It's easy to see the logic that led new Newsweek editor Tina Brown to tap Bret Easton Ellis to write about the Charlie Sheen saga for the magazine and The Daily Beast. Ellis has written extensively about fame, drugs, and madness in books like Less Than Zero and American Psycho. Fame, drugs, and madness seem to have played at least some role in Sheen's recent string of odd public proclamations. The pairing of author and subject seems logical, but the first wave of reactions to Ellis' article--posted Saturday to The Daily Beast, with an alternate version set to appear in the magazine this week--suggest the author's argument is anything but.
Ellils argues that the public fascination with Sheen stems from his status as a "post-Empire" celebrity. And what, you may wonder, is a post-Empire celebrity? Good question, says New York Observer's Daniel D'Addario. Despite being "used 28 times in Ellis's nearly 1800-word piece, an average of just over twice a paragraph" the phrase is "never defined [in the article], save for constant comparisons to other things that are, or were, vaguely zeitgeist-y." Addario's best guess is that post-Empire celebrity constitutes "rejecting stardom entirely and embracing it as a means of spreading a message," but without a firmer definition of this key term the piece remains "all crackle and confusion." Even New York magazine's Willa Paskin, who believes Ellis has written a "fairly convincing piece on why Sheen is the celebrity for our time" concedes the piece only works "if you can forgive him] for over-relying on the terms 'Empire' and 'Post Empire.'" Commentary's John Podhoretz didn't even get to the forgiving stage. He was still too taken aback that anyone still cared what Ellis had to say about popular culture. "Newsweek has Bret Easton Ellis writing about Charlie Sheen," he tweeted Saturday. "Because nothing says 'fresh cultural perspective' like Bret Easton Ellis."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.