Thanks to Charlie Sheen, we’ve all been introduced to a few new phrases lately. In addition to his attempt to bring “bitchin’” back into everyday use, “rockstar from Mars,” “warlock,” and “winning” are probably the most notable examples. But while everyone is laughing—and 3,600 Chicagoans gave him a standing ovation at his “My Violent Torpedo of Truth/Defeat is Not An Option Show”—Sheen’s history of violence against women is once again being ignored. And he’s not the first: many male celebrities continue to have successful, even lauded, careers after news of their abusive pasts are revealed. (Roman Polanski and Mel Gibson spring to mind.) This willingness of the public to ignore the actions of these men is a sobering reminder of the way in which violence against women, while perhaps not acceptable, is something that can be swept under the rug.
Sheen was employed on Two and a Half Men for eight years and was paid almost two million dollars per episode. His role on the show actually reveled in the “funnier” aspects of Sheen’s life; his character was an alcoholic womanizer, played for laughs. Apparently no one thought that the fact that two of Sheen’s ex-wives have filed abuse charges against him was good enough reason to fire him, or to not have hired him to begin with. (For a full rundown of Sheen’s abusive past, check out this timeline.)
Why is it that these men continue to not only find work but in fact arguably become even more popular? The outpouring of support that surrounded Roman Polanski last year was a disturbing example; celebrities fell all over themselves to sign the “Free Polanski” petition, though some of them didn’t seem to be fully aware of the circumstances of Polanski’s crime and arrest. Mel Gibson, despite his well-documented abusive nature (as well as blatant and horrifying anti-Semitism), still has his defenders, as well as a new movie coming out.
As with the normalization of violent rhetoric surrounding the abortion debate, the acceptance and downplaying of violence against women serves to normalize it; bringing it up or “harping” on it means that you’re one of “those people” who can’t let anything go. Being an artist of any sort, whether an arguably great one like Polanski or a debatably talented one like Sheen, should not give anyone a free pass. We should not be celebrating these men or their achievements; instead, we should acknowledge their mistakes and think critically about what our support—particularly financial, such as ticket sales—really means. For me personally, this means not buying tickets to Polanski or Gibson’s movies. Not everyone will feel this way, and that’s fine. What I do believe is necessary, though, is for people to question their support of these men—and of any people with a documented history of violence—and consider the way in which it contributes to a culture in which abusive, misogynistic behavior is condoned. Can you really live without the sparkling wit and brilliance of Two and a Half Men? I’m guessing yes.