"a fish, a barrel, and a smoking gun"
for 31 March 1997. Updated every WEEKDAY.

King of All Minstrels


[New Yorker]

Those indulging their nostalgia

for early March ("March ... was

that the Springsteen revival or

the third New Wave of the New

Wave?") won't be surprised at

the various Howard Stern puff

pieces' striking resemblance to

each other. The cringe factor in

reading the detritus of Stern's

media takeover actually comes

from the suspicion that any

writer who scolded the

"potty-mouthed shock-jock" in

public probably was jerking off

to Stern's lesbian stories at

home. That's why the standard

take on Private Parts - "Bad

taste has gone mainstream!" -

lacked any conviction. As a

defensive tactic, it was

transparent - the mainstream

wasn't already in bad taste?


But David Remnick's lead article

in The New Yorker proved the

story played even in an

environment hermetically sealed

off from bad taste (except for

the Calvin Klein ads featuring

holocaust victims, of course).

Remnick's piece checked off a

set of pop-psych boxes that seem

to explain all adult white males

("rage," "need," something that

happened in a suburb in 1972),

included the statutory reminder

that you were reading The New

Yorker (references to Rabelais

and Aristophanes), and finally

concluded: It's the Zeitgeist,

stupid. Since Stern's popular

now, it must mean that he

embodies some kind of

stripper-ogling, race-baiting

spirit of the age, in this case

a wave of anti-PC rudeness and

mass-marketed rebellion:


It's a time when "alternative"
rock is what everyone listens
to, when the gangsta pose of Dr.
Octagon and the S&M lyrics of
Nine Inch Nails soar past Bruce
Springsteen on the charts.



Does it matter that Dr. Octagon

is actually the farthest thing

from a black gangster since P.M.

Dawn (he claims to be a

Gynecologist from Jupiter who

travels via fax machine)? Or

that anyone who believes

Springsteen hasn't been selling

rebellion since he was born (to

run, natch) can "Just wrap your

legs round these velvet rims"?

And the idea that Stern is

popular because of his vague,

resentful politics misses the

fact that American politics has

been about vague resentments for

some time now.



If Stern's star trajectory from

drive-time to prime-time

perplexed writers, though, they

can be forgiven. Even more than

to offend, Stern's job has been

to manipulate. His

excuse-cum-schtick - "It's an

act." - works best precisely

when it seems like he's not

acting. Of course, all strippers

and all talk-show guests put

themselves on display for money;

what was the big deal about

Stern's own Private Part?

Probably the way he waved it

around in front of us.



From the pre-première

billboards to his pronouncement

on Larry King that "this will

not only be my last appearance

in terms of promoting the movie

... but then I will disappear,"

nothing has made Stern's talent

for controlled self-exposure

more obvious than the precision

with which his media push began

and ended. Ironically, the most

telling moment of

self-revelation within the media

covering Stern also hinted at

Stern's own facility with

motivational stripteases. When

Remnick is about to go visit

Stern's show, his wife, looking

up from her pillow, asks: "So

what are you wearing to go see

Howard Stern? Crotchless jeans?"


An untrained observer might see

her question as a mere gibe from

someone alien to the world of

bloated silicone fun-bags, but

the trained cultural critic

would know to ask: Why

crotchless jeans? Why now?



As it turns out, crotchless jeans

are specific to a very strange,

perhaps apocryphal, moment in

American culture: In the wake of

the FBI's destruction of the

Black Panther party, Minster of

Defense Eldridge Cleaver retired

to France and began a brief

career as a fashion designer.

The garment Remnick's wife was

thinking of was designed by

Cleaver to expose that fabled

object of racist mythology: the

big black dick.


So Remnick's wife joking about

her husband dressing up in porn

blackface contrasts darkly with

Stern's elaborate show of

honesty: The only time in

Private Parts where Stern is

naked is when he stares with

jealous fascination at his new

high school classmates as they

parade naked through the locker

room. Since Private Parts is a

legitimate Hollywood movie, all

we get to see is Stern's

reaction. And that's all that

matters: Who knows how big they

really were? Who cares? For us,

for Stern's listeners, and for

an America caught up with race,

the penises that matter most are



[Jewish Post]

That's why the crux of Private

Parts, the moment when our hero

really becomes Howard Stern, is

deceptive. Stern, a boring DJ

whose marriage is on the rocks,

terrified about his future at a

new station in Detroit, "snaps"

and suddenly shocks the station

by channelling a black traffic

reporter who rants about killing

whites. The idea is Stern has

let loose with an anarchic

parody of the racial tension

everyone's afraid to express,

one in a long line of Jewish

performers (Lenny Bruce, Al

Jolson) who found their inner

voice by playing black.


But the real reason Stern can

rock the white nation so much

harder than lawn-jockey punks

like Jon Spencer, and the real

reason why his tumble down the

grosses probably matters more to

Jennifer Lopez than to Stern

himself, is that he doesn't need

that stinky old greasepaint. He

found a brand new color.


In putting on his own pale self,

Stern developed the ultimate

showbiz armor. There's no nasty

issue of ownership (he's just

acting like himself) and he can

still kick those "Mammy" jams.

His is a whiteface minstrel show -

all about commuting home to

the dull comforts of suburban

marriage while whining publicly

for stripper sex. It's an act

that will continue to pop

commuter cork well after Jim

Carrey succumbs to dry rot,

leaving burnt cork far behind.

courtesy of Hypatia Sanders

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