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If we did what Sheen did, we'd be in jail

By LZ Granderson, Special to CNN
  • LZ Granderson says Charlie Sheen is different from us: He gets "Hollywood immunity"
  • Trash a hotel, greet cops naked, say you freebased coke, see what happens, he says
  • Granderson: We treat actors, athletes, singers and reality stars as untouchables
  • But well-adjusted stars make boring stories and we enjoy watching them wreck, he says

Editor's note: LZ Granderson is a senior writer and columnist for ESPN The Magazine and and has contributed to ESPN's "Sports Center, Outside the Lines and First Take. He is a 2010 nominee and the 2009 winner of the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation award for online journalism and a 2010 and 2008 honoree of the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association for column writing.

Grand Rapids, Michigan (CNN) -- There is a four-letter word that should apply to Charlie Sheen. It's jail -- as in, why isn't he there?

Hollywood people are different from you and me.

Try trashing the next hotel you're in and then tell cops you just did some coke and see just how much you have in common with Sheen. Get the police to file a report that says you choked someone, held a knife to her throat, threatened to kill her -- and then try to go back to work as if everything's OK. Trash the furniture in your hotel suite, greet the cops naked, tell them you freebased cocaine and get to dismiss the whole affair as "a bad night."

Only in Hollywood would such a person not only be removed from being fully accountable for his actions but instead covered by the media as if he were influencing foreign policy.

I'm not saying Sheen's guilty before a trial and I hear the outcry of people saying he needs help. They're right. Sheen does appear to be spiraling out of control. But he's never going to stop and get help until his enablers stop covering for him. And he has to stop -- not just before he gets hurt, but before someone else does.

Get the police to file a report that says you choked someone, held a knife to her throat, and then go back to work.
--LZ Granderson
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I'm not big on judging the parental skills of others, but to see Sheen's father, actor Martin Sheen, compare his son's behavior during his celebrated week of erratic public appearances to that of someone battling cancer, only provides a snapshot as to why Sheen behaves as if he's above the law. He very well may need psychiatric help, but it's because Sheen is the star of the now defunct and eternally mediocre CBS comedy "Two and a Half Men," that the help has yet to arrive.

It's partly our fault. Had Sheen been treated like a citizen of the United States as opposed to a royal with diplomatic immunity, maybe things wouldn't have gotten this bad for him and his family. But -- to paraphrase a line from Eminem: This is what we do. And by "we" I mean society, and by "what" I speak of the manner in which we treat actors, and athletes, and pop singers and reality stars as if they are untouchables.

Even as we shake our heads at the headlines and mumble unflattering things about their misguided choices, we still seem to be subliminally comfortable characterizing their behavior as harmless, because they have money and fame. Late-night comedians crack jokes at their expense, or, as Sheen did on CNN's "Piers Morgan Tonight," the accused sprinkle in some self-deprecating humor to show just how "regular" they are.

Yeah, right.

Breakdowns and bad behavior in celebrity circles lead to sympathy and smiles. For the rest of us everyday people, whose terrible behavior never seems interesting enough to trend on Twitter, it more often means hard jail time.

But we need that yin/yang tension, don't we? Besides, that dynamic is unlikely to change in the near future because well-adjusted, happy people are bad for the media business. It's even harder on the self-esteem of those of us who consume media. After all, if we can't look down our noses at the Sheens, or Christina Aguileras or Whitney Houstons, how on earth are we going to survive our less than glamorous, day-to-day existence? We need them and they need us.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of LZ Granderson.