drug addiction, drunkenness, two and a half divorces, two live-in prostitutes.
Sounds like a typical script for one of the most popular comedies on American
television, “Two and a Half Men”. In fact, it is the recent life of the show’s
star, Charlie Sheen.
And when Sheen
started acting out in real life the kind of script that Hollywood producers wrote
for him, they fired him. “After careful consideration, Warner Bros. Television
has terminated Charlie Sheen’s services on ‘Two and a Half Men’ effective
immediately,” said the press release.
The trigger for
this move was an anti-Semitic tirade against one of the show’s producers after
Sheen’s latest alcohol-drug-and-sex-fuelled bender.
anti-Semitism is deplorable. But why did the network wait until Sheen showed
his bigoted side to wield the axe? Sheen had been behaving badly for years. At
least one of his two ex-wives (the third has only just commenced divorce
proceedings) and at least one ex-girlfriend has asked for restraining orders.
Police have been often called to his home and hotels during domestic incidents.
His attitude to women is unspeakable.
But, hey, that’s
an exact match with the way Warner Brothers describes
Sheen’s popular show:
“It’s a comedy about
men, women, sex, dating, divorce, mothers, single parenthood, sibling
relations, surrogate families, money and, most importantly, love. More
specifically, it’s about the lives of two brothers, one brother’s son, and the
many women who surround them. Charlie Harper (Charlie Sheen) is a well-to-do
bachelor with a house at the beach, a Mercedes in the garage and an easy way
If Hollywood were
held to the exacting social responsibility standards applied to any other
industry or company, its reputation would be in tatters and its spin doctors
would be in damage control overdrive. A corporate executive – even at CBS or
Warner Brothers – behaving the way Sheen has done would have been dismissed
But Hollywood is
different. It is allowed to destroy lives – not just of actors, but of
It’s sad to see
the Hollywood publicity machine chew up and spit out an actor like Charlie
Sheen. It’s even sadder when young men model their lives on his character
Charlie Harper. This is the corporate social responsibility issue that Hollywood
are photographed weeping over earthquake victims in Haiti or denouncing
genocide and famine in the Sudan. And Hollywood corporations are devoted to
environmental causes, particularly reducing carbon emissions. Indeed, the
Corporate Social Responsibility website CSRwire recently praised
the film industry’s efforts to cut its carbon emissions.
If Hollywood were
a coal-fired power plant this would be a meaningful gesture. But Hollywood’s
real pollution problem can’t be solved with recycling and energy-efficient
building. What about the pollution of teenaged lifestyle?
If we expect oil,
gas, chemical and manufacturing companies to remediate damages, what about
Case study 1: the popular
“music-comedy-drama” TV series, “Glee”.
This show has swept the top awards –Golden Globes, People’s Choice, and Peabody
– and the cast even performed at the family event of the White House Easter Egg
Roll last year. The production is slick and the cast exceptionally talented.
But behind the
music and dancing are sub-plots of teenage (and teacher) hormone-fuelled sexual
desire and consummation, with promiscuity and adultery the order of the day and
justified by the subjective morality of the circumstances in which the
characters find themselves (eg, a teacher who “falls into” an affair with
another teacher because his own marriage is stuck in a rut).
The scenes and
visuals are often explicit. One episode featured a dance routine with simulated
sex. The plotline called for the school to ban it because it was too raunchy
and offensive to community standards. If only the producers were so sensitive.
They had no qualms about broadcasting the show in a family-viewing prime time
Case study 2: Pink’s latest music video
clip for the song “F*$%ing Perfect”. Apart from the coarse language, the clip
starts with a blatant sex scene. Pink seems to have no regard for the possible
effect this might have on the young teenagers amongst her fans.
If a parent showed
their own child a video clip of a couple having sex, the child would go into
foster care and the parent would be charged with child abuse. So why can Pink
enter our homes and show inappropriate scenes like this to our children?
that it’s up to parents to decide what their children listen to or watch. But
when streaming media is at everyone’s finger tips, parents need to maintain
24/7 vigilance to keep their children from viewing inappropriate content. This
is impossible. Even if parents control their own homes, how can they control
the homes of their children’s friends?
This is not an
argument that Hollywood uses with smoking, mind you. Some of the characters in
the Oscar-winning film The King’s Speech
smoked, so the producers inserted a solemn message warning viewers against the
horrors of smoking.
What about some
messages about the dangers of casual sex? At 750,000 per annum, the United
States has the highest teen pregnancy rate in the world. More than 20 million
Americans are said to be infected by the sexually transmitted HPV virus linked
to cervical and throat cancer, with six million new infections occurring every
year. Given that condoms don’t provide full protection against the virus you’d
think Hollywood would do more to promote abstinence and committed
relationships, at least in “family” programs.
The world of “Father Knows Best”, “Leave it to Beaver”, or even “The
Brady Bunch” is gone forever. But Hollywood could do a lot more to promote
healthier lifestyles – both physical and psychological– than it currently does.
Hollywood: figure it out. Corporate social responsibility, the big buzz in
business, is not rocket science. You just need to link it to where you actually
carry responsibility for harm done by your industry. It hasn’t been too hard
for power plants and chemical factories to figure out what they need to fix. It
should be a no-brainer for Hollywood with all that talent getting paid those
Alistair Nicholas is a reputation management
consultant based in Beijing, China. His company, AC Capital Strategic Consulting, has
provided crisis management advice and services to numerous companies operating
in China. Alistair blogs on reputation management at Off The Record.