I don’t like Charlie Sheen. I never have and I probably never will. And I’m guessing he’s okay with that. Actually, I’m not guessing. I’m certain of it. Because Charlie Sheen has built a masterful brand for himself based on being unequivocally un-likeable, playing “cocky screw-ups with a dark side.”
Writing for Entertainment Weekly, Jennifer Armstrong wonders and answers why Sheen, for all his uncouth and downright harmful behavior (to himself and others), manages not only to be “scandal-proof” but “TV’s highest-paid actor on a No. 1 sitcom.”
The answer is obvious but none-the-less fascinating, especially in light of other fallen celebrities who are struggling to get up. Can you say Tiger Woods? A long time ago, Armstrong points out, Sheen made a decision to take on roles that favor his natural tendencies as a white, male, American fuck-up. Unlike Woods, who aspired to be the great American role model, Sheen wisely chose characters that suited him: a skirt-chasing mayor on Spin City and jerk womanizer on Two and a Half Men. Fittingly, both these characters are named Charlie.
In advertising parlance we label this brand authenticity. By being a dirty, rotten scoundrel, the brand, Charlie Sheen is staying true to himself. His brand equity grows with each malfeasance.
Therefore, when Charlie is outed as Heidi Fleiss’ best customer or, worse yet, goes fight club on his soon-to-be ex-wife Brooke Mueller (on Christmas Day no less), his vast array of fans merely chalk it up to bad behavior. If anything, his men behaving badly routine has become an expectation of his public, like when rock stars do drugs, get busted, over and over and over again. We still buy the music. We still watch the shows.
Fact is, when cultivated properly, dark sides make for enduring and lucrative brands. Charlie Sheen is a perfect example. He’ll probably go to jail this summer but you’ll be watching him in the fall.
Thankfully, bad guys can become good guys and stay popular as well. And not just in pro wrestling. Robert Downey Jr. did it. And penchant for smoking dope aside, so did Snoop Dog.
There is no lesson here, no moral to this story. Good and not so good are fraternal, existing side by side, gleefully and lucratively in Hollywood, on Madison Avenue and in real life.