Anger Mismanagement: How Hollywood Ignores Violence Against Women and Rewards Their Abusers
Matthew Fox, former star of Lost and Party of Five, has seen his good-guy image take a serious blow in the past year. In August of 2011, Fox was sued by a female bus driver, who charged that the actor punched her in the crotch after she denied him entry to the vehicle. Prosecutors declined to file charges, but Fox’s troubles were just beginning. In May 2012 he was pulled over at 3 in the morning for suspicion of driving under the influence. Fox was released, but will return to court this month. These incidents were put into a new light in recent weeks as former Lost co-star Dominic Monaghan made accusations on his Twitter account that Fox “beats women. not isolated incidents. often.” It is important to note, of course, that Monaghan’s charges are unverified, and stem from no reported incident. Fox didn’t directly respond to the charges, but sources “closely connected” to the actor said that he was “baffled” by the charges, as he and Monaghan had not spoken in years.
This would be a particularly awkward time for Fox to gain a reputation as an abuser, as he prepares to play murderer/MMA fighter Picasso in Alex Cross, the adaptation of the James Patterson novel series starring Tyler Perry. But even if any of the allegations against Fox stick, he could easily survive with his career intact – just ask Charlie Sheen.
On June 28 the cable network FX will premiere Anger Management, a loose adaptation of the 2003 Jack Nicholson movie tailored to fit Sheen’s wild public persona. It will be the second sitcom in a row that Sheen has starred in which plays his image as a womanizer and partier for laughs. Sheen didn’t start his career in bad-boy roles, but as the conscience at the center of the Oliver Stone’s films Platoon and Wall Street. However as stories of his off-screen antics became inescapable he became known for roles that took advantage of that notoriety.
Sheen’s biggest mainstream success, the CBS sitcom Two and a Half Men, was created by producer Chuck Lorre as a vehicle for Sheen’s excesses. Any bad publicity that Sheen received off-screen only served to tie him even more to the womanizing, beer-swilling Charlie Harper. The show was a smash, ranking in the top 20 of all shows on television in each season that it’s aired, and averaging as many as 16 million viewers a week.
But the light-hearted treatment of Sheen’s past with women covers a far uglier dimension of his troubles. In 1997 Sheen’s then-girlfriend Brittany Ashland sued him for assault, claiming that he had slammed her into the marble floor of their home—knocking her unconscious and splitting her lip open. Furthermore, the suit alleged that Sheen forced Ashland to strip off her bloody clothes, and that he said that he would kill her if she told anyone about the attack. Sheen initially plead not guilty to the charges, but later entered a plea of no-contest and accepted a one-year suspended prison term, two years probation, and mandatory counseling sessions.
Allegations of abuse plagued Sheen’s other relationships, even during the highly successful run of his sitcom. On Christmas Day 2009 Sheen was arrested on charges of abuse from his then-wife Brooke Mueller, who alleged that Sheen held a knife to her throat. Sheen was never charged. This kind of behavior is a far cry from the carousing antics of Charlie Harper, but did nothing to dent the show’s ratings, as the following season the show cracked the top 10.
In October of 2010 police responded to reports of a disturbance in Sheen’s room at The Plaza Hotel in New York, where he was staying with porn actress Capri Anderson, who Sheen had hired as an escort for the evening. According to Anderson’s police complaint, the night soon devolved into chaos, as Sheen threatened to kill her and trashed the hotel room, throwing lamps and furniture at the terrified woman. When police entered the room they found her hiding from Sheen’s outburst in the bathroom of the suite.
2011 brought Sheen’s infamous public meltdown, as he entered rehab, causing production of Two and a Half Men to shut down. Rather than go into hiding, Sheen courted media attention. In return, the media helped to turn Sheen into a folk hero who rebelled against his corporate bosses and lived with as many women as he wanted—at one time living with both ex-wife Mueller and two younger porn actresses. Sheen was finally fired from Two and a Half Men, but only after engaging Lorre in a very public feud.
Audience identification with Sheen necessitates a selective amnesia where he is celebrated for one type of controlling behavior (treating women like sexual objects) and his more overtly abusive actions are not just forgiven, but forgotten. Even worse, the audience’s love of Sheen seems to indicate a vicarious thrill that some men receive from watching him do as he pleases. Generally, of course, this just applies to men who want to sleep with any woman they want (as it is felt Sheen does) but is that impulse, at its heart, any less abusive? For his part, Sheen is unrepentant of his past. When asked about his behavior and new opportunity of FX, Sheen commented, “They knew what they were getting. And they know it’s not always going to be smooth sailing.”
The sad truth is that violence against women is far from a career-killer, even if the abuser offers no repentance. R&B singer Chris Brown’s career barely dipped when he was arrested for, and pled guilty to, a vicious beating of his then-girlfriend, pop singer Rihanna. Two years later when Good Morning America anchor Robin Roberts questioned him about the incident, Brown trashed the dressing room backstage, and later sent a Twitter message that read, “I’m so over people bring this past s**t up!! Yet we praise Charlie Sheen and other celebs for there [sic] bulls**t.”
Without meaning to, Brown defines the problem very clearly. By supporting the projects of men like Sheen and Brown their abusive natures are ignored and tacitly rewarded by the studios who fund their work. This not only trivializes the experience of their victims, it creates a consequence-free environment where these men have no impetus to change their behavior.