When I was growing up, the 70’s were known as “The Me Decade.” It was a time when self-realization and/or self-involvement were the guiding principles. No longer were family or community in the forefront of our existence. Instead, this decade was about the individual. One singular sensation. Being all that you could be. Looking out for number one. I wish the nation had continued the practice of naming decades, but we’ve since stopped. Too bad. If we hadn’t, maybe we would have run in horror from some of the nicknames we were earning.
The 80’s surely earned the moniker “The Greed Decade” after extensive deregulation started, the tax rates lowered to under 40%, and Gordon Gekko proclaimed that all things were fair in the desire to be rich. The 90’s probably could have been called “The Not Me Decade” because nobody cared enough to take responsibility for their actions. Bill Clinton didn’t inhale. The Menendez Brothers had to shoot their dessert-eating parents because they were the ones about to be killed. And everyone else went on Oprah or Maury or Jerry to blame society or mom and dad for their ills. Another name for this time? “The Victim Decade.”
Now, it seems we’re in the middle of “The No Shame Decade” because the absolute lack of shame in our nation is astounding. Bankers get bailed out and dole out mammoth bonuses while the rest of nation still struggles against the recession. Networks enjoy calling the president a racist or accuse him of not being an American citizen and that passes for news. And drug-addled Charlie Sheen goes on talk show after talk show to call his sitcom crap and us cretins for watching it and making him a millionaire. Ah, that’s entertainment.
Shamelessness wasn’t always the way in Hollywood. Less than 15 years ago, a remorseful Hugh Grant visited Jay Leno to grovel for forgiveness concerning his involvement with a prostitute. But since that rare show of contrition, celebrities have been running amok with bad behavior, not only wallowing in it, but inviting us to wade in as well. And we have, gladly. We’ve carved the golden calf and made a number of disgraceful people into huge stars that have absolutely no business in show business.
Only in our modern “No Shame” era could a Paris Hilton or Kim Kardashian become stars. And they did so, based on their exploited sex tapes. They became household names not by any discernible talent but rather from their scandals. And they've reaped millions from the notoriety. Recently in an interview with Piers Morgan, Kardashian was asked what exactly her talent was. She said, “Marketing.” We’ve often been sold things we don’t need. A pet rock. The Chia Pet. The Kardashian family reality TV program.
Then there are Lindsay Lohan and Charlie Sheen, talented actors who have squandered their gifts and replaced them with their notorious lifestyles. They’ve become the poster children for bad Hollywood behavior and they seem to love to cling to their ‘dangerous’ images. Why else would Lohan write “F**k U” on her fingernails before she goes in front of the judge? And why else would Sheen bite so viciously the CBS hands that feed him? They may even be brilliant in their rebellion as they’re getting more ink for these shenanigans than they ever did for their thespian accomplishments.
And even the legit news outlets can’t help themselves. They’re covering Sheen as much as the protests in Libya or Wisconsin. In fact, legitimate journalists at CNN and the morning shows are dancing as fast as they can to keep up with the tabloid press. (Perhaps this era should be called “The Tabloid Decade.”)
When will it end? When Sheen’s heart gives out from all the drug abuse and his obvious lack of sleep? He looks like he’s on death’s doorstep; so maybe the hope is to catch him expiring live on TV. Remember the day Heath Ledger died in 2008? It was the same day the Oscar nominations were announced and that big Hollywood news was quickly eclipsed by the story of the tragic loss of one of the town’s brightest young actors. However, it got endless coverage that day and for weeks after, not because he was a terrific actor, but rather because of the possibility that his death was a drug overdose or even a suicide. That tabloid thinking gave the story legs. Some even speculated that the “Method actor” may have become too ensconced in his role as the villainous Joker and he just couldn’t turn off the dark. More likely, the press itself was projecting. They’ve never been able to get back on track and know the difference between tabloid and real news since that slow speed Bronco chase in 1994 turned every news organization into The National Enquirer.
Of course OJ Simpson was a big example of that “Not Me” style of thinking in the 90’s. He never took responsibility for killing his ex-wife and her friend Ron Goldman. And when he walked away a free man, he laughed in our faces, looking for the ‘real killers’ on one Florida golf course after another. How far we’ve come from that terrible time in 1921 when Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle, the silent movie era’s most popular star at the time, was tried for manslaughter in three different kangaroo courts over the accidental death of a Hollywood starlet. Justice was served and he was acquitted but the damage was done. He was never able to work under the Arbuckle name in Hollywood again. Not for nothing was that decade dubbed “The Roaring Twenties.” It started with a terrible noisy ruckus and the nation’s lust for scandal has screamed strong ever since.
Today, Arbuckle’s career would probably have been salvageable. If he gave some exclusive interviews and cried on cue he’d get the sympathy of the nation and the press back in no time. He might even get a Coca-Cola endorsement. Who knows, maybe he’d revel in the unanswered questions surrounding the actress’ death and play his notoriety to the hilt. Just like Lohan and Sheen. No matter how he played it, he'd quickly find that there is no need for any shame in this decade. If there’s any at all, it’s only in possibly missing a golden opportunity to exploit your circumstances and get on the cover of People magazine and tell your side of the story.