- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 15, 2011

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Warner Bros.’ announcement that Charlie Sheen has been terminated from his role on CBS’ “Two and a Half Men” comes on the heels of a media frenzy over his public meltdown, personal trials and professional impasse. Unfortunately, there is a bit of sad irony in the similarities between his reported behavior in real life and the lifestyle caricatured on the hit television show.

In comments to the Hollywood Reporter, “Two and a Half Men” creator Chuck Lorre said his original concept for the series was to show how “a child might be a positive influence on the life of a degenerate.” On the show, Mr. Sheen plays a pleasure-seeking jingle writer whose life is altered when his brother and young son move in with him in his Malibu beach house. Far from showing emotional growth or maturity after assuming shared responsibility for his brother’s son, the series has instead presented Mr. Sheen’s character as a model to American males, young and old, of idyllic masculine behavior.

Each week, viewers watch Mr. Sheen’s character engage in unsavory behavior, turning his brother and young nephew into apprentices in debauched living. Even worse, Mr. Sheen’s character normalizes his boorish, egocentric, immature and womanizing behavior by presenting his behavior as “cool” - something to be idealized by every man who wants to be like him and every woman who wants to be with him. By making him the “cool” character on the show, his behavior is made to seem not only acceptable, but also the gilt-edged guarantee of success in life.

The archetype of masculinity presented in the show becomes subconsciously engrained in the hearts and minds of the men and women, boys and girls who watch the show, and it indirectly makes its way into our culture, affecting the rest of us in other, more insidious ways. Shows like “Two and a Half Men” tell impressionable teenage boys and unenlightened adult men that sex with prostitutes or porn stars is every man’s birthright and is to be preferred over committed relationships; that you can use women and discard them as long as you are charming while you do it, and that getting intoxicated on a regular basis will not adversely affect either your personal or professional life.

The misogynistic messages in the series have also imprinted young girls with damaging female stereotypes, in which “crazies” (Rose, Charlie’s stalker-ex who lives downstairs), “shrews” (Alan’s ex-wife, Judith, the mother) and “sluts” (any of Charlie’s or Alan’s endless parade of one-night stands) are presented as the only images of women. There are no female characters on the program worthy of respect or admiration. The take-away for women of all ages is that if you want to be accepted by men, you have to reduce your humanity to your sexuality and give up all sense of self-respect. In its latest study “Tinseltown’s New Target,” the Parents Television Council found that these are the dominate images of women presented in prime-time television programming.

For men, repeated exposure to these messages is associated with increased sexual harassment, increased sexual violence and increased demand for pornography, which distorts perception of intimacy and real relationships. For women and girls, the same messages are being linked to everything from eating disorders to depression. What is most disconcerting and irresponsible about “Two and a Half Men” is that the exploits of Mr. Sheen’s character have been presented without consequence.

In reality, if the boys who grow up with Mr. Sheen’s “Two and a Half Men” character as their masculine ideal were to emulate the behavior they see on the show, they would probably end up with a life of personal and professional dysfunction. While Hollywood may tolerate such behavior, the majority of Americans live in contexts where such antics most often lead to correctional facilities, mental health institutions, rehab facilities and unfortunately in some instances, death.

As a society, we should challenge ourselves to use our creative genius and artistic imagination to equip and inspire people to rise above life’s challenges, rather than creating a culture that encourages more dysfunction, sexually-transmitted diseases, violence and addiction. Corporate America should also contemplate its role in this problem by utilizing advertising dollars in socially responsible ways.

Regardless of the fate of this particular show, I hope executives at Warner Bros. and CBS will challenge themselves to spotlight the best of who we are as human beings, rather than appealing to the least common denominator. One thing is for sure: We could stand to see less of Charlie Sheen.

Rev. Delman Coates is the pastor of Mt. Ennon Baptist Church in Clinton, Md., and organizer of the Enough is Enough Campaign for Corporate Responsibility in Entertainment. He is also a member of the Parents Television Council’s Advisory Board.

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