Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Duh! Winning! Psychology Sy on the Charlie Sheen Effect.

Look at me.
No, really!
I spent nearly all of class Monday talking with my PSY 101 students about Charlie Sheen. And despite my repeated desire NOT to diagnose him over the Internet, my students wanted to know what my professional "best guess" was.

How about hypomania, maybe just plain old bipolar disorder, or narcissism.

And we were off to the races, because it's this last one that got my students stirred up. What on earth was wrong with narcissism?

I tried to go through a little bit of the differences between healthy and destructive narcissism, but no matter how I couched things, students were put off by the notion that a deep abiding interest in oneself could ever be "bad."

We're not like Charlie, they said, and I said, well, you're not getting as many hits on Ustream as he is, but, are your actions on Facebook and Twitter any different?

And then what started as a sort of pop-cultural gabfest became - in their eyes - an indictment of how they live their lives.

I didn't intend for it to go that way, but after class I grew more and more sure that Charlie Sheen's "Winning" meltdown was fueled by the same sort of entitlement and specialness my students seem to take for granted. And I thought, oh, God, I have to teach them all for the rest of my career, don't I?


  1. During his Master's work, my husband ran a study designed to create an entitlement measurement scale. He and his group got the preliminary work done, but then they graduated and didn't get to finish it. What they did find, though, was that yes, college students are INCREDIBLY entitled, possibly more so than the rest of the population. A good chunk of that entitlement came from narcissism.

  2. My students are alarmed at how self-focused Sheen has been in these rambling tweets, videos, etc., but don't see at all how their entire online lives are exactly like his.

  3. Ah yes, the "self of steam" strikes again.

  4. From what I can tell his behavior is very consistent with that of a long-term addict, or even someone with a brain injury.

    Apparently he behaves exactly like my friend's husband, who was a hopeless alcoholic for years. It took him a long time after he got sober to retreat back into normality. Another friend was married to a man that was in a car wreck and almost died from head wounds. Once he began to recover, he was convinced he had super strength, and that all of his problems were his longsuffering wife's fault (er, NOT). He left her and is now performing his imaginary feats of super strength somewhere in the Northwest.

    I think there's obviously something really "off" about Charlie Sheen. He's sick, really sick. It's easy to laugh because he's obviously a real loon. But his brain is pickled. He will not recover from this spectacle, which is his own fault but nevertheless somewhat sad.

    I don't see much of my students in him, really, of which I am glad.

  5. My daughter loooves Renaissance Faires, still, at the age of 36. Oftentimes she will be more concerned about creating a new costume for the Faire than keeping her bills current.

    One year, in exasperation, I told her she was over-romanticizing the period and that had she lived during that time she'd have been burned as a heretic for thinking the universe revolved around her.

  6. Like Stella, Sheen's rantings remind me of an addict's.

    An acquaintance's cocaine addiction came to light shortly after he began similar paranoid and narcissistic rantings, many of which I unwillingly witnessed first-hand. Scary stuff, and far from funny since I was sort of trapped in the same room with him rather than separated by TV screens and cable feeds. Even his wife (my friend) didn't know about his drug use until his behavior became so radically "off" and legitimately dangerous.

  7. Hockey Hank's student definitely qualifies.

    I keep thinking that over time, surely these students are going to notice the disadvantages of total self-absorption. That's what I keep thinking.

  8. I too have known drug addicts who behave like this and I think there's more than narcissism at play here. The alarming thing, though, is that your students couldn't see that narcissism is a bad thing.

  9. I'm reminded of a still from the old Bob Newhart show, with Bob as a psychologist talking to Mr. Carlin, one of his patients:

    "My secretary Carol has an interesting perspective on your case. She thinks you're an asshole."

  10. "Scientology. That is all."
    - BlackDog

    But the Sheen Masheen hates the "church" as much as he hates AA and coming off his insane highs. You want Scientology and Hollywood, think Jenna Elfman, Tom Cruise, etc. Charlie's god is one he can snort up his nose.

  11. Yeah, but you wasted a whole class period talking about pop culture? Why?

    Of course the students were all riled up--you were talking about something they're interested in, rather than talking about the actual subject of psychology. My students would LOVE if we talked about anything other than English. Sure. But I won't do it for long, because the whole class will end up being a gabfest where the students think they're at a party at which they can talk about whatever they find more interesting than the subject on the syllabus.

  12. No Cookies, you can get a similar result if you attempt a discussion of the "Seven Deadly Sins" with your students, especially when you point out that Pride is at the top of the list.


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