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Posted at 6:47 PM ET, 03/ 4/2011

Charlie Sheen and the anatomy of winning

By Alexandra Petri

charlie1.jpg(Charlie Sheen, Rick Wilking/Reuters)

"I don't know, winning, anyone? Rhymes with winning? Yeah, that would be us." - Charlie Sheen

Winning is what it's about these days. It's been Sheen's byword in a series of rants on our television screens and radio shows. He is, he insists, contrary to any and all appearances, winning. His bio on Twitter says it all: "Born Small... Now Huge... Winning... Bring it..! (unemployed winner...)"

Unemployed winners? That's you! That's me! I mean I! But it was right the first time, too, because whatever I say is right.

We are all Charlie Sheen.

"I'm tired of pretending I'm not a total bitchin' rock star from mars," Charlie Sheen says.

Aren't we all! I know I am.

It's hard to blame me. Like everyone else, my family spent my formative years trying to convince me that I was Somehow Different. We read books with titles like "You Are Special" and "You Are Special and Best of All" and "God Made You Special" and "There Is Only One You: You Are Unique In The Universe." I am not making any of these up. I can't wait for the sequels: "You Are Especially Unique And Uniquely Special" and "Evolution Was Directed At Producing You" and "They Should Change Its Title To The Guinness Book of Us," which is Charlie Sheen's suggestion.

So, naturally, when I ran into obstacles in life, I had little idea what to do about them. "But I'm greater than Shakespeare!" I insisted, when my teachers told me to stop meowing in class. My crayon drawings were essentially Picassos. Why were they coming back with B's and C's? Didn't they get it? I was special! I had tiger blood. Or something!

I knew that I was better than everyone else. Where else would I have gotten all this self-esteem? But better how? Maybe I was the most humble. I spent a day being excruciatingly humble -- and no one paid any attention! That couldn't be right.

Humility, I decided, was for people no one has ever heard of.

Maybe I was taller. But, objectively, I wasn't. Smarter? More attractive? Fists made of fire? No, no, and not on weeknights! Finally I whittled it down to the tautological Seussism: "Today you are you! That is truer than true! There is no one alive who is you-er than you!" "Yes!" I proclaimed. "I'm better at being me than anyone!" Although I always suspected that, if given the opportunity, Minka Kelly would do a pretty good job.

And now here I am. And, somehow, no one is appreciating me as I feel I deserve - worshiping the water I walk on, giving me fame, fortune, and control of large portions of the Holy Roman Empire.

Is this my fault? Nonsense! There's only one explanation -- as Sheen put it, "I'm surrounded by fools and trolls."

"My genius is not adequately appreciated," I mutter to myself on the subway, startling the people across from me on the metro. "Look at these senseless clods. I'm the only living person in a world of automatons!"

Now, Charlie's become my voice. It's not that he's the Ultimate Man or the Unfettered Id. It's that he's isolated his sense of self-worth entirely from, well, anything. He's jobless. He's on drugs. His kids have been repossessed. So what? He's a self-proclaimed God, a Vatican assassin with fire-breathing fists.

Our lives can never be like his, he insists. Well, perhaps not.

But Vatican assassins aside, we know what he's thinking. We get it. We are all superstars.

We are a nation of unemployed winners. Our test scores are slipping. Our students feel like geniuses but perform like dunces. The recent unemployment reports may have been more promising than they've been in months, but our joblessness is still at highs not seen in decades. Meanwhile, fix the deficit? Deal with rising health-care costs? Do something about All This? Nonsense!

Didn't you get the memo? We're winners! We can do no wrong! Fix things? You can't fix something if you can't see that it's broken!

The worst thing about modern life is having to pretend, as Charlie says, that your life isn't "perfect and bitchin'." Sheen has shrugged that off. And, for the moment, we're with him. This F-18 has taken off and latched onto the public consciousness, as a leech latches onto your privates during a camping trip. He's spawned countless memes. He is, as CNN reported, "winning the Internet."

And maybe it's telling that in Internet lingo the polarity is between Win and Fail - not winners and losers or failures and successes. Epic win. Epic fail. Charlie isn't succeeding. He's winning. Success doesn't have to have a victim. But for there to be winners, there must be implied losers. Charlie is winning at someone's expense - the Other People, the women he's threatened with violence, his producers, the "fools and trolls" who sit at home with their ugly wives and want him to come back down to earth

Winning also implies luck. In the bizarre casino of Sheenland, the roulette wheel keeps hitting the black.

But for how long? There's a definite train-wreck aspect to this -- or in this case, smouldering F-18 crashlanding. It's not that, if pressed individually, we wouldn't want this man to get help. But our mocking celebration comes to the accompaniment of a low baying for blood. If this fame Sheen has can be called a crown at all, it's a crown of thorns. For now, he's winning. But eventually, the house always reasserts itself.

But while the ride lasts, in Sheen's own words: "Change the channel. I dare you."

By Alexandra Petri  | March 4, 2011; 6:47 PM ET
Categories:  Epic Failures, Only on the Internet, Petri  | Tags:  America, Charlie Sheen, winning  
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Your comparisons to yourself and millions of others might hold if you and they too are mentally ill drug addicts. Beyond that? Garden variety narcissists compare not so much. And if anyone in any way extrapolates what is going on with this man to be "winning" in any real sense of the word, that is the person who loses.

By continuing to talk about him and to set him up as any kind of authority on anything (which, you know, thanks not at all for continuing this insufferable, seemingly unstoppable meme) you are part of the problem. We turned a sad, sick corner this week. Maybe he should be president. Maybe he should take Oprah's time slot. Unbelievable.

Posted by: laurieanne | March 5, 2011 12:07 PM | Report abuse

Psychology analysises of Charlie Sheen

Posted by: fakedude2 | March 5, 2011 12:07 PM | Report abuse

Great article, a lot of good points, Alexandra is the new Dave Barry!

Posted by: Ramblin5String | March 5, 2011 4:38 PM | Report abuse

Alexandria Petri is on drugs. The Charlie Sheen drug!

Posted by: RedCherokee | March 5, 2011 5:12 PM | Report abuse

If we don't want him to get help, it is not because we are enjoying this, and waiting with baited breath for his downfall. We may not want him to get help because Charlie Sheen shows himself to be a spoiled, mean-spirited, proud, jerk. He represents the bullies who were so common in our classes when we were growing up. Those bullies we knew in school could do anything they wanted and they knew it: because other classmates, low grade bullies ADORED them. Bullies like Sheen are heroes to the jerk crowd. Your crown of thorns image is totally inappropriate. That was given in mockery to a real king, since the Romans DIDNT believe in the king. Americans believe in this king, Sheen, though he is not. We are only waiting for the inevitable fall of a self proclaimed king, though really just a thief. Nothing wrong with that.

Posted by: Tgerardb | March 5, 2011 5:13 PM | Report abuse

Petri, just shut up and enjoy the unfunny non-winner.

Posted by: pcannady | March 5, 2011 8:11 PM | Report abuse

Probably one one the most insightful lucid evaluations of the parenting debacle that has evolved now into the direction-less ego-driven morals-and-ethics challenged generation since the Postwar Dr. Spock gimcrackery which insinuated its meth-amphetamine type falderol onto the generations who were "left behind", who do not know it or are too arrogant to look into the "looking glass".

Posted by: allanwol | March 7, 2011 8:25 AM | Report abuse

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