Charlie Sheen "Gets" the Financial Crisis; Life in the Panopticon

April 30, 2011

By Matt Hoffman
Bret Easton Ellis has it right: Charlie Sheen and his “Hey Suits, I don’t give a shit” mantra has become the anthem of the new realsocial.  We just might be living in a ‘Post-Empire’ world where a devil-may-come, “fuck it” aesthetic is the new propriety.  We’re all inmates of an America that’s aged like a drug-deranged child-star.  Years ago the Big Lebowski taught us that to invest ourselves was futile, to care was square, and that even the codgers who appeared moneyed were bankrupt.  So relax, take a sip of that white russian … fuck it.
While these existential undertones work in the realm of private reflection and public amusement, what’s it really mean when the Post-Empire brand of nihilism pervades the public sphere? 
Ellis has unwittingly (or better yet, apathetically) stumbled upon the only sensible explanation for the muted American response to recent in-plain-sight economic-hence-political injustice [read Bank Bailouts during a Mortgage Meltdown and massive unemployment].  How many of us read the headlines, wrap our minds around the fact that Chase Bank lobbies and wins a tax free corporate existence in this country… in the face of massive public service cuts, and then immediately grab the scissors to cut up our debit card?  As long as the internets still run on time, you’ll hear no complaints in Mussolini’s Italy…[read Jamie Dimon’s America].
Think about your own cohort of friends.  We’ve all got those one or two comrades who are just too heavy, always wailing away about this or that crisis or injustice or outrage.  Hey Debbie Downers, quit littering our Facebook feeds with worrisome speculation and ominous warnings about the larger world.  Sit back, tell us ‘whats on your mind', and trust in the wholesome goodness  that is social media.  It’s so lame when I’m logged on to post those epic photos of last night’s bar crawl and I see so and so pining away about hungry foreigners in Haiti.  Just having these critics around is tiresome: why can’t they simply relax, go with it all, have a little fun?  Unfriend.
In a Post-Empire existence, social media personality-brands are the new weighted currency.  Visceral happenings pale as perceived reality in contrast to the experience of our connectivity-dialog life.  Our celebrity disasters help us to make sense of our own failings.  Mel Gibson goes off on racist rants and we feel better about our own less vociferous personal prejudices.   Paris Hilton makes a camera phone porn video and we’re at ease with yesterday’s moral shortcomings.  Nicholas Cage loses a few vacation homes to foreclosure and gets arrested for a public drinking binge and we feel free to escape our own economic hardships via substance consumption.
Here we find the gravity of Sheen’s appeal.  He “gets it” – pride, humility, and personal responsibilities are Empire virtues in the same way that liberty, equality and freedom belong to the bourgeois epoch.  Opportunism, depravity, sensationalism, and novelty fill out the table of Post-Imperial ideals.  In his recent article, Ellis wonders “What does shame mean anymore?”  In truth, the answer is nothing whatsoever within the Foucauldian Panopticon [SparkNotes] of Post-Empire.
Political theorist Michael Walzer tells us that “complaint is one of the elementary forms of self-assertion and the response to complaint is one of the elementary forms of mutual recognition”.  It can be argued that the progressive human historical process requires social criticism as a catalyst, a touchstone to advance the bloody, arduous process of rights and freedom advancement.  What does it mean for humanity when we now find ourselves in a Post-Empire, Post-Complaint global-surveillance-community?  We’re left without a visceral self to assert and with no forum in which to recognize and come to respect opposing views.  Charlie Sheen is winning, we’re all taking notes, and those Empire suits we’re dismissing are cleaning house.
A world that makes it uncool to complain, deems personal responsibility for public well being laughable, and institutionalizes absurdity loses it’s potential for popular change.   Charlie Sheen sees the full picture: to survive Post-Empire’s futility you’ve got to have “tiger blood and Adonis DNA”.