I like a celebrity meltdown as much as the next guy, but the saga of Charlie Sheen isgetting sad, especially for those who have any experience with bipolar disorder, or manic depression. And it makes me angry to see so many media outlets feeding his insanity by giving him a platform.
You expect as much from a radio talk-show crackpot like Alex Jones, who rants that juice boxes are making people gay. CNN's Piers Morgan shouldn't be excused for exploiting the mentally ill Sheen, but Morgan really is desperate to get people to watch his new interview show.
The coverage by ABC and NBC, however, carefully meted out to feed the worst aspects of their audiences' morbid curiosity, has been loathesome. Do their day- and night-time talk shows, supposedly affiliated with the networks' "news" operations need ratings that badly? You can just see all the competitors chortling that top-dog CBS has been forced to stop production on its No. 1 sitcom, Two and a Half Men, because of Sheen's troubles.
I'm no doctor and have never played one on TV, and my arm-chair diagnosis may be wrong, but my observation of Sheen's symptoms isn't. They may be caused by addiction or some other brain malfunction and not bipolar disorder. It doesn't matter. They are symptoms, not the manifestation of a cogent personality. They should be treated as such and not exploited for profit and ratings.
Watching celebrities make fools of themselves is a national pastime, but there is a limit. You report their stupid or sick behavior. You don't encourage it. Just because someone's particular disorder makes them seem, at first glance, more cogent, clever and expressive than normal is no excuse. Sheen's malady is self-destructive. By feeding it for entertainment, ABC and NBC are no better than the people who make videos of homeless alcoholics, giving them a few dollars to beat each other up for the cameras.
Charlie Sheen is not a dancing bear. If he were, and made the rounds on 20/20 or The Today Show, people would raise howls about animal cruelty.
I had a wonderful colleague, respected and well-liked, with bipolar disorder. With medication, he went years and years living a normal, if not quite so exciting, life, until the disease eventually got the best of him. His behavior became grandiose, erratic and inappropriate and undermined not just his career, but his health.
He died alone.