August 4, 2009
Ruthless Cosmopolitan Howard
On vacation up in Lake Arrowhead, I turned on Howard in the car. I’d been with my family the whole time, which means no Howard. I love the guy, but anyone who allows his 13 year-old daughter listen to Howard Stern deserves a visit from Child Services.
I was running up to the local market, and had some alone time. Howard in the mountains is discordant. Arrowhead isn’t exactly Deliverance; it’s 2 hours from LA, surrounded by giant homes and laced with the wakes of 1000 speedboats, about as rural as Lincoln Center. But it’s still San Bernardino County, not the big city, and I realized as Howard’s voice merged with the scenery of pine trees and lakefront, how intensely urban an experience he is.
And that’s why so many Americans hate him.
Howard Stern stands for the city. He is, in a phrase I’ll borrow from the writer Ruth Ellen Gruber, a ruthless cosmopolitan—celebrating New York, urban culture, reveling in its language and people and its pace. What about the country? Howard puts country music up there with herpes sores and open sewage. His endless crank phone calls nine times out of 10 go to people with thick Southern accents. To Howard, the city is life, the country a swamp.
Many Americans despise him for this, and whenever the cultural wars flare, he is an easy and ready target.
But their tactic is a bit more insidious than that.
Because his attackers know they can also count on the fact that in the popular imagination, Cosmopolitan=Jewish. There is no People more closely associated with the city than the Jews. And Howard is so obviously, clearly physically Jewish, I can’t help assuming the Focus on the Family sorts, in targeting Howard, are counting on a dose of latent anti-semitism to further inflame their culture warriors.
The problem, of course, is that the stereotype doesn’t exactly fit. Howard is also a Libertarian, a gun-owner, a supporter of Giuliani and D’Amato, and as conservative a businessman, family man and father as anybody walking into church in San Bernardino. He also likes fishing, vacationing in the country (at least), and girly music, like Katy Perry. That makes him not a stereotypical Jew, but a complicated Jew. Which is to say, a real Jew.
But his voice still doesn’t jive with lakes and pine trees.