Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Scorched Earth

Fire Escape - Fanfarlo (mp3)
Mean to Me - Tonic (mp3)

Any reasonable, average, non-celebrity person should find the latest adventures of Charlie Sheen great and terrible entertainment. He is a walking cautionary tale reminding us that being reasonable, average, and non-celebrity ain’t so bad.

Lest we lose our own bearings, Charlie Sheen is only the latest and most buzzworth cautionary celebrity tale du jour. He is not some weird outlier. He is one of a legion of stars whose lives mirror the melodramas and poorly-scripted flicks and shows in which they “perform” fictitiously.

The sobering realization I’ve had recently is that these moments of abject public idiocy are not restricted to celebrities. The Average Joes and Josephinas in my life are, within the confines of our more limited budgets, just as susceptible.

My acquaintances don’t generally pass out on rehearsal dinner tables or vomit from alcohol poison at trustee meetings. Most of my acqaintances are smart enough to avoid doing something on a camera or before a live audience. Unfortunately, we have another sort of public venue that’s open even more often than Waffle House: Facebook.

The most recent Facebook car wreck involved very recent graduates from the lovely school where I work. One of our more respected and esteemed grads, a very devout Christian from a very devout family, knocked up his girlfriend. The two of them began owning up to this fact through semi-subtle Facebook status updates. She wrote that her boyfriend would make a great father. She wrote that after much soul-searching, she and her boyfriend were prepared to take on greater responsibility and that God had blessed them.

I’ve never read a handbook on how to best handle the marketing and public relations challenge of knocking up a teenage girl. Perhaps hiding away from the rest of the world is cowardly or unrealistic. I doubt there’s a good way to handle it, especially if you’re going to have the baby and possibly get married.

(Abortion, on the other hand, makes these decisions easy: pretend like everything is normal, that nothing happened, and suffer behind a lonely wall of shame and guilt for as long as it takes to forget about the entire thing.)

Anyway, the fit hit the shan when one of this boy’s classmates posted a status update that basically celebrated this turn of events. “I love it when a Christian kid has his come-uppance,” was the general gist of the message.

Three days later, this one glib smirky smart-assed moment was the centerpiece of 115 comments and unknown, untold hours of conversation between unknown hundreds of adults, former classmates and various other connections lucky or unlucky enough to be “Friends of Friends” of this young man.

The slings and arrows thrown inside this string of commentary were barbed and brutal. A Christian girl coming to the defense of the to-be-parents tells the author about 10 different ways he could make love to himself or a farm animal. The author tells the girl she has developed especially good skills at pleasuring boys with her mouth and publicizing the events.

Another Christian friend offers numerous different ways the author can have intercourse with himself or other inappropriate objects. The author retorts that he loves the Christian hypocrisy and then follows with a string of well-spelled expletives of his own.

And so it goes. The author gains several dozen friends in 48 hours, all hoping to jump in with their commentary. The Christians the author seeks to damn with claims of hypocrisy serve his aims by proving their own very unChristian responses. They think they're defending their friend, but they're damning their faith.

Meanwhile, the author's current freshman college classmates view it all with ironic Yankee glee, mocking the predictable small-minded small-town Intelligent Design pregnant couple on a tractor and the Footloose homebound high schoolers who come to their rescue.

As I rubbernecked from the comfortable remove of an adult on the fringes, I found a few silver linings. All of the comments were remarkably well-composed for cyber-vitriol. One of the boys who managed to prove himself so chronically self-involved as to live on his own planet showed up near the end and wrote some of the most reasonable and measured commentary.

And then, the father to be, the fallen Christian soldier who sullied his name and his religion, showed up. I can't imagine scripting a better response for him than he wrote for himself. It was apologetic and humble and calm and completely absent of all foul language. Maybe I wouldn't have gone quite so over the top with the Jesus references, but that's a nit-pick.

In the crisis moment, the father to be in three responses kept holding fast to the kinds of words that made you realize why so many went to bat for him.

Sure, he comes from a wealthy family. He and his likely soon-to-be-wife will both likely have the opportunity to finish college. Their newborn child will likely be raised as much by grandparents as parents for the first couple of years. These advantages are indisputable, but that shouldn't discount the fact that plenty of others facing this situation would fall terribly short of impressive or fail outright.

He made lemonade out of lemons.

The author proved himself shallow and far too giddy at the very real nightmare of someone he knew well. He clearly didn't understand how someone as intelligent and witty as himself could have fallen shy of being worshiped by his high school classmates, and even if those who had such respect had earned it with sincerity, he was going to enjoy watching them fall regardless.

I doubt he'll be back for the 5-year reunion. But I suspect his one flippant comment of some seven words will still be discussed in his absence, even four years from now. He won't be missed. I suspect he'll still have plenty of burdensome chips on his shoulders.

He's our own little Charlie Sheen.


Hank said...

This episode reminds me, yet again, how happy I am that I didn't have to grow up or go to college in a Facebook world.

troutking said...

Good post, Billy. These are wise words...even coming from someone whose Facebook picture once showed himself in drag...