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Charlie Sheen in January 2009. (Chris Pizzello/AP)
Charlie Sheen in January 2009. (Chris Pizzello/AP)

John Doyle: Television

The real craziness: Our glee at Charlie Sheen's breakdown Add to ...

According to multiple reports, William Shatner says that Charlie Sheen is "not crazy." Apparently, Shatner takes the view that Sheen is just "TV savvy."

In a radio interview late last week, Shatner was asked about Sheen and defended him, suggesting that Sheen's bizarre and multiple TV and radio appearances are some sort of campaign to ensure the future of Two and a Half Men, both for himself and for others on the show.

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"Looking at this publicity campaign he is waging to get his job back, get people paid and whatever, he seems perfectly normal," Shatner said. "He seems perfectly in the moment and not drugged. His manner of speaking, his cadence, his terms of expression are a little different, but he's not crazy. To my mind, he's just jagged and putting the interviewers on."

If anyone needed further evidence that most of the public and much of the media are evil jerks enjoying the sight of a sick man getting sicker, there you have it.

There has been a vast mount of commentary on Sheen's recent behaviour, much of it idiotic, but few pundits and few people empowered by the anonymity of online commentary have been as moronic as Shatner. Charlie Sheen is ill. He displays all the signs of a person addled by years of drug abuse having a serious mental breakdown. He cannot speak logically. There's the obvious mental agitation, the delusional grandiosity, the claim to special powers and the relentless focus on getting his deluded point of view across. Anyone who has ever dealt with a friend or relative who has a long history of drug abuse can see all the signs. At this point, Sheen is mentally ill and the coming consequences are inevitable.

If anybody were to hibernate for the next few months or decline to absorb most news coverage for a while, and then re-emerge later this year, a good first question to ask would be this: "Excuse me, is Charlie Sheen dead yet?" Meanwhile, those who choose to watch the Sheen saga unfold are watching with malevolent fascination.

Why? Numerous theories have been unleashed to explain the awful fascination with Charlie Sheen's public disintegration. It's suggested that some people - mainly men - live vicariously through watching Sheen party on and on to the terrible end. It's suggested that seeing celebrities screwing up makes us feel deliciously superior to them. It has also been suggested that keeping tabs on Charlie Sheen gives us all something to talk about at a time when people enjoy very little in the way of shared experience.

To each his own theory, but it would certainly be wrong to simply blame the TV racket. All those shows doing Sheen coverage are simply reflecting the awfulness of human nature. And it's an awfulness that has become more obvious and heightened in recent years. That's not television's fault. No blame can be laid. Most people are selfish, nasty, judgmental and uncaring if they can get away with it.

It's the Internet that explains it, if explanation is needed. The Internet has allowed everyone to be appalling under the cloak of anonymity. Look at the comments on the websites of most newspapers, magazines and online news sources and you'll see the viciousness of humanity discharged in all its horror. Everybody gets to have their day of rage, every day. And a stunning number of people like it.

Enjoying Charlie Sheen's self-destruction is just another illustration of all that malice unleashed. At the same time, it's quite another thing for a fellow actor, William Shatner, to watch Sheen's personal catastrophe unfold and tell the world that Sheen is, you know, putting people on.

Shatner has benefited enormously from creating his own weird TV persona - a persona that is so pompous-wacky that it is simultaneously funny and repulsive. This was the vigorously repulsive side of that persona. Shatner will be in Ottawa this week, picking up a nice fee, one assumes, to host the Genie Awards. The Genies "celebrate the year's biggest achievements in Canadian movies," a genre with which Shatner has little or no connection these days. If you run into him, and I know some of you in the TV racket will, please advise him to just shut up about Charlie Sheen.

AIRING TONIGHT

Village on a Diet (CBC 9 p.m.) is almost at the end if its run and has proved to be the most addictive of CBC's new series. For a few weeks, many viewers must have watched appalled as the residents of Taylor, B.C., asserted their aversion to both fresh food and exercise. Then these people grew on us. One could only wish them luck, but as the series winds down, it seems unlikely that more than a handful of Taylor residents will benefit in the long term. Is it their own fault? You decide.

Follow on Twitter: @MisterJohnDoyle

 

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