I have been avoiding writing about Charlie Sheen for the last week. Everyone else is talking about him, writing about him, or interviewing him, and this weekend SNL spoofed him, perfectly. Frankly, I got tired of him when he did a second interview for the Today show. One mention of normal brains not being able to understand the warlock with tiger blood is one mention too many for me. Sheen himself convinced me not to write about him when he said anyone who is discussing him right now has nothing better to do with their lives. I can’t, however, stay quiet about the latest disturbing, college-related development in the Sheen saga.
Some George Washington University (GW) students are campaigning for Sheen to speak at this year’s commencement ceremony. They have launched a Facebook page which had 900 likes by Thursday afternoon and over 1,600 likes by Sunday night. Their Twitter page @SheenatGWU2012 calls for “any suggestions, awesome sheenisms/sheenanigans, or whatever tickles your fancy.” And I dare say they are getting what they asked for, including media attention.
The campaign is simple. It only has 2.5 reasons to have Sheen address the students at commencement: “1. He is an unemployed winner. And unless the job market miraculously picks up, we too will be unemployed winners. 2. He gives sage advice: ‘Look at [my] experiences. Look at what [I] survived. There are some of your lessons, but the real lessons are going to be in the future.’ 2.5 #tigerblood” (WTOP).
The campaign may be funny but it is also frightening, as it brings to light the lack of role models in the media right now. American young people spend hours online. A 2009 study finds that college students spend 12 hours a day with media gadgets. What gets airtime online and on television are the train wrecks of society: Tiger Woods’s sex scandal, Lindsay Lohan’s recurring courtroom scenes, and of course Sheen’s rambling interviews. The media coverage and focus on these stories distract our attention from stories that might really make a positive difference. The students claim that Sheen is precisely the kind of speaker that would grab the attention “of our attention deficient generation.”
In their proposal, the students themselves recognize the lack of real direction from society: “To clarify, we are not suggesting that Michelle Obama or Michael Bloomberg, whom we have the utmost respect for, are inadequate speakers. However, after four (or more) years of learning at GWU, it is unreasonable to presume that a speech will change our post-graduation plans. Why must we suffer through the formulaic commencement speech? Why not hear from a man who has known both the sweet tastes of success and sour bite of failure?”
Joking or not, this is the voice of students that are looking at their years of education in contrast to what the economy has to offer. Their campaign’s underlying message should concern all of us. If students are looking at Sheen for an example of how to prepare for the good and bad realities of life, then educators have not done our job. Sheen’s good is unusually good — $2 million per episode of “Two and a Half Men” — and his bad is disturbingly bad, including charges of domestic violence against women and serious alcoholism and drug abuse. These are extremes that, despite the intrigue, may not be relevant to college students looking for entry-level jobs in today’s workforce.
Recently, Guyism.com’s Marty Beckerman explained why Sheen can be an example to college-educated men. In his article, “Why Men Love Charlie Sheen: A Primer for those Not Winning,” Beckerman writes, “his appeal is that, while most guys — especially post-college — must reign in their ids and demure to society’s expectations to advance rung by rung up the soul-crushing ladder of corporate mediocrity, Sheen has reached the ultimate apex of manhood eternal: doing whatever he wants and speaking the complete truth, consequences be damned.” Citing Sheen’s narcissistic life of excess and oppression of women, Beckerman claims, “every honest man on earth would nevertheless trade places with him in a (chemically accelerated) heartbeat.”
Charlie Sheen is not an example to every man. He is not an example to me. And he should not be an example to young people on how to deal with life’s curve balls. The students at GW must be told explicitly that Sheen is suffering right now with very personal issues that he has chosen, incomprehensibly, to deal with publicly. What we see on television, however attention-grabbing, is not fit to give an encouraging message for post-graduate success nor can it be a fitting commemoration to the years of dedication GW students have given or for the education they have worked so hard to earn. The students’ campaign may be a joke, and Sheen may be an interesting sideshow right now, but in all seriousness, educators must recognize that when faced with the transition from classroom to conference room, students will look for anything disguised as success if we have not grounded and prepared them enough in reality.