Sunday, February 19, 2006

Howard's Bully Pulpit

George Carlin was the subject of a New York Times story not too long ago, and the subject of Howard Stern came up. "I like Howard," George said. "I like his mind. I like his spirit. I am not a big fan of the stuff he does. He knows that. I think he picks on underdogs."

That observation - "I think he picks on underdogs" - has stayed with me. He's got a point.

You see, growing up, in schoolyard society, I was a kid easily laughed at, a kid who cried easily. I was bullied. I was an underdog. Which is why I wonder about my Howard fandom.

After I started listening to Howard, I tried to put my finger on just what his appeal was. My thought was that the sound of his show, reassuring in its way, is the sound of a bunch of high school guys (or college guys) killing time, ragging on each other, waiting for class bell to ring - waiting for that moment when one has to trudge to class (or the office) and act all grown up.

Those kids laughed and felt liberated in those moments before "class", but the humor was mean - especially when it came to girls (who were held in awe and/or in contempt). And the humor was even meaner when it came to underdogs. Which, umm, I was one of. I wonder if I would have been held in contempt by Howard and his real high school friends if I had gone to Roosevelt or South Side High - although Howard takes great pains to point out that he was a loser-outsider too at that point in his life.

There are times when I automatically turn the Stern show "off", and one of those times is during the Captain Janks-type calls, or during the recorded interviews when a hapless celebrity gets peppered with "naughty" questions. Why? Because the surprised celebrity/anchorman/person, at the time of the recorded interview or call, doesn't know he or she's now an object of laughter, someone not privvy to the joke they've now become the butt of - in that sense, a laughed-at underdog. Those hapless folks haven't had the chance to choose to be a part of the joke. If one chooses to be on Howard's show, then great, welcome, prepare to be harassed or bugged with extremely personal questions. If one haven't yet had a chance to agree to be on the show, then... well, that person should be leaft alone. Ambushing them isn't funny, even if Howard thinks you're a blowhard or full of yourself or whatever. In my opinion.

Another sense of Howard picking on the "underdog" is probably the way George was thinking of, when Howard chats with Beetlejuice or Jeff the Drunk or Gary the Retard. Certainly most of the members of Howard's "wack pack" (who are more often than not mentally disabled) are real underdogs. Now, Howard and his partisans would argue that these people are "in on the joke", know what they're there for, and are getting much more publicity or attention or money than they normally would if they were left alone. One also might argue that Howard is laughing with these wack-packers... although that argument feels... weak.

Perhaps more interesting/confusing is Howard's ongoing relationship with Daniel Carver. Is Howard giving publicity and airtime to a hate-mongerer? Or is he, by allowing Daniel (who is a loon) froth at the mouth, and ttherby dig his own grave? Is it a "hoot" to hear Daniel?

I feel like I am posing more questions here than providing answers... (I also have to admit I am posting this from a 14th-street laundromat in Manhattan, and am running out of time before I get logged off!) But I would love to hear from you about this. And I am trying to think this issue through. What do you think? Am I a hypocrite for being an (former?) underdog that "laughs at" other Howard underdogs? Discuss. (Please.)

1 comment:

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