The actions of the real life Charlie have not drawn approval, but has the condemnation been enough to really force a change? He has, after all, been allowed to shoot several more episodes before he goes into rehab in his home. And this brings to light the way we think of our celebrities – whatever they do seems to be OK after a little rehab. In fact, we love to read about it, hear about it and then see them rise again to become our beloved.
Suppose we didn't do that? Suppose we drew a line in the sand and said that we would no longer support them if they behave badly? What if we said, “You can do as you like, but do it in obscurity and do it somewhere else.”
What if a television star (I'm not mentioning any names – we don't have the room here) took drugs, drank too much, abused his wife, girlfriend, children or self and generally behaved horrible and then was forced to go to rehab. Happens all the time. But then suppose that we no longer watched his or her television show, went to the movie, bought the CD or attended the concert. What would happen if, when a star went bad, we just dropped them from the roster and ignored them thereafter?
If we all stopped watching “Two and a Half Men” at once the moment Charlie Sheen went off the deep end, it would be canceled for lack of interest and something else would be scheduled for that time slot. What if Kelsey Grammer had done his bad-boy number and never had been heard from again? If we stopped buying the CDs of the singing star arrested at the airport for bringing in drugs, if the movie idol caught cheating was never allowed to make a movie again, if the sports figure suspended for breaking personal conduct policy suited up for the last time, perhaps future public figures would not do those things.
As I said, I like “Two and a Half Men” and if I don't watch it, no one's going to care. My turning it off won't create a ripple anyone's going to notice. But if once Charlie Sheen appeared in the news in a bad light it spelled the end of the show and the end of his career, if it meant he could no longer appear in television at all, even as a guest, or in movies or on radio, that would be that. Charlie Sheen, average citizen with no celebrity status or interest at all. Now that's sending a signal!
If abusing substances is OK, we will still lose our talented young people. Keith Ledger and River Phoenix would still be with us because they wouldn't want to risk their careers. The fact that Charlie Sheen is still on the air and probably will be until it's “Two and a Half Old Men” is what is wrong with the picture.
I propose this: As soon as a celebrity – of whatever media – breaks the rules, we won't have anything to do with him or her. He or she will be the relative we don't invite to Thanksgiving dinner. We won't attend their games, see their movies, watch their TV shows or buy their CDs. Ball teams will have to let the players go or lose their fans. Movie and television companies will stop considering them for roles or have no one watch, no matter how good the end product. Record labels will consider illegal behavior a contract breaker and all recordings, concerts and appearances will stop at that point.
Americans love our heroes. But we also love to see our heroes fall. If we let them fall and thereafter didn't give them our love, we would make room for new heroes, better heroes. Heroes who will not break our hearts, who will go on and on for years, married to the same person, being a parent to the same children, who grow up straight and good and become our new heroes later on.
But then I'm a dreamer. It comes down to this: If you reward your child for doing good things, he will do good things. If you reward your child – or TV star – for doing bad things, he – and all the rest – will do bad things.