Talk Radio: Letting Boys Be Boys

"Listening to Howard Stern," noted Boston columnist Mike Barnacle in 1984, "is the electronic equivalent of loitering in the men's room of a bus terminal." Apparently, this was a place a lot of listeners wanted to go to.

Most of the commentary about talk radio has focused on two things: its rudeness, the threat it posed to civility, or on its unrepresentative amplification of right-wing politics, the threat it posed to democracy. But what is obvious, and yet much less frequently discussed, is talk radio's absolutely central role in efforts to restore masculine prerogatives to where they were before the women's movement. After all, eighty percent of the hosts and a majority of the listeners, particularly to political talk radio, were and are male. I suggest that a new gender hybrid, the male hysteric, emerged on talk radio as a deft, if sometimes desperate fusion of the desire to thwart feminism with the reality of having to live with it and accommodate to it.

Talk radio began to make national headlines in the mid-1980s, when Howard Stern gained increasingly notoriety and earned the moniker "shock jock" and Alan Berg, an especially combative talk show host in Denver, was murdered, presumably, it was thought, by one of his infuriated listeners. More headlines came in 1989, when a coalition of approximately thirty talk show hosts coordinated a major attack on a proposed 51 percentCongressional pay increase that then Speaker of the House Jim Wright planned to push through without a floor vote. Broadcasting their outrage and Wright's fax number to their listeners, they unleashed an avalanche of protest that scuttled the pay increase, but just temporarily. As soon as the spotlight went away, the pay increase went forward.

"Except for a few isolated markets like Boston, no one knew we were out here," recalled talk show host Mark Williams. The Wright episode changed all that. The number of radio stations with talk or combined news and talk format quadrupled in ten years, from approximately two hundred in the early 1980s to more than 850 in 1994. As music programmers and listeners evacuated the AM dial in favor of FM in the 1970s, previously thriving, profitable stations were faced with a crisis. Some tried the all-news format, while others clung to music. But by 1980 the talk format, whether the host was a sexologist dispensing advice or a political consultant fielding calls, was proving to be a solution to AM's abandonment. Talk radio didn't require stereo or FM fidelity. It was unpredictable. It was incendiary. And it was participatory. On WOL-AM, for example, in Washington, D.C., the audience increased by 48 percentbetween 1980 and 1981 in response to the talk show format. By the mid-1990s, talk radio was one of the most popular formats on the air, second only to country music. Talk radio and its particular version of radio populism had arrived. Like some of the most successful popular culture -- one thinks of P.T. Barnum's early museums or National Geographic or "60 Minutes," talk radio entertained and educated, fused learning with fun, allowed people to be titillated and informed, even though they were often misinformed, and encouraged them to be good citizens and unruly rebels, all at the same time. Station managers also discovered that talk show audiences were extremely loyal. Once they listened to and liked what they heard, many got hooked. This was, of course, what advertisers wanted to hear. In fact, once the foreground for the genre became established, one of the things that advertisers latched onto with talk radio was that it had what were called "foreground aspects." People didn't listen to it like they did to background music. They paid attention. This is, of course, what advertisers want to hear. Nor did people press their "select" buttons as frequently. So if the host, like Don Imus or somebody else, actually read the ad copy, advertisers felt that it very much improved sales because they were hearing the pitch from somebody they knew, identified with and trusted.

By 1984, Time was able to feature a major story on the talk show format entitled "American Audiences Love to Hate Them." There was a new dynamic here, one that had been developing at least since the late 1960s, in which certain radio shows sought to rile up their audiences, following the notion that fury equals and begets attention and thus profits. Unlike TV in the 1950s and 1960s, which sought desperately to avoid controversy so as not to alienate its audiences and its advertisers, talk radio pursued controversy and again, in total contradiction to the earlier years, used this as a selling point to advertisers looking for loyal, large, engaged audiences.

Controversy and marketability were joined, so that talk radio developed a financial dependence on sensation. By 1995, one general manager of a talk radio station was able to give the following explanation for why conservative hosts dominated the air: "Liberals are genetically engineered not to offend anybody. People who go on the air afraid of offending are not inherently entertaining." No explanation was given as to why progressives and feminists couldn't get air time. Talk radio spoke to a profound sense of public exclusion from and increasingly disgust with the mainstream media in general and TV news in particular. It became an electronic surrogate for the town common, the village square, the general store, the meeting hall, the coffee house, the beer garden, the park, where people imagined their grandparents and even their parents, for that matter, might have gathered with others to chat, however briefly, about the state of the town, the country, the world. Talk radio tapped into the sense of loss of public life, the isolation that came from overwork and the privatization of American life and the huge gap people felt between themselves and those who run the country. There were also responses to changes in the network news and the news magazines in the 1980s, when news staffs were cut, stories became shorter -- even sound bites allowed presidential candidates shrank to about nine seconds -- in-depth reporting was eclipsed by celebrity journalism.

Talk radio represented a new, sometimes brashly assertive way of constructing a sense of special group identity within the homogenizing onslaught of mainstream media fare. Remember, too, that by the 1980s much of FM, which had once been extremely rebellious, had been tamed, commercialized, and carved up into utterly predictable niches and formats. Simply put, FM stopped having personality, and this in a medium where personality means everything.

As people think about who they are in their country, what their country stands for and means, new strategies, new daily rituals, new forms of dialogue often emerge to set up a process by which new communities and the nation itself are imagined. Talk radio was one such venue in the 1980s and beyond. Efforts to reinvigorate radio in the 1970s coincided with two often contradictory trends: efforts by some to reinvigorate notions of citizenship and participatory democracy, and efforts by others to use audience participation formats from shows like "Geraldo" to "America's Most Wanted" to rake in more viewers and boost ratings. Talk radio emerged out of and exemplified these deep contradictions.

The talk on political talk radio was, from the start, decidedly macho and loud. Talk radio is as much, maybe even more, about gender politics then it is about party politics. There were different masculinities enacted on radio, from Howard Stern to Rush Limbaugh, but they were all about challenging and overthrowing, if possible, that most revolutionary of social movements, feminism. The men's movement of the 1980s found its outlet, and that was talk radio. The audience was male. And what these hosts and their audiences did was assert that talking over the phone, talking about your feelings and experiences, talking in often emotional registers, was no longer the province of women. These guys were going to take America's traditional assumptions of associating talk or "chatter" with women and throw that stereotype out the window.

In the late 1970s many talk shows were therapeutic types featuring male and female shrinks, psychics and sexologists -- Dr. Ruth being the most famous, who focused on the personal, not the political. By the 1980s, while there were certainly famous female therapists and counselors like Dr. Toni Grant or Joan Hamburg on the air, it was the male culture of political talk radio that had become noteworthy. Some hosts were promoted with the moniker "radio's bad boy." Characterizing most talk show hosts' abrasive style as "a verbal adjunct to street fighting," Time acknowledged that their success stemmed in part from the fact that "the decade's mood has become more aggressive." Talk radio hosts helped build imagined communities that made it quite clear who was included and who was excluded. The guy nobody wanted was the new male pariah of the 1980s, the wimp.

No yes-men mama's boys here, beaten-down types who obeyed too eagerly, who had responded too sympathetically to civil rights or the women's movement. Hosts insulted and yelled at listeners like abusive fathers, and tough callers knew how to take it. Talk radio proved to be a decidedly white male preserve in a decade when it became much more permissible to lash out at women, minorities, gays, lesbians and the poor, the very people who had challenged the authority and privileges of men, of white people, of the rich and powerful and of heterosexuals in the 1960s and 1970s. Now it was payback time.

Various scholars have noted that the late 1970s was a period of greatly heightened anxiety about manhood in America. Feminists had made gender politics front-page news, and they had demonstrated how patriarchy undermined and threatened core American values, particularly democracy and equality of opportunity for all. And you didn't have to be a feminist to feel that it was, in part, warped masculine aggression and pride that had gotten the country into Vietnam and kept us there way too long.

Various therapy movements emerged to help men become more sensitive and emotionally expressive. At the same time, a panic, it seems, about the legitimacy of America's patriarchal power structure took hold, as the country watched one president resign in disgrace, another continually tripping, stumbling and hitting people in the head with out of control golf balls, and a third stand by helplessly as Americans were held hostage by a "third-rate" military power. All of the presidents of the 1970s had lost control, and control and mastery are central to most conceptions of true manhood. And manhood is central to conceptions of American national identity.

Ronald Reagan, through his rhetoric, policies and appearance, sought to change all that. Screw feminist politics and getting in touch with your feminine side, said the Reagan presidency. All that had done was to make the country vulnerable, flaccid and weak. It was time to reassert male supremacy. As if in response, Hollywood in the 1980s pumped out high-action, bloated budget beefcake movies in which Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Bruce Willis and others used their tough, muscled bodies to re-masculinize America's self-image, which played all too well into Reagan's effort to pump a great deal of testosterone into American foreign policy, the fight against crime and the war on drugs.

But Reagan and these hard-body movies had hardly resolved the issue. The 1988 campaign was all about manhood, with George Bush and his handlers working round the clock to jettison his wimp image and Michael Dukakis getting pilloried in the press for looking like a little boy instead of a real man as he rode around in a tank wearing an oversized helmet. Wall Street insiders revealed that men with power were referred to as "big swinging dicks." The fear that men weren't real men anymore, and a determination on the part of many men to abandon certain traditional masculine behaviors and roles coexisted with an insistence that some men were never going to respond to the women's movement, period.

There were also genuine anxieties about and frustration with what came to be called, disparagingly, political correctness. For women and people of color, sexism and racism had assumed both overt and subtle forms. Many men thought they were being genial when they kept telling a woman she looked nice or persisted in calling her "Honey." Why were these women so sensitive all of a sudden? And just when white people thought that "black" was perfectly acceptable, they learned that they should use the term "African American," not "Afro-American," for people of color. Diversity training and sexual harassment workshops became de rigeur in many workplaces. So many white men came to feel that they were walking on eggshells, that they didn't know what was right to say and what was wrong to say any more, that they wanted a place where they could exhale. Talk radio gave them that refuge.

As one talk radio show put it, "Today you have to hyphenate everything. People have no sense of humor. Talk radio allows people to break a way from that. As a host, I can be like Grandpa. You know, 'There goes Grandpa again.' I can say anything." On talk radio the trend was the same as in many mainstream films: to take over public discourse, purge it of conciliatory or bland or feminine tendencies and reclaim it for men. But not men like Peter Jennings, Dan Rather or Tom Brokaw -- well-groomed, decorous, polite types who told us the news without any passion and who, by their very demeanor embodied goodie-two-shoes types, with money and influence, who had probably in their youth been president of the student council or captain of the debating team. No, the masculinity on talk radio was different, fusing over the years some working-class politics and sensibilities with the language and attitude of the locker room.

Don Imus, Bob Grant, Howard Stern and their many imitators would become famous for their verbal dueling and for assuming the persona of a horny, insubordinate twelve-year-old. Growing at first out of the bitterness of political and economic alienation of the late 1970s and 1980s, some talk radio, especially the version offered by Stern and Imus, was a rebellion against civilization itself, against bourgeois codes of decorum that have sought especially to silence and tame the iconoclastic delinquent and defiant impulses in which adolescent boys especially seem to revel and delight. Here the transgressions of the unreconstructed class troublemaker were packaged up and sold to an audience of eager buyers.

In "Talk Radio and the American Dream," the only book on these early years of the format, Murray Levin describes talk radio "as the province of the proletariat discontent, the only mass medium easily available to the underclass." Levin found that callers felt themselves to be quite marginalized from the media versions of the political mainstream, deeply distrustful of political and business institutions and profoundly anxious about the collapse of community and civility. This was in the mid- and late 1970s. "It was lower middle class and working-class men especially," Levin reports, "who eagerly sought an out-let, a platform, for what they thought. And call-in talk radio shows in the late 1970s provided access to such a podium."

Levin taped seven hundred hours of talk radio out of Boston. He found a discourse preoccupied, he says, with emasculation. The proper order of things now seemed inverted, upside-down, so that crime, blacks, rich corporations, women and inept bureaucracies all had the upper hand. The Iranian hostage crisis and Jimmy Carter's failed effort to overcome it further exacerbated a sense that America had become weak, could be bullied and was being compromised by soft-spoken New Age guys. "The verbal martial arts," as Levin puts it, "assumed center stage here, too." Talk radio was a linguistic battleground, and few callers had the skills or position of authority to deflect the verbal salvos and put-downs of the host. Yet they kept coming back for more.

It was the participatory ethos of talk radio, its suggestion that it would reverse years of the ongoing consolidation and centralization of power, especially in Washington, that was central to its appeal. The great irony is that this very kind of talk radio, with its new macho populism, was the product of government deregulation, merger mania and corporate consolidation during the 1980s and beyond. Populism and participation were the public faces of radio. They masked the increased economic concentration and heightened barriers to entry for all but the very rich and the industry itself. But then again, that was the Reagan Administration's great genius: selling the increased concentration of wealth as a move back toward democracy.

Mark Fowler's FCC championed the deregulation of radio in the 1980s, allowing companies to own a greater number of stations and eliminating restrictions on how long a company had to hang on to a station before turning around and reselling it for a higher price. The other significant deregulatory move in the 1980s was the abandonment of the Fairness Doctrine, which the FCC announced in 1987 it would no longer enforce. In practice, the doctrine was meant to do two things: mandate that stations were required to cover controversial issues of public importance, and provide different points of view about such issues. Abandonment of the Fairness Doctrine means in part that a radio station can air Rush Limbaugh followed by G. Gordon Liddy and is not required to then air a liberal talk show or to bring on anyone who might challenge or correct these guys' assertions. We had to wait for Al Franken's fabulous book "Rush Limbaugh Is a Big Fat Idiot" for that.

It was this powerful constellation of forces in the 1980s, satellite technology, deregulation and a sense among many Americans, and especially men, that they were not being addressed or listened to by the mainstream media that propelled the new genre, talk radio, into a national phenomenon and a national political force. By 1992 the talk radio format claimed 875 stations nationally, up from 238 in 1987.

No discussion of talk radio can proceed without considering the meteoric rise of Howard Stern, who worked for Infinity Broadcasting and claimed five million listeners by the mid-1990s. Stern's revisionist movie "Private Parts" sought to whitewash the depth of his racist, sexist and vulgar remarks throughout his tenure on the air. His voice-over in the film kept claiming, "Everything I do is misunderstood." But it was these very transgressions that made him a millionaire. So did his celebration of locker-room masculinity, bullying, yet self-deprecating, working-class, yet college-educated, quintessential adolescent, yet adult. The Stern of "Private Parts" was a mensch, like Woody Allen before Soon-Yi, who bemoaned the fact that he was "hung like a three-year-old," threw up after he was forced to fire someone, only wanted to be loved by the public, and whose main targets were pig-headed and autocratic broadcasting executives. The Stern on the air, however, was something else.

He was perfect for the Reagan years. The Reagan Administration, with its attacks on affirmative action, welfare queens, bleeding-heart liberal politics and abortion, and its celebration of greed, often used coded terms and laden symbols to give Americans permission to be selfish, sexist, racist and uncharitable. There was nothing coded about Stern, with the possible exception of his flowing, over-the-shoulders hair. Buoyed by this political climate, he took the gloves off and articulated in explicit terms what this new backlash politics was all about. His DJ persona as a shock jock emerged on WWDC-FM in Washington in 1981 and tripled the station's morning drive-time audience. He then went to WNBC-AM in New York and got fired three years into the job, presumably because of routines like "Bestiality Dial-a-Date." Infinity's WXRK, known as K-Rock, quickly hired him for the morning slot, and the show soon zoomed to number one, beating out Imus, also in New York at the same time.

In 1990 he signed a five-year contract with Infinity reportedly worth $10 million, and by 1992 was heard in ten cities around the country. He was the first local DJ to have a national drive-time audience, thanks to the marvels of satellite technology. His core audience was white, often working-class men aged 18 to 34. But he also attracted others, including women, and many listeners had a love-hate relationship. His draw was that each day you'd never know which taboos he would violate next, what scandal he might commit. How far would he go today? Would it be farther than yesterday? Stern was a linguistic stripper, teasing his audience that maybe today, maybe tomorrow he would really take it all off, although it was often hard to imagine what boundaries were left to violate.

While it's true that his commentary seemed aimed at twelve-year-old boys, this characterization also lets him off the hook, for the persona was also that of a grown man and a deeply cynical one at that, who hated liberal politics and who insisted that unreconstructed white men get back on top. He was anti-government and anti-immigrant and said the L.A. police were right to beat Rodney King. He combined adolescent humor about toilets, breasts, penises, passing gas and jerking off with political reactionary jokes that harken back to minstrel shows and burlesque. He was especially determined to defy the new liberal sensibilities about race, gender, physical disabilities and sexual orientation that had emerged from the social movements of the sixties and seventies.

This was a pretty volatile and I think deliberately incoherent combination of libertarian, liberal and conservative sensibilities. He was pro-choice and, in what came to be one of his most oft-cited quips, suggested that any woman who voted for George Bush might as well mail her vagina to the White House. His defiance of all codes of decorum, his insistence that sex was something you talked about in the open and that nothing and no one were sacred made him very hip, very 1980s. Stern embodied the edict "Question authority" and challenged convention, tradition and bourgeois morality every chance he got. Yet the framework within which this occurred could not have been more utterly conventional, more conformist to deep-seated American attitudes and prejudices about men, women, people of color and the order of things circa 1952.

Stern's listeners could be, vicariously and simultaneously, iconoclasts and traditionalists, totally hip yet sticks in the mud. Stern was a brilliant Peter Pan. He created a space where men didn't have to overcome their socialization as boys. They didn't have to grow up and leave Never-Never Land and go back to that stuffy Victorian nursery. At least not until the show was over. Moms and middle-class mores said that you had to learn how to be a gentleman, be polite to girls and deferential to superiors, learn how to make a living and become a responsible and civilized young man. Not on Stern's show you didn't.

Stern's success as a shock jock raised alarm that now radio was cultivating the worst in its white male listeners by encouraging them to repudiate the achievements, however partial, won by women, people of color, gays and lesbians, and the disabled. But when the press itself and much of the white male power structure in Washington felt threatened by talk radio, then it became a major story. And the man who made political talk radio a national concern, rightly or wrongly, was Rush Limbaugh.

By the early 1990s all sorts of power was attributed to him, and he himself boasted that he was the most dangerous man in America. When former Congressman Vin Weber introduced Rush Limbaugh to that fabulous freshman class of Republicans in 1994, when they were celebrating their takeover of Congress, he said, "Rush Limbaugh is really as responsible for what has happened as any individual in America." Limbaugh was to the early 1990s what Father Coughlan was to the early 1930s -- a radio orator who made people feel that he gave voice to what they really felt but hadn't yet put into words. One fan especially liked Limbaugh because "he articulates things in a way they haven't been articulated before." Limbaugh "fills in the blanks. When conservatives hear Limbaugh," according to this listener, "they say to themselves, Why can't I say it like that? And, Yes, that's the way I feel."

While only somewhere between six and nine percent of the population listens to Limbaugh on a daily basis, this still amounted to, by 1992, the largest audience of political talk radio, estimated at somewhere between twelve and twenty million listeners. In 1992, Limbaugh was heard on 529 stations. Three years later, 660 stations aired his show. He earned $1.7 million a year, and he had only gone national in 1988. Limbaugh is sort of losing his hold on this audience but unfortunately, the person who's edging him out is the rabid anti-feminist female therapist Dr. Laura. We can't celebrate this very much, especially when such virulent anti-feminism comes out of the mouth of a woman.

Limbaugh did the unprecedented. He gathered a large audience in the early afternoon, a slot thought to be dead compared to morning and evening drive time. And he succeeded in having a New York-based show go national. Some restaurants and bars opened Rush rooms so "ditto heads" could gather and listen together while having lunch. Most of his listeners were white, and many had a higher income than the general population. Nearly eighty percent of those who listened often to Limbaugh expressed Republican sentiments. Two-thirds identified themselves as conservative. They often expressed significantly greater interest in politics and public affairs than non-listeners.

For example, a whopping ninety percent of those who reported listening often to Limbaugh said they voted in the off-year elections in 1994. His listeners are more likely to talk about politics and to engage in political activities. So even though Limbaugh may have been preaching to the choir, the fact that this was and is an activist choir that can be mobilized to fax, write letters, e-mail and jam the White House switchboard gave Limbaugh and his listeners considerable clout.

By 1990, Limbaugh had become a critically important opinion leader for many who didn't necessarily have their positions changed by Limbaugh but who learned how to think about particular issues after listening to him. His brilliance was in bringing humor and irreverence to what had been a pretty laced-up, overly serious form: conservative commentary. He was particularly skillful in his use of metaphors, and he had a talent for distilling issues down to their most simple elements. He delighted in conjuring up vivid mental images: of environmentalists as wacko tree-huggers and feminists as combat-boot-wearing, goose-stepping feminazis. He zoomed right into the signifiers of class privilege. Academics, for example, were "the arts and croissants, wine and Brie crowd." He nicknamed the anchor of CBS Nightly News Dan Blather, and Clinton was the Schlickmeister. Limbaugh has this gut, instinctual understanding of how radio works and how you need to use words to paint very simple images.

While increasingly the network news and the news magazines address their audiences as consumers, Limbaugh addressed them as citizens. Limbaugh read to his audience from the New York Times and the Washington Post, quoted from the network news, and juxtaposed these excerpts with hot-off-the-press faxes that he received from inside conservative sources who allegedly had the real truth.

Limbaugh fans emphasized that his show, and I'm quoting from one of them, "provides information you can't get anyplace else" and that he increases people's political savvy. Of course, Limbaugh was a conservative activist, and it was his politics and their effect on national discourse and national elections that have received the most attention. But let's remember that his listeners were primarily male, with one study claiming that his core, die-hard audience was as much as three-quarters male. Another study reported that nearly one-third of all men listen to Limbaugh at least sometimes, compared to only thirteen percent of all women. It wasn't necessarily true that women hated Limbaugh, although clearly many did, but that they just didn't tune in.

What did Limbaugh offer these men in addition to a forum for conservative views? Limbaugh was a gender activist, an ideological soldier in a war to reassert patriarchy, to reclaim things as they ought to be. Yet interestingly, Limbaugh deftly did blend "feminine" traits into his persona because he gave men permission to get passionate about politics. Here was a man who was emotionally unchecked, at times, hysterical, yet simultaneously reasonable, combative and avowedly anti-feminist. To put it bluntly, Limbaugh was a male hysteric. So were other male talk show hosts. This was not the persona of the organization man who keeps his lips zipped, goes along with institutional idiocy because his boss says to, and keeps his own reactions in check. No. This man got outraged, his naturally deep voice shooting up an octave as he denounced something he thought didn't make a lick of sense. When quoting from newspaper articles, especially a section he's about to mock, (these are always from the New York Times and The Washington Post, the dominant liberal media, ha, ha) he lowers his voice very theatrically so he's imitating the aura of authority of these newspapers. As soon as his pitch zooms up, we know we're back to Limbaugh, who interjects comments like, "Idiocy! Pure idiocy!"

Limbaugh and many of his fellow hosts attacked post-Vietnam media and corporate versions of masculinity. They attacked the bureaucratic operator, desperately dependent on the approval of others, who learns how to wear a variety of amiable masks to get by. There was no equivocation here, no genial get-along stance. Here, real men had a point of view. Through their phone calls and faxes, their radio activism, they could still "ride to the rescue and be saviors," as host Mark Williams put it.

Feminist-bashing is of course essential to Limbaugh. He frequently gives feminist updates on the movement's alleged idiocies. If masculinity has to be recuperated on a regular basis, which I would suggest it does, especially for a guy who is a male hysteric, then it is crucial to combine feminist-bashing with your own more emotionally varied, feminine performances. On talk radio in the 1980s and 1990s, masculinity was constructed as a hybrid, a fusion, between traditionally male and female traits. Boys were supposed to be boys, meaning white heterosexual boys, horny, outspoken, brash, impolite, rude, combative, who regarded women as sex objects, people of color as inferiors, and disabled people as jokes. But whether these jocks had long, flowing hair or got overly emotional on the air, they were also gender poachers, recuperating masculinity at the end of the century by infusing it with the need to chat, the need to confess insecurities, the need to be hysterical and over-wrought about politics, the need to make the personal political.

Masculinity had become too fake, too bland, too corporate, too manufactured, too much of a processed masquerade, talk radio suggested. Let the testosterone flow, and male authenticity will follow. This discourse about masculinity was and is embedded in a deeply conservative political discourse about the nation's need for discipline, responsibility, strength and tough love. Liberal models for achieving social justice were wrong, these guys suggested, because they were coded as feminine, too nurturing, too compassionate, too weak. Since masculinity has from the beginning been a central component of America's identity as a nation, this particular fusion of gender and politics on talk radio was hardly inconsequential. Talk radio's attacks on Clinton as being, at first, too pussy-whipped and too soft, indecisive and feminized himself, played an important role in pushing Clinton farther to the right and in marginalizing feminist politics in the 1980s and 1990s. But under the guise of a working Joe, regular-guy populism on talk radio also lurked class antagonisms about which class of men deserved access to the mike. It was men who were facile with words, who were skilled at using words as weapons, whose linguistic one-ups-manship got proved day in and day out, who got to be the leaders. The gender politics of talk radio, in which all us guys were in it together against them, loudly and brilliantly disguised the class politics that truly divided the men from the boys.

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