So after over a year of waiting, countless promotions, and a wildly fluctuating stock price, Howard Stern began his first day on Sirius Satellite Radio today. I listened to the show, not because I am a massive Stern fan, but out of curiosity. The last year of speculation made me think about a few things. Namely, how can someone who bases his broadcast on shock, continue to be relevant on a platform where nothing is shocking? Once everything taboo is no longer taboo, would there be any appeal? I fully expected to tune in this morning to four hours of fart sounds and audio of people having sex.
I was surprised, instead, to find little more than Howard's normal show, with a few extra f-bombs thrown in for luck. Howard has said, though, that even with no standards or code in place, he is writing his own, which he will adhere to. He said he will not use profanity for the sake of profanity. He introduced George Takai as his new (temporary) co-host. And all I could think was, "Smart, man, smart."
Love him or hate him, Howard Stern is a man who, through a series of very wise choices and shrewd, publicity-manipulating business decisions, has elevated himself far beyond actual celebrity stardom. Howard has been able to make himself a BRAND, separate from the man himself.
Pamela Anderson has done exactly the same thing. In spite of what you may think about this woman, she is a genius businesswoman who has so carefully marketed herself, that she is now famous without having to even DO much. Movies, books, television shows...it was a long climb from her days as the LaBatt's Girl. Here is a woman with little to offer (I don't know her personally, so can only comment on her public persona, her BRAND) in terms of acting, personality, or talent. And you had better believe she knows it. So she got herself the biggest pair of bolt-ons she could, dated men who would keep her in the spotlight, did a few nude photo shoots, got the pre-requisite barbed wire tattoo, and climbed from beer poster girl to fake lifeguard to sitcom star and bestselling author. And if you think all of that was not unbelievably well-calculated and planned, you are vastly underestimating this woman.
Martha Stewart is the last best example of this type of "brand-as-self" personality that I can think of. I paid absolutely no attention to her or her media empire prior to her arrest, where she already proved herself to be an amazingly competent businesswoman. It was AFTER her arrest, and during the relaunch of her new show, where her smart choices and media manipulations became clear. My jaw hung open during those first few days of her show. From the brilliant "Am I the same girl? Yes I am, yes I am!" theme song, running alongside pictures of her early modeling days, casual discussion of her time in prison where she made contraband nutmeg-graters, forced, insincere self-deprecating humor, and remarks about how she "has many lovers," Martha has not tried to ignore her recent troubles. She has taken them, twisted them, and used them to allow her to become completely reborn, in a new persona. And let's not forget the constant shilling of her K-Mart brands, chef's tools, guest-star products, reality television show, and more.
What do these three personalities have in common? They have taken somewhat meager concepts or occupations (morning radio host, girl with nice rack, girl who's good at baking) and turned them into monumental empires through a series of awe-inspiring decisions, strategy, and media manipulations. They make the good work for them; they make the bad work for them even MORE. They have stopped being mere celebrities, have become BRANDS, and can now, through association of their name alone, have the power to make OTHER people or companies famous. It's astonishing, and when you look at the calculations required, can even be somewhat inspirational.