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.
Early in Jonathan Sterne’s (2003) book The Audible Past he writes, “hearing is concerned with interiors, vision is concerned with surfaces” (p. 15). This binary is in many ways gospel in sound studies. Martin Jay (1993) has established in his work, Downcast Eyes, a similar division between observations, the ocular, and listening, the speculative (p. 85). Most other literature takes a similar perspective – the sonic interior is a main methodological praxis of sound studies. When deciphering the speculative, listening is still the first, best tool, for interpreting an interior. I wonder, what it means to extend this metaphor into space. What does it mean, interpretively, for a sound wave to ricochet through a reverb spring, to yell in a claustrophobic hallway, or to listen with headphones instead of speakers. What is the culture of the interior, and how is it heard?
One place to look is the fantastic but infrequently publicized (although it has gotten some notable press) Silophone. An abandoned grain silo in Montréal, Silophone has been wired to serve as a medium of anonymous communication, and reverberation since November 2000. It’s easy to reach too, just call 514-844-5555. After the second ring, you are patched in to Silo #5, where your words are broadcast to ricochet around the abandoned building. Contributing to a participatory soundscape where several voices contribute to an ever changing, echoing interior. Silophone is definitely art, it is intrinsically technological, certainly audible, and it is almost social.
One striking question about Silophone is what exactly it means, what are the cultural stakes of an anonymous and collective interior? Can it be read as a critique of the ambiguity of network society, the futility of translation in an increasingly global culture? As the sounds refract against the walls of the silo and compete against one another, it is hard to decipher a clear signal, let alone consider a dialect or source. Conversely, Silophone also represents the possibilities of a network commons. Even though one sound rarely emerges as dominant, this relates to the counter-hegemonic aspects of the interior. Inside, hearing privileges proximity, and quiet. The less participants, and the closer your receiver is to a speaker, the more likely you are to hear a sound. Though this is a similar to the listening politics of everyday life, it should be noted that the silo is an experiment of space; the dynamics of its audible space emulates a virtualization of voices unprecedented in non-abstract spaces.
Listening to an interior is an important way to consider the politics of specific objects and architectural configurations. It is a way to render and think through the spatial configurations of space-less phenomenon: sounds, ideology, opinions and ephemera all belong to the interior, and it is important to develop tools for discussing them in a way which is not degraded to mere speculation. Silo #5, once a hub of cacophonous conversation, is now silent, somewhat forgotten and out of vogue. Does this reflect a social shift away from telephone-mediated relations, a societal shift in the practice of hearing? Although the interior of the silo models an anonymous and semi-random collective, other interiors may model other things. What do the interiors of computers, subways or classrooms model? Further, with listening as a method, can we begin proximate our interior selves?