Friday, March 04, 2011

Brain Damage

charlie sheen

The Charlie Sheen Meltdown/Kamikaze Mission has been at the top of everybody's entertainment news watch list this week. Now, don't fret, I'm not going to offer my own opinions on Mr. Sheen's underlying issues because they wouldn't have any basis in personal knowledge.

As Sheen himself pointed out in an entirely engaging interview with CNN's Piers Morgan after listening to "Celebrity Rehab" guru Dr. Drew Pinsky diagnose him as "acutely manic" and/or "Bi-Polar" -- "I'm being diagnosed by a man who's never even been in the same room with me -- how professional!"

And how unethical! You'd think an eminent psychiatrist like Dr. Pinsky would know he's violating American Psychiatric Association rules by offering a diagnosis of a patient he has never personally treated.

But in many ways, I'm familiar with what Charlie is exhibiting. And not just because I'm married to Show Business. But because of what's come to light over at the mistress with whom I most often cheat on her -- hockey.


This week, Boston University's Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy released a study concluding that hockey enforcer Bob Probert, who died last summer at the ridiculously young age of 45, was suffering from CTE, a degenerative brain disorder likely caused by the repeated concussions and blows to the head he took in literally hundreds of hockey fights.

The study of Probert's brain took place because, in his final years, he requested it, already experiencing the symptoms of Dementia at an age when most men haven't even started to go grey.

I once saw Bob Probert rag-doll Toronto Maple Leafs enforcer Tie Domi twice in one game for injuring a rookie teammate. They were brutal beat-downs still ranked among the great moments of the game.

And the crowd goes wild!

Viewed amid the heat of competition, it's exciting and entertaining.

But in real life -- real damage has been done to a couple of terribly fragile human beings.

I lost a younger brother at the even more ridiculous age of 27 to a head injury of which no one (including he) barely took note. Afterward, I spent a lot of time with various Brain Injury organizations studying the causes and prevention of similar tragedies.

As a result, as much as I love hockey, I long ago lost my appreciation for both the moments where guys drop the gloves and pummel one another and those who manage the game and champion the practice.

Yes, I understand its historic purpose in making players live up to "the code" and exciting the crowd and "sending a message" and motivating the team. But just playing better would do all of that. And then no once revered sports hero would be found in his later years fumbling with his keys in a supermarket parking lot because he not only can't find his car but doesn't remember where he lives.

But fighting brings in the crowds so the sport is slow to change. Even when its biggest stars (and perhaps most valuable assets) like Sidney Crosby and Marc Savard are lost for most of a season to head injuries, the NHL pays little more than lip service to fixing the problem.

As I write this, New York Islander tough guy Trevor Gilles awaits a hearing on another multi-game suspension for a hit to the head of another player on his first game back after serving a nine game suspension for doing the same thing.

Yet whatever happens to Gilles, this weekend will see dozens of NHL fights where repeated and intense hits to the head will take place with the blessing and perhaps secret glee of all concerned.

And what does Bob Probert have to do with Charlie Sheen or prime time television with hockey?

Well, at the base of it, both men are involved in careers where the risks and the rewards are extreme. In both hockey and show business, incredible physical and emotional demands are made on those who participate, demands which sometimes seriously damage those involved.

One of the first things anybody working on a television series learns is -- "Pace Yourself". The hours are long, with nobody working less than a 60 hour week and many on the job much, much longer.

I've seen more than one lead actor get 3 or 4 episodes into a run and start to break down physically from the stress, the pressure and the lack of down time. Tempers become frayed if scripts are late or technical issues extend an already long shoot day. Creative disagreements which don't really make a damn bit of difference evolve into major issues because everybody is being pushed beyond their personal endurance levels by the need to feed the machine.

Eventually, many self medicate, over caffeinate or, in some cases, just fall victim to the easy forms of release from feeling overwhelmed, depressed or unworthy of the task.

The rigors of production or a pro hockey career also lead to a fortress mentality and the adoption of a warrior code among those on each individual team.

That's clearly visible in any competitive sport, but it happens in TV too, where Writers rooms and on-set producers align against distant network execs whose notes don't consider those just trying to survive the shoot day or stay on time and budget.

The stress and sleep deprivation of a screenwriter mean as much to one intent on wringing the last possible dollar of profit out of a series as a League executive cares about the frontal lobe lesions on some kid who would have probably ended up on the line at General Motors if he couldn't play hockey.

And just as that kid whose fists earn him millions will stand up for a rookie he barely knows but who wears the same sweater, most people on a film crew will stand up for somebody on their own show -- even though they barely cross paths on a daily basis. The fortress mentality takes over.

And often, those at the top use it to their advantage.

charlie sheen card

While Charlie Sheen has been talking to just about anybody who'll take his calls, the most insightful interviews have been done by Piers Morgan and Howard Stern.

And while a friend of mine commented that Sheen's cogency on CNN was proof that any actor can pull out a good take now and then; for me, those interviews exhibited the professional skill of media stars who, when compared with the vast herd out there, actually know what they're doing.

Being able to wrangle somebody as off his leash and over the fence as Charlie Sheen and come away with so much revealing insight is all the evidence you need why Morgan beat out all contestants for Larry King's chair and Stern remains "The King of All Media".

Within both interviews (and Stern's in particular) there are flashes of insight into what's really going on in Charlie's head -- and maybe in real life as well.

Buried in many of Sheen's statements are the traditional series actor grievances that endure no matter how large the paycheck. Late scripts. Repetitive or uninspired material. Lack of appreciation. Lack of respect for one's co-workers.

Those whose worlds are consumed by money believe that money solves such problems. Charlie's making a million dollars a week for having to do little more than show up on time and tell the same jokes a slightly different way. What's he got to complain about? He could be working on a General Motors line somewhere himself.

They don't understand the camaraderie of a film set, much as those outside of hockey don't understand the necessary dynamic of the dressing room. What goes on "in the room" or on-set has a value beyond calculation in building allegiances and purpose.

Yes, Charlie's been a very bad boy away from the set, lived and partied hard with little apparent regard for those around him. And while all of us know a lot about that courtesy the National Enquirer and TMZ, we probably know a whole lot less than those closest to the action, namely "2.5 Men" showrunner Chuck Lorre and CBS President Leslie Moonves.

Frankly, if they only know the same details the rest of us do, they weren't doing their jobs.

Sure, some would argue that a more important part of their jobs has been to (like the NHL Commissioner's Office) protect the game and grow its profits. But protecting their assets is part of the job too.

Was Charlie's bad behavior enabled or ignored on some level because it created the crush at the gate that hockey arenas encountered whenever Bob Probert came to town? Were his arrests and hospitalizations of no more consequence than game suspensions which could be counted on to create even more publicity?

The message being sent by the executive offices of the NHL and CBS are the same. "Stars are dime a dozen and should just be happy to have a job".

Nobody is irreplaceable in any human endeavor. Life and the games go on with or without whoever once shone in their midst. The powers that be will always find somebody to take their place -- and so will we.

Bob Probert is dead and Charlie Sheen seems to be careening to his own early grave, both broken by the game they loved and what was required of them to maintain their place in it.

Other people got rich because of them.

But WE watched and maybe were even the ones who demanded their sacrifices to keep our attention.

Maybe they're not the only ones with the brain damage.

1 comment:

Joel Scott said...

Sadly, there is a class distinction at play here with both Probert and Sheen.

Have you ever noticed that when a homeless, poor or middle class individual behaves the way these two do, (repeated fighting and spitting venom) they are either jailed or committed to a mental health facility for being "CRAZY"?

In tandem, have you ever noticed that when an individual with a high income or career notoriety, ends up on this road, the media pounces and labels them as acting "eccentric, erratic" or the latest media buzzword -- having a meltdown?

This flippant diagnosis somehow condones the tabloid media and all its mainstream counterparts to breathlessly report with every gooey detail on the mutterings and garbled speeches of the famous.

These folks are suffering from a mental Illness, a very dangerous disease that left untreated could cause harm to themselves, families, community and friends.

An early death is a distinct probability and in Bob Probert's case, a reality.

Increasingly, all media feeds on this illness as "Entertainment Reporting", which they would never do if one of them suffered a physical wound or let's say flesh eating disease (especially if it was video viewable). They would be rushed to hospital.

But as in these cases, we are being told that these guys are only in a "meltdown" and somehow when we tire of exploiting their antics (symptoms of the disease) we'll move on and only return to pounce when they die or check out of rehab.

Beyond sad isn't it?

A reality that somehow we condone by tuning in and reveling in their fluctuating brain chemistry and its public bubbling cauldron.

Today's carnivorous media and society justifies this behaviour in this way.

a) If you are poor, homeless or middle class and mentally ill, you are "CRAZY", Nuts, Banana Head or a Cheese Head and should be locked up or straight jacketed.

b) If you are rich, famous and mentally ill, then you have chosen to be "Eccentric" or in the midst of a chosen "Meltdown!".

And all along we tune in and revel in our own station in life, as if we live a superior existence, yet we knowingly allow Probert and Sheen (and many others ie: Britney) to walk around with grotesque gaping wounds caused by their mental illness and call it today's leading update or "entertainment reporting".

Shameful, low brow and downright scuzzy!

It's time to change this stigma and have news commentators state what is really going on here.

How about before running the story, state "Warning Graphic Content, we are reporting today on a prominent person with a possibly diagnosable mental illness, we are asking that person to seek professional help or immediately consider a doctor's care. This segment is not for all viewers".

Or how about this novel idea, just don't run the story!