By Ken Tucker
Updated February 25, 2011 at 07:50 PM EST

Given the irrational hostility that has suffused Charlie Sheen’s recent statements, it’s tempting to either nurture a dislike for the man, to ridicule him, or to dismiss him altogether — to wish he’d just go away. I’d like to suggest something else: sympathy.

Is there much doubt that Sheen is a diminished man, someone who’s losing control of what media spinners call “his narrative” — i.e., command over the arc of his career and image? His angry response to the idea that he may be in the grip of addiction(s) has been to say, “Bull—. I cured it… with my mind.” His rejection of Alcoholics Anonymous as “a bootleg cult with a five percent success rate”? Well, I think one of the precepts of AA, and a rather un-cult-like one at that, is that a person can’t be helped unless he’s reached the point of wanting to be helped.

Sheen knows one of the major reasons for the success of Two and a Half Men is that people like him. It therefore makes sense, even in Sheen’s overheated manner of expression, for him to express gratitude for what he calls “my beautiful and loyal fans,” and to want to continue with production on the series — of literally showing up for work even after Men had been shut down. Even in the midst of a media meltdown, he’s trying to present himself as an honorable guy, which suggests a conscience, however beclouded, at work within him.

No matter how much violence he threatens to unleash from his “fire-breathing fists,” that hostility has never extended to his audience (yet). His rhetoric is loaded with defensive anger — “And if you’re part of my family, I will love you violently. If you infiltrate and try to hurt my family, I will murder you violently” — yet when you untangle it, his phrasing is rooted in fear and confusion.

Sheen’s father, Martin, has had a long past with the Catholic Church and in particular a friendship with Dorothy Day, a self-proclaimed religious anarchist in the service of peace. We cannot know the pain that Charlie Sheen’s father and the rest of his family are going through right now with Charlie, who has chosen an anarchy of another sort: a radical alienation from the culture immediately around him.

My sense is that Charlie Sheen isn’t fully himself right now; to say he’s in denial is putting it in a way he’d object to, well, violently. But rather than reduce him to this week’s joke or demon, a decent alternative might be to try looking at him as someone who requires some compassion.

Agree? Disagree?

Twitter: @kentucker

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