"I consider myself a women's advocate who still has a trashy sense of humor. Even so, I'm just not getting it."
Well, I'm certainly no expert, but my simple explanation has always been that Howard gets paid to say and do that which we want to be able to. That may be the obvious answer, but is that the right answer? Does it go deep enough? Does it fully explain the fact that people tune in time and again to Howard when most of his shows are just carbon copies of something he has said or done already?
If you think about the "brands" we have an attachment to; Howard Stern or Howard Dean, Sony or Apple, Mercedes or BMW, there is something about those "objects" that draws us in and keeps our attention. But what is it?
I think it really comes down to transference - for many of the things that we "love". Transference is basically the process whereby emotions are passed on or displaced from one person onto someone or something else.
But what purpose does transference serve?
For Erich Fromm, the psychologist and humanistic philosopher, transference reflects mans alienation (slightly edited for clarity):
"In order to overcome his/her sense of inner emptiness, [man]... chooses an object onto whom he projects all his own human qualities: his love, intelligence, courage, etc. By submitting to this object, he feels in touch with his own qualities; he feels strong, wise, courageous, and secure. To lose the object means the danger of losing himself. This mechanism, idolatric worship of an object, based on the fact of the individuals alienation, is the central dynamism of transference, that which gives transference its strength and intensity."
Carl Jung had a similar view: Fascination with someone is basically a matter of...
"... always trying to deliver us into the power of a partner who seems compounded of all the qualities we have failed to realize in ourselves."
What this means, essentially, is that we take our helplessness, our guilt, our conflicts, and we fix them to a spot in the environment. We can create any place at all for projecting our cares onto the world...
Or as Jung also said, beautifully:
"... unless we prefer to be made fools of by our own illusions, we shall, by carefully analyzing every fascination, extract from it a portion of our own personality, like a quintessence, and slowly come to recognize that we meet ourselves time and again in a thousand disguises on the path of life."
Anthropologist Ernest Becker wrote at length about transference, both as fear of life and death.
As fear of life:
"The fact is that fascination is a reflex of the fatality of the human condition... the human condition is just too much for the animal to take; it is overwhelming."
As fear of death:
"... this use of the transference object explains the urge to deification of the other, the constant placing of certain select persons on pedestals, the reading into them of extra powers: the more they have, the more rubs off on us. We participate in their immortality, as so we create immortals. As Harrington put it graphically: "I am making a deeper impression on the cosmos because I know this famous person. When the ark sails I will be on it" Man is always hungry, as Rank so well put it, for material for his own immortalization."
All in all this may seem like sort of a "clinical" way of trying to explain this, but as I stated at the outset - I'm not an expert! Why don't I defer to someone whom I think really understands all this stuff and does a good job of making the complex really accessible: Fouroboros. Last spring he wrote a wonderful series called 'Brain, Metaphor, Archetype, Brand', at the beginning of Part II, he wrote:
"We mentioned that "brand is ubiquitous". What does that mean? Well, if you think about it, brand--or, at least, brand well executed--takes on a human character. Look at the attachment people have to their Harley or their Mini or their iMac or their Manolo Blahnik shoes. These things become appendages to our selves. More than appendages, they fit naturally, they are us. Now think of the best job or friend you ever had, or the best place you ever lived. Were they natural or effortless, and fun, and now you're sad they're gone? Would you say "I lost a piece of myself" when you lost X, or moved on to Y? A piece of yourself. Fit. Best place. Best job. Effortless. Natural"