How might one explain Howard Stern? Yes, he is a refreshing change from the typical, politically correct figure, and he provides humor and sex for late night audiences who are growing weary of Leno and Letterman. And while Howard Stern, shock jock turned television host, is more on the same wavelength as a Jerry Springer than a late night comic, Stern has always claimed–like Jerry–that his show is just an act.
The idea that Howard Stern could come close–but not too close–to naked women on his television show, might have created the impression that this was just an act after all. He would say things that any other husband could not get away with, and it was okay, because it was all an act. His integrity and sense of honesty was intact, because he could look and not touch, even if he was standing just an inch away. Of course, that idea would not sit well with all, but in the world of Howard Stern, everything was copacetic. That is, until his wife left him.
It might have been, as with many couples, that the pair divorced for a variety of reasons and that it had nothing to do with his untoward behavior. Still, the fact that he was married for many years, despite his lewd comments, gave him credibility. He was married and because he maintained that he was a faithful, it gave him a dual persona. People would think “Howard is all right. He speaks his mind. So what.” But with a single Stern, the picture changes. He is no better than any other dirty old man now. At least that is the perception.
While many speculate about the breakup–as who would stay married to a man who ogles other women every day on the air–Stern maintains that the separation had nothing to do with his on screen behavior. He said: ” I take most of the blame because I’m a workaholic, and when I’m not working I’m hiding in my basement trying to recover, and I’ve pretty much hidden from life. I don’t think it’s easy to be married to me ” (“Not-so-private” 68). Stern’s contention that his marriage crumbled because of his habits rings true. In the film Private Parts based on his life, Stern revealed that he was of good character, remained faithful to his wife and that he was hard to live with off the air. Howard Stern is a recluse at home and marriages break up for less than that. Howard maintains that he hopes a reconciliation is possible (68).
What is also evident is that Stern appears depressed. Although he has achieved remarkable success for an unremarkable act, he is obviously not happy in his personal life. What Stern continues to do is to integrate his radio persona with real life and in some ways, he cannot separate the two. What most people know about Stern’s one big mistake had nothing to do with a lesbian bimbo getting too close, but rather his talking about Alison’s miscarriage on the air. That is what most know about Howard Stern. His life has been aired in the film Private Parts and he tells the world how he feels every day. While he is flamboyant, and pushes the envelope, one thing is true. Howard Stern is at least consistent. What does this mean? While Stern on one hand objectifies women on the show, and then talks about his wife lovingly, that is a contradiction. But he maintains that this act is just that and both parts of that personality co-exist.
Many wonder why the show is still on the air as it is somewhat offensive and really does nothing new, even as the years go by. Ratings had in fact dropped for this successful host, but they soon picked up again. Donovan reported that while Stern’s Saturday night show had been in the doldrums, the marital breakup had helped ratings (Donovan 226). But one question remains. What will Stern do now that he is on available again?
That is not an easy one to answer. Likely, he will stay true to his word. If reconciliation occurs, he will not entertain other relationships. Also, although Stern shares many escapades on the air, whether he will share serious experiences–in relation to the break up and his new life–is not known. After all, he does have his children to consider. Sharing his feelings on the air about his personal life does seem to contradict commitments he has made to both his wife an children. While the break up of the long standing marriage completely changes things, it seems as if the same old Howard continues to do what he has always done best, which is to make a fool of himself on an almost daily basis. He is able to laugh at himself, and maintains his honesty which is exemplary. Yet, in evaluating character, one must consider the damage his honesty does to his family who bear the brunt of Howard’s rants. In that sense, honesty can be selfish.
An important question is, what does Stern contribute to society? In some way, he is an exemplification of a good husband in that he takes his marital vows very seriously, not ever having committed adultery. While some might overlook that point in this day and age where adultery is relatively commonplace, one should give credit to the man. Stern has many followers and so in that respect at least, he sets a good example.
At the same time, he has made a career of endorsing and exacerbating the use of pornographic materials and his show has misogynist undertones. He enforces disparaging societal views that women should be perfect and makes his living off of women flocking to his show so their bodies can be judged by Stern and company. In some ways, Stern is a true enigma. He is likable and may be admirable because he displays much honesty and integrity. Then he blows it all by using women as sex objects or by revealing some personal aspect of his life that embarrasses his family.
In delving into Stern culture, there is a sense that if anyone objects, they just don’t get it. But the truth is that a great many men and women do not “get” Stern. People tune in and are offended by the content. Still, Stern as a broadcaster, and a person, is quite different in a holistic sense. His on air personality is quite different than his true self. At the same time, both his on air personality and touchy feely persona are one in the same. Howard Stern is both sweet and vulgar at the same time. While Stern exemplifies certain values, they are clearly juxtaposed which makes for a rather complex personality.
Howard Stern appears to be a puzzle, but in carefully analyzing this famous person, one is tempted to look at the average man who does also likes to look at naked women, watch lesbians kiss and accidentally spills the beans in front of a group of people. Stern is really not much different than others, except he says what he thinks with no filter.
What he lacks in tact, he makes up in other ways. Stern has a great deal of ambition and determination and throughout the years has been kind to the people he climbed the ladder with, especially Robin. The fact that Robin is a black female and a good, faithful work buddy and friend to Howard, should provide some insight into this character. He is color blind, something that is often not exemplified in this day and age. While Howard does objectify women, he is no bigot and he also has women friends.
His stint in the broadcasting business was never easy. Howard wanted to make it in the radio world and he did. He showed strength and perseverance and he did it by challenging authority. Howard does try to get away with putting things on the air that are prohibited. How far will he go? In some way, that behavior is selfish as he makes money at the expense of others. He does not consider his children, other children, or the society while trying to put raunchy material on network and cable shows. At the same time, it is only through challenging rules that society changes. Why should he not put something like that on the air when it is acceptable in other countries? In many ways, he behaves in this manner to make money. At the same time, he is challenging people to take a look at themselves and to look at the laws which are in place. Should Stern be banned? Perhaps he wonders why he has not been yet, although he had been fired for his behavior in the past.
Many artists take first amendment rights very seriously, seeing every restriction as an impingement on rights. Howard seemingly has made his mark on television as it is hardly recognizable as the censored entity it once was. While censored versions of questionable material appear on television screens today, one can imagine what is going on on the other side of the little, blurry box. Thus, Stern along with other renegades, have changed society to an extent. Is it for the better, or worse? Is exposure to sexuality really detrimental to women, and to society?
Howard Stern does make a point, and pushes things far enough so that he does make a difference. Society has changed due to pushing things just a little further each day. In many respects, the society is over sexualized. Some explain it as attributable to media, particularly to the movie industry, but others say that because violence is deplored by the current reigning generation, sex is the only way that young people can act out. While Stern is a part of the generation that deplores violence, his highlighting of sexuality is probably personal. He found a way to use his own interests to make money.
Stern’s attitude about working hard is admirable, but his admitted tendency to overwork has created family problems. At the same time, while his fault may be working too hard, that is one that is not morally reprehensible, particularly in American culture. And although his attitude toward women has misogynist tones, his respect for his wife and firm attitude about marriage is something that is good for society. Still, if the couple do split for good, what he does as a bachelor will have an effect on his fans and his critics. But just as he makes fun of homeless people for example, it appears that he has set up a foundation for them on the sly (“Jock” 15). That is the mystery of Stern. He is both kind and callous. And while he can be both things at the same time, he is consistent in each trait, as he has hardly wavered from his positions over the years.
Donovan, Doug. “Motor Mouths. (Brief Article).” Forbes 20 Mar 2000 : 226
” Jock shock: is Howard Stern secretly helping the very same people he mocks? (radio talk show host’s H and A Stern Family Foundation, Inc. rumored to help homeless people).” New York 14 Jun 1999:15.
“Not-So-Private Parting: That sensitive radio guy, Howard Stern, feels the pain as his marriage unravels. (Up Front)(Brief Article).” People Weekly 8 Nov 1999: 68