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Double standards still alive and well in Hollywood

Two days after Charlie Sheen's dramatic unraveling he's back on the set of Two and a Half Men.

On Monday night, the star suffered an "allergic reaction", which ended with his removal to hospital by police, after being found in a state of disorientation and undress in the Plaza Hotel in New York City. What an awful allergy it must be, that could tear the clothes from a man, compel him to bring a porn star back to a hotel room, and cause him to entirely take leave of his senses.

It's not the first time he's been in trouble. It's not even a year after he was arrested on the domestic violence charges that saw him spending last Christmas in jail. Back in 1996, he pleaded no contest after being charged with attacking a girlfriend in his home and was placed on two years probation. Chequered past? He wrote the book. There was the cocaine overdose in 1998. The stint in rehab earlier this year. To be fair to him, though, when he shot his then-fiancé Kelly Preston in the arm in 1990, it was an accident.

All of this dysfunction certainly doesn't seem to be doing his career any harm. Earlier this year, the sitcom star signed an agreement that saw him returning to the set of Two And A Half Men for another two years at a fee of $1.8m per episode.

If anything, Charlie's rep as a hell-raiser adds to his cachet.

It must be a bit embarrassing for him, sure. But his hard living lifestyle and relentless recidivism certainly isn't putting him out of work. To his fans, there's a possibility it's even considered kind of cool. Their remains a tacit sort of applause around the notion of a relentlessly badly behaved middle aged famous man. Like rock stars, Sheen's refusal to toe the line is interpreted as a maverick sort of heroism.

And what's wrong with that necessarily, since the only harm he seems to be doing is to himself and any woman who is brave enough to get involved with him? Well, arguably not that much. Except for the fact that the Charlie Sheen case does seem to expose a rather entrenched double standard in how we judge men like him, compared to the moral outrage that greets the famous women who do the same.

Take Lindsay Lohan, for example, also currently making headlines thanks to her ongoing trouble with drink, drugs and the law. Like Sheen, she's very well accustomed to the promenade up the courtyard steps. Also like Sheen, she seems to have issues around the thorny problem of relapse. Unlike Sheen, her brushes with the law haven't turned her into a more bankable star. There's no whiff of glory for her as she goes on raging against the dying of the light. Instead, she's publicly pilloried in the media, and warned by film producers everywhere that she's at risk of making herself unemployable. The last time she was up in court, she announced that she couldn't carry out a court ordered stay in the Betty Ford clinic because she needed to work and couldn't afford the exorbitant fees.

Why such censoriousness, such widespread disapproval about the idea of a young women off the rails, when we don't apply the same exacting standards to an older man? It's plain, old-fashioned moral relativism. If anything, Lindsay Lohan is more tragic than she is immoral, especially by comparison to Sheen. While he was raised in privilege, she's been working since the age of 11. Supporting not just herself but also her family, she's grown up with the pressure of being her family's main breadwinner. And at least, as far as we know, her nights out on the town have never culminated in landing any of her partners in hospital. "I don't know why I'm such a target, but I think there's a misconception of who I am as a person. It's a very build-you-up-to-take-you-down industry," Lindsay has said.

And she's right. This applies most, though, to those in it who are young, attractive and female. For the rest, or at least for Charlie Sheen, it's a bit more of a build-you-up-watch-you-fall-and-pat-you-on-the-back sort of industry.

Sunday Independent