By Linh Dinh
February 20, 2013 “Information Clearing House” – The coarsening of a people doesn’t happen overnight. When I came to the States in 1975, the Gong Show was about as rude as it got on television. Some earnest sap would get bumped for crooning, “Feelings, nothing more than feelings,” but no one ever got screamed at, had their wig knocked off or made to sob in public. No tune ever urged murder, and even a group named War only sang, “Why can’t we be friends?” The year’s top hit was The Captain and Tennille’s “Love Will Keep Us Together.” Compared to now, it was a cheesy time, for sure. American cheese.
Then came Howard Stern, Rush Limbaugh and Jerry Springer, etc. Before Stern made it nationally, he was only big in the DC area, where I happened to live at the time. In 1982, an airliner crashed onto the 14th Street Bridge, killing 78 people, so Stern called Air Florida the next day to book a flight from National Airport to the 14th Street Bridge. Many kids at my school, Jefferson High, thought it was brilliantly funny, and I’m not sure now if I laughed along, but even then, I could sense that not only Stern, but the country itself had crossed a line. If 78 corpses in a freezing river is an occasion for any kind of collective mirth, then we’re certainly fucked. Stern’s reputation has been built on such jokes, remember, and he’s no fringe character but one of our most popular radio personalities. Ever.
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