms. Holmes reminds us of the double standard embedded in the entertainment media, and of the longstanding anthropology of male-female relationships that begin, and end, by a controlling alpha male - a toxic situation that need not be perpetuated.

Below are some excerpts:

...Mr. Sheen, whose behavior has been repeatedly and affectionately dismissed as the antics of a "bad boy" (see: any news article in the past 20 years), a "rock star" (see: Piers Morgan, again) and a "rebel" (see: Andrea Canning's "20/20" interview on Tuesday). He has in essence, achieved a sort of folk-hero status; on Wednesday, his just-created Twitter account hit a million followers, setting a Guinness World Record.

But there's something else at work here: the seeming imperfection of Mr. Sheen's numerous accusers. The women are of a type, which is to say, highly unsympathetic. Some are sex workers -- pornographic film stars and escorts -- whose compliance with churlish conduct is assumed to be part of the deal. (For the record: It is not.)

Others, namely Ms. Richards and Ms. Mueller, are less-famous starlets or former "nobodies" whose relationships with Mr. Sheen have been disparaged as purely sexual and transactional. The women reside on a continuum in which injuries are assumed and insults are expected.

"Gold diggers," "prostitutes" and "sluts" are just some of the epithets lobbed at the women Mr. Sheen has chosen to spend his time with. Andy Cohen, a senior executive at Bravo and a TV star in his own right, referred to the actor's current companions, Natalie Kenly and Bree Olson, as "whores" on MSNBC's "Morning Joe" program on Tuesday. Arianna Huffington sarcastically tweeted that Mr. Sheen's girlfriends "symbolize modesty, loyalty and good taste." Mr. Sheen's own nickname for Ms. Kenly and Ms. Olson -- "the goddesses" -- is in its own way indicative of their perceived interchangeability and disposability.

It's these sorts of explicit and implicit value judgments that underscore our contempt for women who are assumed to be trading on their sexuality. A woman's active embrace of the fame monster or participation in the sex industry, we seem to say, means that she compromises her right not to be assaulted, let alone humiliated, insulted or degraded; it's part of the deal. The promise of a modern Cinderella ending -- attention, fame, the love and savings account of a rich man -- is always the assumed goal.

Objectification and abuse, it follows, is not only an accepted occupational hazard for certain women, but something that men like Mr. Sheen have earned the right to indulge in.

As Jennifer Pozner points out in her recent book "Reality Bites Back: The Troubling Truth About Guilty-Pleasure TV," misogyny is embedded within the DNA of the reality genre. One of the very first millennial shows, in fact, "Who Wants to Marry a Multimillionaire," was notable in that it auctioned off what producers called the "biggest prize of all": a supposedly wealthy B-movie writer named Rick Rockwell -- who was later revealed to have had a restraining order filed against him by a woman he'd threatened to kill. According to Ms. Pozner, the reaction of one of the producers of "Multimillionaire" was, "Great! More publicity!"

On reality television, gratuitous violence and explicit sexuality are not only entertainment but a means to an end. These enthusiastically documented humiliations are positioned as necessities in the service of some final prize or larger benefit -- a marriage proposal, a modeling contract, $1 million. But they also make assault and abasement seem commonplace, acceptable behavior, tolerated by women and encouraged in men.

According to Mashable, Charlie Sheen will be in yet another televised event tonight (see below). This offers one more example of feeding the feral media beast, that more often than not, demands a fast food-like diet lacking in nutrition but packed with empty calories. I hope that thoughtful commentaries such as that by Ms. Holmes will nurture a more substantial, nutritious diet for that beast which, whether we like it or not, is poised to consume us.

Charlie Sheen to Appear on Ustream Live Tonight
It's hard to tell what's going to happen, but Twitter sensation Charlie Sheen just tweeted that he will appear live tonight at 10 Eastern (7 Pacific) on Ustream, an online video channel.
He didn't indicate what else would be going on during his Ustream netcast, where he'll probably be cavorting and horsing around on a program he's calling Sheen's Korner.
Here's Sheen's tweet:
WORLD.. live 7:00p pacific time..! Tune in, turn on... Its #TigerBlood tonight!!
There's little information about this upcoming appearance, so for now, we'll just have to speculate and guess what on earth he's going to do with this live video stream. According to Sheen's latest tweets, he's settled a legal dispute with his wife with a verbal agreement, so maybe now it's time for him to celebrate.

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Half the marriages I see are some mild version of simple prostitution. The lady trades sex, and possibly having and caring for kids, for access to material resources, cash, a lifestyle they enjoy. I'm not sure who is exploiting who. Seems either side can walk away at any time. Even more so in this case.

Many a male has a desire to have two pretty ladies willingly sharing his bed. Many a lady has a desire to have a sugar-daddy treat them to a life of parties, luxury, and high end amenities.

I don't see this as precluding the assumed societal ideal of a couple, raising kids, having career/s, growing old together. Especially given that so many of the couple explicitly shooting for that model end up divorced with friends, families on both sides, and kids being wreckage left behind at the side of the road. Even more ironic that many of those divorces were precipitated by extra-marital affairs.

Is the Ozzy and Harriet model so good that it can be the only way? Is Sheen's version of domestic bliss any worse? Given that, assuming resort to cosmetic surgery, as Cher made clear, the two young ladies will have looks long after Charlie has run out of liver, I don't see them as being exploited. I also assume the two ladies are collecting allowances that allow them to sock away a fair amount of money. If they play their cards right they will come out both financially secure and pretty as they walk away from Charlie's funeral.

It also has to be noted that disposable people are the capitalist ideal. That is the idea behind McDonald's using burger and fry machines that require no talent, skill, training. It is why corporations, whenever possible, hire 'independent subcontractors' instead of employees. I have friends who have worked for seven years in the same office at an insurance company. No benefits, no job security, they have to sweat being rehired every quarter.

Sheen is just running his domestic life like it is a right-to-work state with partners as independent contractors. Privatization and anti-labor policy filtered down to home life a long time ago.