Welcome to the 2011 Through the Looking Glass awards, the Anger Is An Energy edition. In the year 2011 the whole Earth shook, sending shock waves in all directions. We don’t mean to imply that the seismic shifts were of equal magnitude: not every violent disturbance registered the same on our Richter scale.
Indeed, people could be seen making mountains out of molehills while other upheavals were genuinely ground breaking.
Time magazine voted ‘the protester’ 2011’s Person of the Year for a reason. Anger helped to shatter public images and shared illusions (amongst other things).
We will therefore need to go through the looking glass to pick up the pieces. The goal is to examine the shards of our own reflection. We shall also be holding up placards for our own reasons. If you feel angered by what you see – by the fragmented approach and ragged edges – then good. We could use that energy! So please feel free to get into the spirit of things and rage against your machines.
Anger Management Award
Charlie Sheen’s mad energy has always been part of his mass appeal. The former movie star’s reputation preceded him, and he arguably became most famous for acting out behind the scenes. Television literally tried to domesticate and contain the ‘bad boy’ by building a family sitcom around him. The reason for Two and a Half Men’s incredible success was there for all the world to see: audiences could live vicariously through its ticking time bomb lead.
It was a seemingly win-win situation – television could capitalize on his notorious actions off screen and the actor would reap the rewards in his private life: more money, sex and drugs that any “Vatican warlock assassin” with “tiger blood and Adonis DNA” could possibly ask for. Corporate media was able to manage our expectations through positive reinforcement and enabling.
It was only a matter of time, however, before the bomb would go off in everyone’s faces. It’s no wonder that Sheen was dazed and confused when CBS ceased production so he could get his act together. After all, behaving like a complete dick was tacitly written into our social contract with him. An angry Sheen began airing his grievances in public, and asked viewers in an open letter to TMZ “to walk with with me side-by-side as we march up the steps of justice to right this unconscionable wrong”. When the day of rage failed to materialize, audiences found something else to entertain themselves with during the show’s forced hiatus: a troubled man breaking down across media platforms.
Sheen put on quite the show, and appeared to be losing the plot before our very eyes. Media outlets were able to capitalize on the situation by reverting to its preferred social script: reducing a troubling public display to mere entertainment value. We all pretended to be shocked – shocked we say ! – that an increasingly manic Sheen was able to entertain us with even more self destructive behavior. Indeed, we welcomed our ringside seats to the man wrestling with his own demons. Some of us even bought tickets to stand in Sheen’s corner so as to be seen rubbing him the wrong way.
It’s difficult to know which was more entertaining – a famous actor appearing to sabotage a successful television career or a mere mortal talking about himself as if he were superhuman. It was equally difficult trying to determine who was the real substance abuser in a culture of addiction – an audience that couldn’t enough of the drug called Charlie Sheen or the actor with a series of addictive behaviors getting off on all the media attention, too.
Sheen’s meltdown across multimedia platforms (radio, television, stage, print, internet, etc) certainly mirrored viewing habits in consumer societies. The relentless media attention served no purpose other than to feed our habit of turning troubling displays into cheap laughs, ensuring our dependency on other valued entertainments (talk back radio, television shows, etc). As he observed on Piers Morgan Live “It’s been a tsunami of media, and I’ve been riding it on a mercury surfboard”.
Speculating whether Sheen was mentally ill or a clever performance artist was beside the point: the line between person and performer had long been blurred by the role he was already playing in our own psyches. As if to prove the cycle of co-dependency, Sheen’s rage has since been co-opted by the entertainment industry. The fired actor might as well have been auditioning for his next project: a television remake of the comedy Anger Management.
Friday On Our Mind Award
Charlie Sheen is living proof that fame can be a ‘monster’ (to quote renowned philosopher Lady Gaga). The ‘fame monster’ can swallow people whole and produce it’s own demon spawn. It’s worth noting that Gaga hasn’t exactly got out the torches and pitchforks – that’s one ensemble that conveniently alludes her. Instead of forming an angry mob to track ‘the fame’ down, she wants impressionable young girls to “walk around delusional about how great they can be and to fight so hard for it that the lie becomes the truth”. There was no fighting off, however, the anger directed at the ‘little monster’ Gaga branded a genius. Indeed, this ‘monster’s’ claim to fame primarily consisted in angering millions of people.
We are referring, of course, to the 13-year-old girl that came out of nowhere to topple Charlie Sheen as a trending topic in early 2011. Indeed, someone purporting to be Charlie Sheen tweeted “Dear Rebecca Black. We don’t hate you because you’re famous; you’re famous because we hate you. Sincerely, everyone”. Perhaps what is most telling is the way the angry mob was revealed to be the true monster – it was our own hatred that fed ‘the fame’ and let “Friday” run amok online.
One of the ironies is that the aspiring singer’s mother funded the upload to teach her daughter the downside of a potential music career. She wanted to show Rebecca that being famous was harder that it looked – it was more blood, sweat and tears than living a glamorous life. The other irony is that the music video was written and produced by a vanity label calling itself the Arc Music Factory, a company “based on the idea of Noah’s Arc” in that it was “a place to gather people, where they could be safe” (“Friday On His Mind”, 29 March, 2011). Since the videos were made for a small circle of people, no one expected the gathering shit storm.
“Friday” inadvertently became a meme for ineptitude. Although the vanity project was not made for mass consumption, “Friday” unintentionally parodied the songs chocking our airwaves. “Friday” was built around a shopping list of musical clichés: autotuned vocals, banal lyrics, anonymous beats and a gratuitous rap to feign street cred. The fact that the (admittedly) catchy song resembled a sing along from Sesame Street merely heightened audience incredulity. The literal visuals underscored the song’s shortcomings, throwing the entire project into (comic) relief. The funniest thing about the music video, though, was the hysterical reaction to it. The glorified home video was somehow mistaken for the real thing.
While there’s no denying that “Friday” was a terrible pastiche of professional recordings, the record simultaneously brought out the worst in other people, too. Apart from the relentless ridicule, a 13-year-old girl had to contend with hate mail and death threats. As the impressionable young singer noted, one hateful message struck a particularly chord with her: an anonymous music critic wished self mutilation, an eating disorder and death upon her. Such a hateful response sums up what happens when an aspiring performer fails to entertain us in the ‘right’ way: we’ll share the pain and entertain each other with our own vitriol.