Bart Mills: The one-armed dwarf that is Charlie Sheen

First Posted: 3/3/2011

Maybe it's just me, but every time I see Charlie Sheen these days I can't help but think of the one-armed dwarf that used to hang out at the American Mall.Needless to say, that dwarf's been on my mind quite a bit lately.Those of you who didn't spend your formative years on a bench by the Hot Sam booth can treat the one-armed dwarf as a metaphor if you chose. To the rest of us he was, as advertised, a grown man suffering from dwarfism who also happened to be missing an arm.Even as a child I was struck by the native injustice of that particular twofer. I think he might have had some other problems as well, a partially disfiguring melanoma or something, but I was 7 at the time so the dwarfism and missing arm tended to distract me from everything else.The man apparently spent a good bit of the early 1970s strolling about the American Mall, at least that's the only place I recall ever seeing him.His image is seared into my mind even today, largely because I spent so much of my limited mental energy trying desperately not to look at him. You see, like most kids, I was told it was impolite to stare at people who were different from me. Also like most kids, the direction not to do something made whatever that something might be so overwhelmingly attractive my tiny mind all but imploded with the desire to look. Today, having completed almost an entire semester of college psychology, I understand the id/ego clash that forever imprinted that dwarf's image on my conscious. Back then, all I knew was I was told not to stare at the dwarf, which inferred something spectacular might happen if I stared long enough. I wasn't sure what that spectacular thing might be, but being 7 at the time, I was fairly certain it would involve either dinosaurs or pudding cups.And that is how I feel every time I see Charlie Sheen these days.Actually, that may not be the most apt of comparisons. After all, Sheen is hardly a limb-limited melanotic dwarf. He is a rich, pretty man of limited talent and spectacular fortune who may or may not be suffering through one of the grandest public meltdowns in history. While he shares one aspect with the one-armed dwarf in that he is someone we cannot help but stare at, he is hardly a sympathetic character. Moreover, he desperately wants us to stare. Whatever unspoken public contract makes it inappropriate to watch and wonder about the less fortunate does not apply to whoremongering television actors no matter how bats they may appear to be. That may not be the case at some higher moral level, but my ethical escalator doesn't go to that floor and I doubt yours does either.Now that I think about it, looking at Charlie Sheen is actually more like watching one of those e-mail attachments that show people hurting themselves by attempting dangerous, ridiculous stunts. You see the slack-jawed teen belting himself into a trash can and you know something stupid is about to go down, but you watch on. You witness the bottle rockets, the cardboard helmet and the meth-mouthed teenagers standing around some trailer park utility lot sporting their mullets and Slayer T-shirts and white trash ennui and you know something very bad is going to happen, and still you continue to look. Finally, the Zippo flints, the sparks fly and that physics problems you were working in your head is proved right. The image slides sideways as the cameraman runs to see what's left of his buddy/neighbor/little brother. You hear a chorus of mean-spirited laughs and the image goes black leaving you to wonder if what you've just witnessed is a bit of teenage hooliganism or a snuff film.Yea, that's what I think about whenever I see Charlie Sheen these days. But maybe it's just me.

Bart Mills: Finally the move from formula to films

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