I listen to Howard Stern, the infamous radio disc jockey that elicits a strong reaction from different people based on their perception of him. To admit liking Howard Stern is the kiss of death in this profession, inciting reactions and assumptions from fellow professionals about my own professionalism and commitment to issues of social justice – specifically that Howard is misogynistic, intolerant, and simplistic – charges that I defend.
Howard Stern Fun Fact: Did you know that Howard Stern was the first radio disc jockey in the 1980s to have gay/lesbian dating games on his show? Back then, it was edgy!
For those that may project their own short-comings on an easy target, it is easy to overlook, prejudge, and miss out on satire. Satire is not intended to be taken literally, but to invoke a myriad of emotions before one realizes (if their critical thinking allows) that the satirist is making a larger commentary on societal and cultural norms and its hypocrisies. For great examples, see: Chappelle’s Show, South Park, or The Boondocks.
Why should Howard Stern be judged as misogynistic for having a “Dumb as a Box of Rocks” contest with three willing participants (strippers, demonstrating their lack of common knowledge and competing for $5000) while E! Entertainment is allowed to show a reality TV show about three women (paid in the millions) that got famous because one of them had a sex tape? I see the irony in my being judgmental, but the point I’m trying to make is that there is a double-standard.
Listening to Howard
Howard is my vessel into the non-conformist and absurd. His radio show provides me with commentary and entertainment that represents freedom that is limited by the FCC and sanitized [or censored, based on your opinion] by the mainstream news sources. Those that judge Howard Stern are those who have not given him a chance; his charm and intelligence are not given enough credit.
In consideration of the type of work that social workers perform, including listening to some of the difficult truths that some of our clients have experienced, I personally need a break from real life sometimes. This is not a complaint on the work that I do – The need for this self-care is indicative of how I join with and listen to my clients. For me to hold it together, Howard is my Self Care!
Things I have Learned from Howard Stern (and how I practice Social Work)
Listening to Howard Stern has influenced the way I do social work:
1. Have a sense of humor.
With a client, under very stringent conditions, I may use humor to lighten to the mood. Howard does this brilliantly. I can’t prescribe what the conditions are to using humor, but I hope that the words “clinically appropriate” should guide you.
The obscene realities of life can sometimes be overwhelming. Howard’s show is my way of saying “WTF” to a messed up situation.
2. A grandiose sense of self can take you places
In satirical commentary to Michael Jackson being referred to as the “King of Pop”, Howard Stern began referring to himself as the “King of All Media” – a title that others have adopted and one that has stuck to him.
While an small amount of humility can keep you grounded, a strong sense of self – including how you talk to yourself or how you perceive yourself – can take you places!
3. Disarm with charm and dig deep.
If you hear of celebrities making the news because of something “they said on Howard”, it’s because of his sneaky manner in which he charms and disarms his guests. Howard starts with small talk and humor, gets the guest into a comfortable situation in which they forget they are on a radio show, and then eases into his loaded question.
In the same manner, I build a meaningful and clinically-appropriate relationship with a client that sets the foundation for me to ask harder questions.
4. Acknowledge your accomplishments with the praise that they deserve.
Again, with grandiosity, Howard often describes how he has conquered radio, film, the New York Times bestsellers list, and pay-per-view. I have heard this several times in the last few years of listening and it is usually in response to being challenged (i.e. attacked) on his merits of credibility in regards to pop culture commentary.
When my self-esteem is under attack [usually by the guy in the mirror], I tend to have to tell myself (in the same manner) that I conquered college, grad school, have been successful with my clients, and I am doing great things with my life.
5. Meeting People, No Matter Who They Are, Where They’re At
Howard Stern has the uncanny ability to make any conversation with the average joe, sports figures, sex workers, movie stars, politicians, music artists (and so on) very interesting. [The exception to this rule is Tila Tequila]. He does it in a manner that focuses all of the attention onto his subject and makes that subject be the most important thing in the world during that segment; it is done without patronizing the interview subject. This is evidenced by strong and relevant questions in his interviews that have a genuine curiosity in them.
In this same manner, whether we like a client or are repulsed, one can do good work by dedicating themselves specifically to that client and his or her issue during the session time.
6. Fake It.
Howard Stern has the swagger of a rockstar and conducts himself as in control and in charge. If one juxtapositions this with his timid persona (as evidenced by self-deprecating comments about his masculinity), it is evident to me that to a certain extent, he “fakes it” to make it.
Something about Howard (which I recently read in the Steve Jobs biography) is radiating a sense of control, whether he actually feels this way or not.
I can recall being in several clinical sessions with clients in crisis and having to remind myself that I am the professional, I am in control, and that the client is looking to me as the person to bring stability. I may dismiss my panic and discomfort by first acknowledging it and then remembering that I have been here before and I have dug others out. Remembering the right questions to ask is pivotal and can only be achieved with a sense (false or otherwise) of control.
7. We All Have Had Baggage
Howard Stern [Not-So-]Fun Fact: Howard is a survivor of verbal abuse and bullying, a story many of us can relate to.
Howard Stern, the multi-million dollar talented disc jockey has his problems, and he is brutally honest about it. For those of us who familiar with behavioral theory, it is quite remarkable to analyze some of his stories from his youth as he tells them. Part of the reason I love Howard so much is his honesty about neuroses, trauma, and interpersonal problems (e.g. anger) that he has worked hard to quell.
I appreciate Howard’s honesty and his self-disclosure that he attends therapy regularly and is a practitioner of transcendental meditation. I truly hope that his disclosure inspires others to get help.
8. I’m Not Alone in Righteous Anger
I am a social worker for the sole reason that I am intolerant of injustice. A lot of time, Howard takes my angst away by ranting, raving, and screaming about the same grievances I have about the systems of oppression (e.g. Penn State, government, human behavior, etc). It makes me feel better that someone can coherently rant and rave about an issue that I may have difficulty expressing on my own.
This clip is not safe for work, but I truly hope you give it a chance and listen to it, as it deals with social work issues such as women’s rights, bullying, and injustice. Howard’s righteous anger is evidenced and it makes for an entertaining ten minutes: