I recently read an article in my local newspaper about Dr Laura, a blonde conservative radio host and agony aunt who at one time had the second most popular radio show in America. Apparently her particular brand of moral philosophy on parenting, families, and topical societal issues has caused quite a following. Equally however, her forthright views have polarized Americans, and her views on homosexuality, euthanasia, single moms and abstinence are likely to engage her followers in rigorous debate.
In this article it outlined the tragedy of her mother’s death, in which 77-year-old Yolanda Schlessinger had died in her apartment and remained undiscovered for about four months. It led me to wonder how such a role model of motherhood can offer advice to 12 million listeners while her own mother lay rotting in her apartment, alone and unnoticed with unpaid bills and mail piling up in her postbox.
Doctor Laura seemed shocked at her mother’s death, but certainly not sad. In fact, she was quoted as saying "Apparently she had no friends and none of her neighbors were close, so nobody even noticed! How sad." Worse still was her comment that "My mother caused me pain even after death!".
It amazed me. A person with such radical views had such a strong following… And why is that? Because listeners find people like her interesting. It doesn’t necessarily follow that all of her listeners agree with her, and those people against her are certainly vocal. But despite the fact that she is as delicate as barbed wire and imparts judgement without fear, what she has to say certainly gets heard. Love her or hate her, controversy brings attention.
Her radio show imparts advice to mothers and families with a moralistic and religious flavor, something quite different to the life that Dr Laura leads. Her answer to that? "Do what I say, not what I did."
Needless to say, Dr Laura had a difficult childhood in which the tension and hostility had its affect. Unsurprisingly, she advocates excommunication as an effective way to neutralize parents and overcome family conflicts. It seems this is the one area of her preaching that she did live out in person.
So where to from here for Dr Laura?
Well it seems her popularity is starting to wane. Her television show was cancelled after her anti-homosexual comments sparked protests by gay-rights groups, and her presence on the airwaves is in decline as well: only 200 radio shows carry her show compared to 450 at the peak of her popularity.
So it seems her time has passed, and why is that?
- Perhaps it is because the hypocrisy of her message and the way she has lived her life has become more apparent. Dr Laura is onto her second husband, has abandoned her Orthodox Judaism, and has suffered the embarassment of the naked pictures of her that appeared online.
- Perhaps the manner in which her mother died struck a chord with rational thinkers. Excommunicating a parent shows a lack of emotional maturity and conflicts with one’s ability to deal with what life offers them, no matter how hard it is.
- Perhaps it is because her 5 minutes of fame has gone. Or, more interestingly, because the anti-single moms, homosexuals, divorce, and daycare message she preaches is out of tune with where society is right now. Sure, her message will hit home with some people, but divorce, single parenthood, daycare, and homosexuality are not always choices.
Sometimes it is just life. Divorce even happens to nice people, as does the reality of single parenthood and the need to put children in daycare so that you are able to live above the poverty line. The choices people make are not always the easiest, but they do so in order to do the best by their partners or their children. It is far too easy for others to judge single moms when they themselves are on their second marriage. Equally, homosexuality is not a choice.
Sure, Dr Laura has her way of thinking, but perhaps lessons can be learned. The difference between a cultural phenomenon and a 5 minute wonder is the strength of their message, not how loud they say it. It seems Dr Laura’s message has brought her wealth, but she still remains unhappy and sadly, insecure. The poster girl for traditional moral values and family is a far cry from the boastful insecure woman that appeared in the interview I read.
The greatest message can come from someone who is able to live by the principles they teach, and to provide their listeners and followers with more than a message. To be able to inspire others by principles and by works is the mark of a truly inspirational leader. Perhaps it is a message that lasts as well.