Howard’s Hooters

by Brian on May 31, 2007

in In the News,Only in Israel

Last month the Israeli daily Yediot Ahronot carried a small item that the U.S. restaurant chain Hooters plans to open its first branch in Israel this summer. That was followed by a piece indicating that a Tel Aviv radio station is in negotiations to bring the Howard Stern Show to the Israeli airwaves.

Now, regular readers know that I am not one of those who pine away for the “good old days” in Israel when all the women were strong and the men were good looking (apologies to Garrison Keillor). I like the comforts of modernity and in general the ever-shrinking gap between Israel and North America, both in terms of distance and culture, is a good thing.

But this may be going too far.

Hooters is a paradigm of the worst of Western decadence: an establishment that plies overt sexuality to cut through the competition. Hooters operates 435 restaurants in the U.S. and across 23 in countries from China to Brazil. The company employs over 15,000 “Hooters Girls” who dress in a uniform consisting of orange shorts and a white low cut tank top. Hooters says that its hostesses are “as socially acceptable as a Dallas Cowboy cheerleader, a Sports Illustrated swimsuit model, or a Radio City Rockette.”

Furthermore, Hooters absolutely does not exploit women, the company insists. According to Hooters’ logic, “Hooters Girls have the same right to use their natural female sex appeal to earn a living as do super models Cindy Crawford and Naomi Campbell. To Hooters, the women’s rights movement is important because it guarantees women have the right to choose their own careers, be it a Supreme Court Justice or Hooters Girl.”

Ultimately, though, Hooters makes no bones about its motto and states it quite clearly: “Sex appeal is legal and it sells.”

As for the name, Hooters puts an owl inside its logo “to allow debate to occur over the meaning’s intent. In the end, we hope Hooters means a great place to eat.” So why are 68 percent of customers men between the ages of 25-54? Is there some American fascination with wide-eyed nocturnal forest creatures I missed in the nearly 13 years I’ve lived in Israel?

Ofer Ahiraz, who bought the Hooters franchise for the Holy Land told Reuters that he strong believes “that the Hooters concept is something that Israelis are looking for. Hooters can suit the Israeli entertainment culture.” Ahiraz tried to offer some comfort to worried residents, explaining that the restaurants, which will launch initially in Tel Aviv but are eventually expected to number five around the country, would not open “near large religious populations.” Not surprisingly, Hooters in Israel will not be kosher.

Hooters is planning to open 17 additional international restaurants over the next few years in Colombia, Dubai, Guam, New Zealand…and India. Hooters Girls in sexy saris…oy vey! Hooters also runs magazines, a swimsuit issue, a casino in Las Vegas and even had its own airline that at its peak a few years ago served 15 cities.

Israel is certainly not immune to the raunchier “charms” of the West, nor would I want it to be, though it pains me that the country feels it necessary to import a chain as blatant as Hooters. Perhaps a homegrown alternative would be more appropriate. How about a local bar called “Frechot,” after the Israeli stereotype of women who wear too much make up and similarly revealing clothing?

Hooters and Howard Stern have long gone together. Stern has broadcast a syndicated male-oriented radio talk show for over 20 years featuring strippers and porn stars. Stern has over the years regularly promoted Hooters on air. Unlike Hooters, which I have never visited, I was for awhile a devoted listener to the Stern show which, between the adolescent fart and penis jokes, was often genuinely funny and gave me a handle, especially after moving to Israel, on American pop culture references. Stern moved his show a year ago to the Sirius satellite network where it became even more sexually explicit.

Howard Stern was fine when he was a North American phenomenon, to catch on the occasional visit to the old country. But Stern in Israel? The Yediot report said that Radio Lelo Hafsaka, 103 FM in the Tel Aviv area, is looking into airing an edited version here late at night. Executives at the radio station said that “financial and commercial differences remain between the sides” and that “it’s is still too early to discuss.”

Does Israel need a nightly dose of Howard Stern’s “unique” perspective on culture and the media? Does it need a chain of restaurants that exploit women to sell barbecued chicken wings? How far will we go in our tawdry ogling and emulation of all things American? I don’t know about you, but I’m almost starting to pine away for the good old days, when there was only one state-run television channel which broadcast in black and white, and where a hot night on the town consisted of falafel with extra hot sauce.


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