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Jason Wallis Coverage of celebrity meltdowns often lack focus, fairness

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Jason Wallis

Posted: Friday, March 18, 2011 8:51 am

I was supposed to review “Battle: Los Angeles,” but due to a litany of reasons I ended up skipping the multiplex this week (I will venture back next week for a look at “Paul” — in the meantime, just see “Rango” again). I could carry on about tight work schedules and tsunami-induced cinematic apathy — both of which were certainly factors in my decision — but mostly I just didn’t wanna.

Which is just as well, because I’ve been putting off tackling a certain sensitive subject for far too long now: the epidemic of celebrity meltdowns. I have neither the time nor the inclination to dissect every recent instance of celebrities behaving badly, but there are a few stories that have caught my eye and warrant some brief commentary. Let’s do this case-by-case:

Is it Charlie Sheen’s fault?

My familiarity with Charlie Sheen is limited to “Platoon” and a few other movies I’ve seen in which he happened to appear. But apparently “Two and a Half Men” (of which I have only seen a few minutes here and there, because I’m not a masochist with the IQ of a toaster oven) has made him the biggest star on television. Fair enough — there’s certainly nothing wrong with taking financial advantage of Americans’ terrible sense of humor, no matter how untalented you are. So just to clarify: I harbor no ill will toward Sheen in regards to his status as a terrible actor and cultural blight.

Nor do I fault him, in a moral sense, for the epic debauchery that has landed him in hot water over the years and finally culminated in the termination of his contract with CBS. I believe that every man should his live his life as he sees fit, societal conventions be damned. If you’re rich and beholden to no one and you want to devote your time and wealth to the pursuit of hookers, blow and more hookers, then I say go and do that thing, if it truly brings you happiness. You might go to hell for squandering a vast amount of money, but that’s between you and God, isn’t it? It’s not for me to judge.

I fault him a little bit for the weeklong blitz of high-profile media interviews he embarked on immediately after his firing, but only because his infamous “Sheen-speak” is neither as funny nor as original as most people assumed. (Dude shouldn’t have cribbed Chuck Norris jokes and tried to pass them off as examples of his own sharp wit. “Bi-winning” was just bizarre enough to be hilarious, though.)

However, I do fault him quite seriously for his propensity for harming other people. This pathological behavior goes back years (Kelly Preston, anyone?), and the man should have been locked up long ago. But Sheen continues to hurt others, and with his irresponsible lifestyle has potentially harmed his peers who worked on “Two and a Half Men.” The show may continue, but who’s to say it will be a success without its inexplicably loved star? Dozens of employees’ careers are in jeopardy.

If Sheen were truly free of responsibility and obligation (as he claims he is), there would be nothing wrong with him living the life of a decadent Roman emperor, holding court in his orgy room as he dives into a Tony Montana-sized mound of coke while screaming wild obscenities at anyone who dares question the “magic” he’s creating. But given that people depended on him for their livelihoods, it casts his behavior in a completely different light. It seems to me that in the moral outrage over Sheen’s provocative personal life, some people are losing sight of the true nature of his offenses.

Let’s talk Mel Gibson

I’m so torn on this one. On one hand, Gibson is an incredible filmmaker. He won an Oscar for directing “Braveheart,” but it’s his last two films, “The Passion of the Christ” and “Apocalypto,” that really impress. Few directors — let alone actor/directors — display such a talent for revitalizing classical styles and motifs, for taking the ancient and foreign and situating them in modernized compositions that make them feel alive and accessible. He’s a genius. Unfortunately, he’s also irretrievably insane.

Recently, Gibson pled no contest to battery charges against his girlfriend, Oksana Grigorieva. We all heard the hate-filled (but admittedly kinda funny) audio tapes that Grigorieva made of their lively exchanges, and we all read about the allegations of physical abuse. But no matter how much of a sick kick we all got from listening to those Internet remixes, the fact remains that this is a serious situation. Gibson has proven himself a hate-filled monster with very few redeeming qualities, and he deserves nothing less than to be shunned from the Hollywood system and ridiculed for the rest of his life.

But am I ready to take part in a knee-jerk boycott, and start burning copies of “Lethal Weapon 4”? Tempting as that sounds, I try to reserve righteous boycotts for the truly deserving, those who actually should have been executed for their crimes against humanity, such as O.J. Simpson and Jane Fonda. I’m willing to join in on the Gibson-hate bandwagon (and in fact supported him being fired from “The Hangover 2”) but it’s gonna take a little more for me to give up my copies of “Passion” and “Apocalypto.” I’m sure at some point he’ll burn down a synagogue or something, and then we can talk.

Gilbert Gottfried: 

In his defense

I’m willing to take some heat for this, but here goes: Gilbert Gottfried was railroaded, and there was nothing outrageous about the jokes he recently posted on Twitter making light of the Japanese tsunami. But his contract with Aflac has been terminated, and those awesome duck commercials will never be the same. Within the course of the past few days, Gottfried has become a poster child for the dangers of offending an over-sensitive populace.

Fortunately, he’s also become the focus of a free-speech campaign, with fellow comics correctly pointing out that nothing — from genocide and slavery to child cancer — is off-limits when it comes to comedy, provided the joke your making is funny and somewhat creative. (The Situation, of “The Jersey Shore” fame, recently received a painful lesson in this concept when he made a lazy, ill-conceived and completely unfunny racial joke at Donald Trump’s Friar’s Club roast.)

Fact of the matter is, Gottfried’s jokes were funny, and far from lazy. If you didn’t laugh at some of them, then I would venture to say that you’re repressed. Which is fine, but don’t dare presume that most people share your false sense of morality, or do anything but laugh behind your back when you rant about “good taste” and “cultural sensitivity.” Sometimes ya just gotta laugh, and Gottfried has always understood that better than anyone.

Jason Wallis is a News-Sentinel copy editor. He can be reached at jasonwallis@comcast.net.

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