Posted by Rob Eshman
Howard Stern brought stripping out of the shadows and into the main stream, featuring strippers of all types, shapes and sizes on his radio show from the earliest days. In the beginning mainstream media dismissed this as crass and inappropriate. Now there are stripper aerobics in your neighborhood mall, and my daughter listens to Top Ten songs on AM radio about strippers. Next I predict the Coca Cola Stripping Finals in Daytona Beach. Howard’s great good sense was to pull our American appetites out of the shadows and shine the light of humor and satire on them.
Howard was also poking fun at these beauty pageants and the essential hypocrisy of them long before they started self-destructing. On his show he had lesbian beauty contests, retarded beauty contests, tranny beauty contests (that one was just last week—so weird I couldn’t even listen). For years Miss Howard Stern has been a pill-addled booze-addicted unemployed blond who couldn’t string four words together. And don’t forget the title of Howard’ second book, on whose cover he posed as a beauty queen: “MIss America.” Howard long sensed that the beauty contests embodies so much that is hypocritical and ripe for satire in our culture: the myth of purity and chastity, the pressure of ideal beauty, the implicit cruelty of somebody sitting in judgment on someone else.
Finally, Howard long understood the insatiable, secretive, repressed level of horniness lurking like a locked-up dog in the American closet. He was getting “average” girls naked on his show long before reality TV made fortunes doing the same. He knew that the hunger was so great, that a woman could get headlines just for peeling off her shirt.
Now all these two trends collide: with pictures of Rima Fakih on the pole, the stripper beauty pageant is now entirely mainstream—the world has caught up to Howard Stern.
And if Howard would draw a lesson from the Rima Fakih scandal, it’s likely this: it’s a better world for us all when half-naked Arab-Americans are on stripper poles in Michigan rather than in jail cells in Guantanamo.
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May 14, 2010 | 12:14 pm
Posted by Rob Eshman
First of all, welcome to LA Howard.
This blog started a year ago to examine Howard Stern’s contribution to society. At the time, everyone from my wife to my more intellectual friends to many readers thought the very idea was a joke. Howard Stern? The guy who does fart jokes and midget shtick? Mr. Lesbian Stripper? How could someone so lowbrow be so highbrow?
Well, it’s nice to know I’m not alone. Last week, on HuffingtonPost.com, a PR strategist named Mario Almonte wrote a brilliant essay that makes the argument I’ve been trying to make all along. He does it succinctly, cogently, and all those other SAT words. Here’s an excerpt:
For a man who almost single-handedly revolutionized the broadcasting industry and profoundly influenced modern American pop culture, radio personality Howard Stern continues to be spectacularly disrespected by his own colleagues and the media itself that he so radically transformed.
While personalities like Jack Benny and Edgar Bergen popularized radio as a medium for entertainment, Howard Stern transformed it into a weapon of mass destruction. He annihilated cultural taboos, relentlessly exposed the hypocrisies and double standards in society and the entertainment field. He confronted the charlatans in religion, politics, and the media—who often proved to be the worst offenders of the very things they railed against. He treated the physically and mentally disabled, the social misfits and other cast-offs from society like celebrities; while mercilessly ridiculing the rich and famous for their delusional sense of self-importance. His radio show was itself the first true, unflinchingly honest reality series long before the concept was even a glint in the eyes of television producers.
Through all the years and all the controversies—the obsessive efforts of the FCC to crush him with millions of dollars in fines for indecency; the relentless pursuit of fanatical fringe groups seeking to knock his show off the air because they thought him rude, crude and obnoxious—he not only persevered, he triumphed. He dominated the entertainment industry as one of the most popular radio personalities in North America—and in the history of broadcasting—for more than 20 years. He wrote two New York Times best sellers and starred in a number-one movie about his life. At the peak of his popularity, his radio show was syndicated in more than 60 markets in North America, with a listening audience estimated at 20 million.
When Stern moved his show from terrestrial to satellite radio in 2006, he caused a seismic shift in the dynamics of the two media. He instantly lifted the struggling satellite technology to prominence, while driving another nail in the coffin of terrestrial radio by creating a vacuum of talent that pushed it to bleed listeners faster than ever before. The company he landed on, Sirius Radio, struggling to lure memberships up to that point, saw its subscriber base skyrocket. More than 180,000 new receivers were activated on the day before he launched his show on January 8, and millions of more fans signed up in the coming months. The $500 million paycheck that Sirius gave Stern made him one of the richest persons in show business, rivaling Martha Stewart and Oprah. Time magazine voted him among its 100 “Leaders in the Limelight” and Forbes ranked him in the #7 spot on its annual celebrity power ranking.
If anyone ignored, dismissed or denied the existence or impact of Howard Stern before, they no longer could.
Stern read a portion of the essay on air last week. And he thanked Almonte. Which shows something else: Howard, along with everything else, has class.
May 11, 2010 | 10:14 am
Posted by Rob Eshman
In yesterday’s Los Angeles Times, columnist Steve Lopez profiled Hugh Hefner. And it made me think of Howard.
On the surface, the two couldn’t be more different. Hefner is 30 years older than Stern. He’s the child of deeply Christian Nebraska farmers. He made his reputation cultivating an aura of suave sophistication, worldliness and sex appeal—just about 180 degrees off the image Howard presents as an uncool, uncomfortable, anti-social dork. And yet…
Lopez gets under the surface of Hef, and under the surface, the parallels between the two men become much more obvious.
Both men created a media empire by breaking cultural taboos.
Both men have an intense work ethic. They are hard-working, obsessed perfectionists. And they are both highly intelligent (Hef’s IQ is said to be 150. Howard plays the dope but his is clearly way up there).
Both men have a sense of their historic role. They are meticulous archivers of their lives and careers. While they sell fun, they take their careers quite seriously.
“Hefner held a stack of notes detailing his millions in donations to film preservation and the study of cinema at UCLA and USC,” wrote Lopez, ” as well as a list of 22 documentaries he has helped finance, including movies on Mary Pickford, Lon Chaney and Rita Hayworth.”
Or consider this passage about Hef’s archives:
He smiled and led me up to the third floor, where a man named Steve Martinez has spent 20 years helping Hefner compile more than 2,000 bound scrapbooks filled with press clippings and personal mementos.
“I’m archiving his legacy,” said Martinez, as Hefner, a pack rat, grabbed a volume off a shelf and showed me his first cartoon strips as a sketch artist, photos of his family and letters he wrote to his mother.
“It was a way of inventing a world of my own, in which I was center stage,” he said of his collection, which will now include a second round of stories about the Hollywood sign.
Hefner reached for Volume 372 and was showing me photos of the 1978 fundraiser to restore the sign when his staff reminded him that he was more than half an hour late for his next interview. Hefner, lost in the story of his life, didn’t want to leave.
Reading this, I thought of Howard’s many references to his archives, and of those “History of Howard Stern” radio documentaries that air on his channel. Hef would be impressed.
Of course. the easy parallel is that both men created careers for themselves that were, despite the trials and tribulations, really fun. That’s very very smart.
May 5, 2010 | 4:37 pm
Posted by Rob Eshman
Howard waited until late in the show today to announce that for the first time in his adult life, he was going to a synagogue to pray. I missed the segment (I heard him talking about a staffer named Shuli, not shul), but I read about it at the excellent howardstern.com site.
Late in the show, Howard shocked Robin by announcing his return to prayer: “There’s something I’m upset about and I can’t get any—I can’t figure out any logical, scientific way to solve it so I’m going to prayer. Yeah. I asked [Beth] to go with me because I don’t want to sit there like an asshole by myself. So I’m now resorting to prayer. I’m going to pray to God. Yeah. It happened the other night. It always happens when I’m sick. That’s when I’m at my weakest.”
Howard declined to be specific but continued: “There’s something I’m so upset about—that is wrecking my life—that I’m going to pray to God for him to fix it.” While punctuated with one-liners (“I’m going to go to a Jewish temple and if that doesn’t work, I’m going to church.”), Howard said his appeals to God would be sincere: “I’m not praying for myself, by the way. [I’m] praying for someone else…I need help…it is something horrible.”
Howard said he’d fully committed to the idea: “I even decided—in this moment that I’m praying to God, I’m going to be wearing a Yarmulke. Yeah. Because I—I don’t want to be taken as a joke or as being disrespectful. A Yarmulke is a sign of respect—of humility in front of God.” Howard concluded his announcement: “So I’m not going to say that I don’t believe in God anymore because that would be hypocritical.”
As I’ve written elsewhere on this blog, Howard has the same tortured relationship with organized Jewish religion that many of his peers have. Think Woody Allen, Phillip Roth, Larry David, Neil Simon—Howard is their radio equivalent—and all of them have skewered the faith they had shoved down their throats as children.
Howard has taken that to hysterical extremes—playing his squeaky-viced bar mitzvah tapes for comic effect, inviting the comedian Gilbert Gottfried in to do shtick as a rabbi, deriding—often with good reason— the emptiness of the bar mitzvahs he’s forced to attend. But…
But it is not surprising that as he’s matured, he has come to a deeper, spiritual understanding of what Judaism has to offer. If you look at Roth’s writings, even Woody Allen’s later movies, you see the same evolution. These men accumulate success, fame, money, but inevitably they look for more. In their art, they are often asking big questions in funny ways. In their lives, they are prone to asking the same big questions. Their obsession with mocking Judaism belies an obsession with Judaism, a sense that there’s more there there, that the religion that disappointed them so as adolescents could perhaps sustain them as adults.
I don’t know what crisis Howard is undergoing— His children? Beth’s need for a child? His parent’s aging? Artie? His career choice? How dumb am I to even speculate?—but I do know that religion done right—Judaism done right— can be a powerful tool for guiding one through turmoil, indecision, darkness.
There are superb rabbis in New York and elsewhere who can offer the best of his faith back to him, but ultimately, he was born into a faith that offers no easy answers, certainly no instant ones.
“Imperfection holds the sparks of holiness,” wrote Rabbi Irwin Kula in his book Yearnings, “we must understand the wisdom of our yearnings.”
Hang in there Howard….