#TigerBlood: Charlie Sheen and Affective Listening

What is going on with Charlie Sheen? Banking almost 1.5 million dollars per episode of Two and a Half Men, there seems to be very little reason for Sheen to say things like: “I am on a drug. It’s called Charlie Sheen. It’s not available. If you try it once, you will die. Your face will melt off and your children will weep over your exploded body,” to 20/20. If extreme quotations like that were not enough, you can connect to the Charlie Sheen Twitter feed for round the clock updates on his inanities. Considering this statement, the key question is not who is listening but instead, who does Charlie think his listeners are? Are these tweets a candid rehearsal of Sheen’s innermost thoughts, or considering Andreas Duus Pape’s recent post, is there a strategic construction of audience within Sheen’s Twitter-mediated performances?

To this question, I shall argue that there definitely is a strategy. Sheen knows that he is being watched, and he knows exactly which of his quotes have the potential to go viral. As Radar Online has noted, Sheen has hired a TweetMaster to manage his Twitter account. The TweetMaster adds hashtags (# symbols which link tweets through keywords) to Sheen’s most potent memes. #TigerBlood, #Winning, #earnyourself and #teamsheen, all brand a series of tweets to Sheen in this cross-platform #twitterwar. If Sheen was as slaphappy as some of his quotes evince, he would not have hired a TweetMaster to manage his tweets nor would it be important to aggregate these points via hashtag in Tweetspace. Charlie Sheen’s recent actions exploit a strategy of spectacle in this notable propaganda campaign.

Building on my previous post regarding the politics of the interior, Sheen’s media blitz works to amplify his voice within the interior space of Twitter. In keeping with the politics of interiority and even a so-called ideology of immanence, Sheen’s quotes can be read as exemplifying the production of positive affect. When Sheen tweets: “fastball. the trolls are foaming from their toothless holes. rumor mill abundant with evil gossip. mainstream heretics smirking,” (3/7/11) he draws on the extreme and fantastic to paint what is ultimately a comical picture. Contrasting the fantastic troll to a space-less rumor mill and also making reference to a nebulous mainstream, Sheen leaves attentive followers confused and bemused. Some might chuckle, connecting the troll/hole reference to a musical skit from an episode of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. Because Sheen relies on such extreme and fantastic images while striking a somewhat fanatical tone, he makes people laugh. Sheen’s humor here can be understood as the production of positive affect in a diffuse and decentralized audience. Sheen’s craft has become so slick that it even made headlines in the news this week.

Sheen’s ability to produce positive affect through talk-radio and Twitter quotes yields a positive strategic position. Because Sheen commands the production of a widespread and diffuse affect, he improves on his own “brand.” Further, as a successful producer of affect Sheen transforms himself into a commodity bar-none. Though he may no longer benefit from his meaty Two and a Half Men revenue stream, he becomes available for countless high paying, low-stress cameos seeking to cash in on Sheen the commodity. Sheen exploits what is common in all audiences, the production of sadness and joy, in doing so he transforms and rebrands himself as celebrity commodity. Ultimately, Sheen’s recent statements are highly strategic, because of them he stands to gain work. Cleverly, he imagines an audience of the common, one that will perceive him as either comic or tragic, joyful or sad. Either way, he wins.

This victory comes at a cost, as audiences laugh at and about Sheen, stereotypes of drug abuse and mental illness stand to replicate along with Sheen’s haphazard quotations. Within this sea of affect, monstrous cultural trends will surely endure. Such is the nature of tigerblood, it is contagious.


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