You know who we love, as a nation, more than a role model, a hero, or even a person who fucks up and then repents and goes on to better and more responsible things? We love an unmitigated fuck-up who fucks up again and again, hurting himself and others, each time becoming more and more mired in a stew of crazy, saying things that are, in their short but impactful bursts of batshit, perfect for tweeting or Tumbling, and also good for real, live soundbites on real, live TV, so that the rest of America can sit back in shock and horror and, above all, entertainment while eating their TV dinners and thinking, Wow, glad that’s not me.
Meanwhile, the subject of our obsession, a man who has a violent history with women, a man who has a self-professed obsession with sex, twentysomething porn stars, and his own “bitchin’ rockstar life” — a man who’s been kicked off his successful television show, which, supposedly, a lot of people had been watching, for anti-Semitic rants against his boss, among other things — is either crazy or crazy like a fox. Or both.
So, there are the inevitable webcasts in the backyard with TMZ, the stints on morning shows, all of them bidding for their exclusives, the interview with Piers Morgan, the interview on 20/20. There are the headlines in national newspapers and the thought-provoking stories in magazines. The man even takes up the lion’s share of our “local” news, ahead of the stories about fires and homeless dogs and good samaritans.
And then the “broken” celebrity takes to Twitter, where he accrues half a million followers in mere hours — almost a million in less than a day — and you have to imagine he’s sitting there thinking, in as much as it’s possible for him to think, that he’s really done it this time. This time it’s working; he’s won the attention he’s always deserved. Now people will listen, because now…guess what…they are.
We’re culpable in this, too. Every amused tweet, every post compiling his rants or comparing him to Muammar Gaddafi, every snarky discussion couched as concern over his drug addiction or mental illness or dangerous lifestyle — or anger over what he’s done to others, what he might still do — they’re all complicit in it. He’s a news story, so we can’t ignore him. But it bears some thinking about how we’re doing it. He’s more in control of us, as we snicker and jeer and sigh and feign concern and offer our psychiatric diagnoses while watching from a distance, shocked, rapt, than he has been in years. He’s WINNING.
We may well have created a monster. So what do we do now?