Why Charlie Sheen Should Be Bad For Business

Why isn’t the star of CBS’s Two and a Half Men, Charlie Sheen, out of a job by now? One word: money. (A few more words: white male privilege, shoddy reporting, cowardice.)

For those of you who read fewer tabloid headlines than I do, you may be unaware of the Hollywood-sized problem Sheen has been causing for the network, let alone any woman who’s wandered, willingly or not, across his path in the last few years decades.

Currently the highest paid actor on television at an astounding $1.8 million per episode, Sheen has a history of abusing women, usually coupled with substance abuse. In 1990, he shot then-fiancee Kelly Preston in the arm—an accident, but a frightening and weird one that seemed to only foretell the future. In 1997, he pleaded no contest after hitting then-girlfriend Brittany Ashland. His now-ex-wife, actress Denise Richards, left him in 2006 after claiming he’d threatened and abused her and their two young children. For allegedly threatening to kill his now-estranged wife Brooke Mueller last year, he plead guilty to misdemeanor assault; he went to court-ordered rehab and a few months later, he was back to his usual repertoire: trashing a hotel room and frightening a woman companion so badly that she locked herself in the bathroom until the police arrived. And this week, Sheen landed in rehab…again. 

None of this has ever seemed to affect Hollywood’s desire to hire Sheen, and that’s not changing now. While CBS entertainment president Nina Tassler has said, “We have a high level of concern [about Sheen],” she went on to say, “This show is a hit. That’s all we have to say.”

Let’s be real here: The publicity around Sheen’s cyclical behavior benefits a cable network with an otherwise struggling lineup of shows. Simply put, he’s good for business. It appears that no one will stop watching Two and a Half Men because Sheen hit a woman or snorted some more blow. They haven’t yet—Sheen boosts ratings every time he goes on a week-long bender—and they’re unlikely to start now (though this may simply be indicative of the show’s demographics). Personal responsibility and choices aside, do you think this has anything to do with the fact that few critics have bothered to denounce Sheen? It’s rather shocking that he can continue to do his job after the binges he goes on, and thus, that is what makes the headlines. Repeatedly. Even Tassler, when pressed that in another line of work, someone might be fired for Sheen’s behavior, said “What do you get fired for? Going to work and doing your job?”

When people do step up to talk about Sheen’s ongoing personal problems, it is often within the context of addiction and drug abuse, not violence against women. Celebrity rehabber Dr. Drew came forward today to urge Sheen to take his recovery seriously. A fair request, but there was not a single mention of gender-based violence in the public plea. Why can’t someone publicly ask that Charlie Sheen never hold a knife to a woman’s throat again? Have we already forgotten how women rose up against Chris Brown after he beat then-girlfriend Rihanna? Why does Sheen get a free pass?

Worse, Salon’s television critic Matt Zoller Seitz recently compared Sheen to filmmaker Roman Polanski, a similarly troubled public figure who has managed to evade prison time for child rape for nearly half his life. Zoller Seitz laments, “The minute we start boycotting artists based on their depraved personal lives, there won’t be much art left to enjoy.”

Or, you know, there might be much better, less offensive art out there–and the profits wouldn’t line the pockets of abusive men who frighten and beat women without ever worrying that a judge will sentence them to something more serious than 30 days in a substance abuse treatment facility. Yes, Charlie Sheen has a Golden Globe for Best Actor. Yes, he’s had a long career. Clearly, many people think he can be quite funny.

But you know what? I don’t care. As feminists, we’re forced to make these kinds of decisions all the time. Should a hip-hop fan reject Eminem for his misogynist lyrics? Should shoppers avoid American Apparel because of their sexist ads and union-busting? Maybe a lot of these choices are complicated, and maybe they should be. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t talk about it and have an honest conversation about power, violence and the media’s apologist stance when it comes to abusive men in Hollywood.

Truth be told, I don’t care what drugs Charlie Sheen does in his free time. What I do care about is living in a world in which bad boy antics are shrugged off, in which beating up women is acceptable, in which threatening to kill your wife isn’t a big deal if you have enough money. I care about critics who claim that entertainment trumps decency and the harmful precedent that sets. When we stop unilaterally letting troubled artists off the hook and acknowledging that many entertainers are not, in fact, prone to beating their partners (or in Polanski’s case, sexually violating young women), we might finally start having honest conversations about abuse (of people and power), addiction, and misogyny in the media, as well as in our private lives.

Photo of Charlie Sheen via Wikimedia Commons.


  1. This is really well-said. It is really sad (and scary) that people have time and again ignored Sheen's continued history of violence against women. Like you said, I don't care about his drugging and boozing, but the fact that this will be glossed over again until we get a new "Charlie Sheen locks a porn star in a closet" story is gross.

    • snobographer says:

      Notice how his drugging and boozing is often reported as a serious misfortune about which something should immediately be done but his terrorizing sex workers and intimate partners is treated like a joke? I've never watched Two and a Half Men, but given that show's ratings despite the fact sitcoms have been over for about ten years now, I suspect the whole draw is Sheen's misogyny. It was played it up for a joke in Being John Malkovich too. That's Sheen's whole schtick, 'ha ha I treat women like dirt! ain't I a cad!"

  2. I for one don't watch 2 and a half men (although, I must admit not solely because of Charlie Sheen – the writing sucks!) and I refuse to pay for a Roman Polanski movie. I have also decided to stop watching Johnny Depp's movies as he defended Roman Polanski.

    Does my personal boycott make a difference? Probably not but it helps me feel like I'm doing something.

    • mark janicki says:

      I can't find anything about Depp supporting Polanski. I did see a blurb where he said he wondered why it seemed to become an "all of a sudden" kind of interest after so many years had passed. He went on to say that it puzzled him because Polanski hasn't lived a life of crime (not to understate the horror of the crime we're discussing); I didn't see an expression of support though. I hope it's not true, because Depp is typically a more responsible person than that.

  3. dorothyanneb says:

    The show itself sickens me – I've watched it a couple of times to see what it was all about, and the whole program demeans women to nothing but objects used for self-gratification. Sheen plays himself on the show, so it's no stretch for him, though as far as I know he hasn't threatened anyone with a knife onscreen.
    I use the show as a test when dating. If a guy says he likes the program, I'm gone. Not even worth starting a conversation.
    What I wonder is why he hasn't been jailed for his behaviour.

  4. richardbrenneman says:

    Whatever you may think of Roman Polanski, you are wrong when you declare that he "has managed to evade prison time for child rape for nearly half his life." Polanski did serve a California prison sentence in the case, one agreed to by the young woman, her family, the district attorney's office and the judge. He only fled the country after the judge illegally breached the plea after Polanski had already served his time at the California Institution for Men in Chino. The story is fully explained in Marina Zenovich's excellent documentary, "Roman Polanski, Want and Desired," and in a series of posts on my own blog here. http://richardbrenneman.wordpress.com/category/ro

    Say whatever you will about Polanski, but even the prosecutor in the original case acknowledge that the judge violated the law. I covered the case as a reporter at the time and know it quite well. Please check out the original sources. Too many journalists use the case as a handy meme without digging into the basic facts.

    • snobographer says:

      He spent a few days in a facility for observation and testing and decided he was too special to stay in there with the non-white non-rich sex offenders. He never served any sentence for admittedly drugging and raping a 13 year old.

    • Insurgence says:

      This (CHILD!)rape apologism isn't even worth a lengthy response. As I understand justice: if your judge is sketchy, you get a new one. You don't flee the country and call it "serving time".

  5. HOW IS HE NOT BEHIND BARS! Seriously, we shouldn't have to have this discussion because he should be in prison.

  6. Another Media Blow up. FYI – Will always be a Sheen Fan. All it takes is one thing to have the media blow up and point the flaws in someone. This time its Sheen, whos Next. Remember Mel Gibson, he punched his then girlfriend Oksana Grigorieva in the face . Shelley Malil stabbed his girlfriend more than 20 times in 2008. Vincent Pastore Punched and abused his girlfriend. Chris Brown beat up Rihanna with a deadly weapon. The list goes on people. This is just to name a few. Everybody I listed still has a great reputation when it comes to TV and acting. You read this article and sure, its all the crap to make you think bad, and yet, everything here has two sides of the story. Have all facts before jumping to conclusions. Also he is in rehab now because he voluntarily entered. This was his choice and was not ordered to. Good Luck Sheen, can't wait for your next episode!

    • A media blow up? Just like the author, I don't care what drugs Charlie Sheen does, but the fact that he is abusive to women is not something to take lightly. I do remember Mel Gibson and all these other jerks who hit their girlfriends, or wives. Violence against women is Not okay! It does not matter who perpetrates it, famous or not, rich or poor, there should be repercussions. The author of the article is not pointing out someone flaws. She is pointing out someone repetitive criminal behavior, in Sheen's case, violence against women!

  7. Katy Wolfe Brandes says:

    My personal protest of his show continues, albeit a small silent gesture. The despicable portrayal of himself through this character should not be celebrated, as Charlie is only slowly killing himself in the process. Misogynistic humor makes money for him now, but dead is forever.

  8. Mr. Reader says:

    Geeeez people! Relax! Welcome to Hollywood.. This is nothing out of the ordinary. Everyone already knows that laws are only as strict as your tax bracket allows. The more you make, the lesser the charges… It's always been this way for celebrities.

    These people don't care if you like them or not, friends are paid for, and fans are a bonus. Everyone in Hollywood is a prostitute, even the lawyers.. I think a few more should be locked in closets.

    I personally like the show, it's entertainment, and the kid is hilarious. There are bigger issues in the world to worry about. Take it easy.

    • I've decided to not take it at all. While the brother and kid are entertaining, I've had it with the sexist bull. I turn him off now, boycott the show and the people who advertise during it and yeah it will probably just keep playing buy at least my integrity is still intact…..I've done one tiny thing to say enough with seeing women as poke holes and maids.

  9. Nina Moreno Wigan says:

    What image/message are we giving our youth. We hire hire hire actors that are high functioning addicts. Come on already let's hire an actor whom has more than 1/2 his brain still!!!

  10. mark janicki says:

    The bottom line is that Sheen makes a lot of money for himself and for the corporations that he works for. It has nothing to do with the fact that he is male or white or green or anything else for that matter. It's simply the power of money. And, lets not forget that an inordinate amount of Sheen's fans are women. Sheen is an acknowledged sex symbol, and has a huge female following. Perhaps if these "privileged" women were more selective about who they support, he wouldn't be as popular, make as much money, and thus get less special treatment.

  11. If a star's behavior really bothers someone, boycott the sponsors. Women forget how much power they have over consumer marketing. The consensus is that women are 80-85% of the consumers. If enough people stopped buying from the sponsors or contacted them, Sheen would be dropped from his contract.
    Here is a list of sponsors that can be verified using google search for "Two and A Half Men- Sponsors".


  12. It seems to me that female celebrities who’ve behaved badly have experienced much more harm to their careers than males – e.g., Lindsay Lohan.

    On another note, I enjoyed the e-card from somecards that: “The only person more insane than Charlie Sheen is anyone upset about the cancellation of Two and A Half Men”!

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