At first I was disoriented, and I couldn’t make any sense of the two media streams. I had taken my daughter for a haircut, and a television was playing in the waiting area. Only after several seconds did I realize that the sound was off and I was actually hearing a radio morning talk show (Don’t ask me which either was tuned to. I have no idea.) That was strange enough. But what I found even stranger—and worth some commentary—was the content of the two shows. The juxtaposition captured some thoughts I’ve been trying to reconcile.
The television was showing scenes from Japan. Tsunami waves carrying vehicles and pieces of buildings, smoke rising from nuclear reactors, landscapes of ravaged towns, people with white masks queued up in the hope of getting any remaining morsels of food and sips of water—the montage captured the devastation. It’s tragedy on a massive scale.
Meanwhile, the radio announcers were continuing the running joke that the Charlie Sheen saga has become. There were comments about “winning,” “goddesses,” “tiger blood,” his children, his ex-wife, his Tweeting. The deejays found it all rather hilarious, and they clearly were very amused with themselves and their insights into Sheen. I know very little about Charlie Sheen and his talents. But from the little bit I’ve picked up the past few weeks, it seems his genius may be tied to his downfall. It’s tragedy on an individual, classical scale.
Certainly there are major differences between the two stories. Japan is a much farther-reaching and significant disaster, the people victims of nature. Sheen, on the other hand, has made certain choices. Maybe that, as much as scope, explains our reactions. People around the world will aid Japan, just as they did for New Orleans and Indonesia. Sheen will remain a punchline, likely until the next celebrity misbehavior. So while the stories contrast in many ways, both should make us consider a basic question: How do we—and how should we—respond to the misfortune of others?