FLINT - The optimist in me thinks that America's bizarre relationship with fame and celebrity might have jumped the shark last weekend.
In case you don't get the reference, "jump the shark" is the original fame barometer. It refers to an episode of the '70s sitcom "Happy Day" (kids, ask your parents) in which Fonzie, a '50s greaser, strapped on water skis and jumped a shark tank.
The scene was so incredibly absurd that it marked the beginning of the end for the show. Even though it continued on for seven years, it was never the same.
Last weekend in Detroit, Charlie Sheen was Fonzie. His sold-out one-man show at the Fox Theater that promised fans the real story behind his boozy departure from "Two and a Half Men," was a huge hit for Sheen's wallet. But as entertainment it apparently flopped.
People booed, some walked out. The reviews were blistering. "Why would anyone pay to see this?" one asked.
Afterward, the Detroit Free Press ran a photo of a woman explaining to a TV camera why she should get a refund for the $150 she spent on tickets.
It's too bad newspapers aren't interactive because I'd have loved to say, "Lady, you paid to see a train wreck and you got a train wreck, so what's the problem? You don't deserve a refund. If anything, you deserve a fine for contributing to the delinquency of society. Or for just plain bad taste."
Presumably, she bought the tickets because of Sheen's weird withdrawal rants about tiger blood and "winning." Presumably, she's also the type who - along with millions of others - props up shows like "Keeping Up the Kardashians," which is about well, nothing.
Shows like that are just fishbowls, designed at heart to let people stare at dysfunction. "Keeping Up with the Kardashians," for instance, was birthed from a sex tape of the bodacious Kim Kardashian and her boyfriend that went viral online.
And yet the show itself is oddly bland, with no perceivable sexually-themed zip or even anything resembling a story-line. The cameras mostly follow the family as they bicker about and deal with the mundane matters and mini-crises of life.
When I've watched - think gawker at a car accident - I've been struck by how little happens. But people watch. It's as if they're thinking, "But another sex tape could break out at any minute!" even though they realize that's not going to happen.
We sell our time pretty cheaply these days in America. Our standards, never high, have taken an odd turn in the age of the Internet.
In the past, the contract between performer and audience was "I'll use my talent to produce something that's worth your time because it's funny, dramatic, sad, joyful or engaging, and you give me your attention and your money."
Talent seems optional these days. Mostly, we simply ask that our entertainers be beautiful, messed up or scandalous. Preferably all three.
You may think of it as a new phenomenon, but it's been around longer than you think. Last week, I read one of the most depressing news stories ever. It was about Paris Hilton, the socialite who also used a 2003 sex tape to vault that annoying talent hurdle on the way to fame.
Asked whether the Kardashians were stealing her thunder, Hilton said, ""There's so many people out there who try to imitate what I do but I am the original."
Which begs the question, "The original what?"
Wait. Don't answer that. I don't want to know. What I do want to know, though, is when we'll grow up as a society and jump this particular shark.
Like I said, the optimist in me likes to think that Sheen's dismal display in Detroit - the first in a 20-city tour - will be it, the moment when we snap to and say, "Hey, that's not entertainment, and I have too much self-respect to encourage that kind of malarkey any longer."
The realist in me, though, tends to agree with H.L. Mencken, the newspaper columnist and satirist, who once said, "No one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public."
EDITOR'S NOTE - Andy Heller, an award-winning columnist for The Flint Journal, appears weekly in the Daily Press. He graduated from Escanaba Area High School in 1979. For more of his work, visit his blog at blog.mlive.com/flintjournal/aheller. You can e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.