Sirius Satellite Radio is staking its future on the potty mouth of Howard Stern, paying him a budget-breaking $500 million over the next five years to attract subscription listeners at $12.95 per month. Run the numbers on this and you’ll see what a huge financial risk is involved for Sirius’ investors. I’m hoping at least Stern’s program goes belly-up.
Stern rose to fame on radio by outrageously pushing the envelope—periodically fighting with the FCC, claiming censorship, and attracting an audience who both wanted to hear sexually-charged conversations and who wondered just how far Howard would go. The question now becomes: Will an audience of sufficient size to make Sterns’ program financially profitable be attracted to a mouth that no longer is limited by anything?
In other words—if no one and no agency puts up a fence beyond which you cannot go, who cares how far you go? Where’s the sizzle? Given human nature, if by definition “forbidden fruit” is no longer “forbidden,” who will still want the fruit?
Stern is up against it. The very nature of Stern’s medium and his schtick demands that he keep pushing the boundaries. Otherwise, to his audience he becomes clichéd, boring, and worse from his point of view—no longer listened to.
The only way he’s going to succeed is if he identifies or invents new boundaries and then jumps over them. What might those boundaries be? If there are no legal impediments to his vocal adventures than the only impediments left are moral ones.
Sooner or later, Stern is going to attack the remaining moral conventions in an otherwise morally relativistic culture. What’s left? Sex talk? No, done that. Homosexuality? No, done that. Kinky sex? No, done that a long time ago. Naked people? No, done that, and besides, how does “naked” translate on radio?
So what’s left? Incest for one. Bestiality for two. Pedophilia for three. Maybe even necrophilia (an abnormal, frequently erotic attraction to corpses) for four, and probably some other perversions I have not identified. I don’t like this, but I have little doubt Stern will push these envelopes. Why? Because most normal people, no matter how liberal their sexual views, would still regard these activities as “out of bounds”—which is to say, Stern has found a boundary over which he can jump in order to attract and titillate listeners.
I’m not happy about any of this, and clearly I don’t recommend or support it. Stern is everything a good, decent, and moral person is not and should not be. I’m just predicting where he is going. I won’t be listening no matter what he does.
© Rex M. Rogers - All Rights Reserved, 2006