June 15, 2011
Anthony Weiner Can Learn From Stern
I’m watching Anthony Weiner roast in public humiliation, and I can’t help thinking: If he had only paid attention to Howard.
The congressman, whose shocking shirtless tweets have by now pretty much sunk his political career, is a classic case of someone who used the Howard Stern Show for publicity, who maybe enjoyed Howard, but who but didn’t learn from it.
Because here’s Howard Rule #1: Be Honest.
A couple of days ago, Howard himself said it best: He has built his successful carer by telling his audience the truth about himself. By not hiding the darkest parts of his personality. By being honest.
Skidmarks, masturbation, pornography, marital temptation, flirtations— Howard talks about every aspect of himself. In doing so he has all but inoculated himself against public humiliation. What could possibly come out about Howard that would be more shocking than what he himself has revealed? Nothing. Unless it turns out he drowns puppies in his fish tank, nothing.
When you can’t express your urges, they can overtake you. If you refuse to face the darker parts of yourself, they can end up defining you. For a public figure, the more honest you are, the less likely your life will be revealed as scandalous. In over 30 years in the public eye, Howard has constantly shocked people, but never once has he surprised them. In other words, by owning up to his foibles, by talking early and often about them, he has controlled the shock value of his life.
Early in his career Howard decided to tell people the truth about his life. That single decision not only changed radio—as I wrote a couple days ago, among other things it made the airwaves safe for the word penis—it made him into the rare public figure who is almost scandal proof.
That doesn’t mean Howard doesn’t have secrets, or doesn’t present a persona to his audience that doesn’t 100 percent jive with the real Howard—of course he does. But when it comes to the areas of life we expect our public personalities to hide—their psychological challenges and physical weaknesses and public humiliations and sexual peccadilloes—Howard has been quite open and entertaining about these. The only way Howard can be accused of hypocrisy, of his public image not comporting with his private one, is if he turns out to be normal. Do you see the genius here? The only thing that can be revealed about Howard, that he has not revealed himself, is his normalcy, his goodness, his menschiness.
Hindsight is 20/20, but if Weiner on his Stern Show appearances had slowly revealed his struggles with whatever the hell is bothering him (Sexual frustration? Body hair?) the revelations now either wouldn’t have happened or wouldn’t have been so explosive.
And when they did become public, instead of doubling down on his lies and obfuscation, he should have again followed Howard’s rule and just been brutally honest: It’s me. I did it. I need some help.
We all hide. We all need help. None of us gets all our desires met, or all our fantasies fulfilled. To various degrees, each one of us is, as Howard’s theme song says, “a tortured man.”
Howard has taught me how to take control of the shock value of my life. When I write or speak, I strive to reveal as much as I can about myself—what happened to me, what I’m feeling, what I’m thinking. Not talking these things to others allows them a power over our private life that eventually sinks our public lives.
I do believe Anthony Weiner will be reborn as a superb and better paid TV pundit like Elliot Spitzer. If you’ve heard him on Howard or watched his YouTube rants against FoxNews anchors, you’ll see what an adept and entertaining speaker he can be. If The Jewish Journal had two nickels and a TV studio, I’d hire him today.
But I would only do so on one condition: Be yourself, Anthony. Or, at least, be more like Howard Stern.