Charlie Sheen's Notoriety Tour: A Time-Honored Tradition

Over the weekend, Charlie Sheen was booed in Detroit and had his career as a speaker revived in Chicago (such instantaneous pulse-taking on the actor’s quasi-career as a public speaker is enough to make one regret baser elements of the Internet, which kick-started the nonsense in the first place). Entertainment Weekly, perhaps uncouthly, said that Mr. Sheen’s Detroit show was the latest in the city’s troubles after “the U.S. automaker recession,” and noted “nobody understands a word Sheen is saying.” Is this a surprise, though, to those who were paying attention? “We have no idea, that’s part of the excitement,” a young woman told EW of her expectations for the evening, but given Mr. Sheen’s inability to speak coherently in 140-character bursts, a full evening’s entertainment seems out of the question. Chicago saw a more successful Sheen performance, though expectations were degraded at that point; further, the Chicago Theatre was home to the most famously gullible (fictional) audience of all time. Do you think that audience loved Roxie Hart because she was a good dancer or a murderess? (Her prop machine gun may as well be engraved “Warlock.”)

Charlie Sheen’s tour has less in common with past successful speaking tours, like Hal Holbrook’s Mark Twain schtick, than with quick-burning train-wrecks–Britney Spears disappears for two-year chunks, just long enough to stoke sufficient interest in her next staggering dance across America. (Will there be a single unironic fan in any given stadium?) Snooki gets paid more than Toni Morrison to speak at Rutgers–unsurprising, given the rich legacy of MTV burnouts who’ll speak about “issues” at your university. As mass media has made the speaking tour effectively irrelevant (could a Hal Holbrook act, without a healthy local-theater circuit, thrive today?), one wonders what a Charlie Sheen hopes to get out of a speaking tour. Ms. Spears and Snooki seem to need the money (and may as well milk their notoriety while they can)–but Mr. Sheen’s case is more opaque (he has earned millions on Two and a Half Men, but clearly is not a conservative spender).

One is reminded of a second film, 2007’s The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, in which, after the titular assassination, Mr. Ford re-enacts his one notable act onstage. There’s money for him in it, but also the frisson of having done something that people will praise, something that he knows was wrong. Mr. Sheen’s self-knowledge is in doubt, but in that film depicting a pre-mass media era, interest in Robert Ford’s glamorous misdeeds and “bad boy” image dwindled quickly. The tour grinds on. :: @DPD_