Believe it or not, that's what this week's Scripps column is about. It started out as a response to S.T. Karnick's blog post at The American Culture asserting that Sheen's recent Tour of Self-Destruction signified some deeper illness in American society—an illness due to "moral relativism."
Is there a larger societal lesson to be learned from Charlie Sheen? Not really.Quick note: "Moral scolds," in retrospect, is a kind of easy name-calling I wish I'd avoided.
If Sheen has taught us anything, it's stuff we've known for a long time: Too much wealth and privilege can be corrosive in the wrong hands. And there's nothing Americans love more than watching the rich and powerful crash and burn.
But nobody's really endorsing Sheen's behavior or making excuses for him. Where's the relativism? Who is looking at Sheen and offering him up as an example for our youth? Who is endorsing the idea that it is OK to go on cocaine binges, abuse your wife and flake out on your job ... if that's what you really want to do? Nobody, except perhaps for the straw men who exist in the imaginations of moral scolds among us.
If there's hay to be made here, perhaps it's in the fact that so many Americans have made sport of Sheen's erratic and bizarre media appearances. Who hasn't made or heard a Charlie Sheen joke in recent weeks? The man appears to be destroying his career and many of his relationships, yet we treat the whole matter like it's another, somewhat diverting episode of his sitcom. It's ugly and sordid: Pass the popcorn.
Even then, it's hard to get worked up: Such impulses are as old as gladiator fights, the bearded lady at the circus, and rubbernecking at car crashes. Humans rarely turn their eyes away from disasters and mayhem. Sheen seems to be providing plenty of both.
What's he getting for his efforts? A lost job, apparently. The mockery of an entire nation. Perhaps a lawsuit or two. Charlie Sheen is nobody's hero. If that's moral relativism, heaven help us when America finds its moral rectitude again.