Uh, Well, We Should Probably Talk About Joe Rogan
Look, I don’t like this anymore than you do. You think I want to talk about Joe Rogan? I could be playing video games right now. But Joe Rogan is inescapable. The internet has forced his every opinion on me, from Joe Biden (“Everybody knows he’s out of his mind”) to police reform (“the idea that you are going to send social workers to handle someone’s domestic violence case, it’s f---ing bananas”) to the goddamn WWE. Googling his name is like opening the Ark of the Covenant.
He matters, unfortunately, because of his influence. Spotify supposedly paid him $100 million to be the exclusive home of his podcast, which has around 11 million listeners. His YouTube channel is huge too; “What Started the Cultural Fixation on Gender?” has 1.2 million views, despite sounding like a trap that sends a warning to the people you’ve messaged on dating apps. So when he uses his massive platform to tell healthy young people they don’t need to get vaccinated, well, we have something of a problem.
But I don’t want to wade through his every opinion and balance them on a ledger. Don’t get me wrong; he has plenty of awful ones. He welcomed a guest who compared trans teenagers to people who get “involved in cutting, demonic possession, witchcraft, anorexia, bulimia.” On another episode he implied that people transition for clout, saying “people who were marginalized for being generally dumb people, if they transfer over and become another gender, then they get praised.” And face greater odds of unemployment, homelessness, and violent abuse, but sure, yeah, it’s all for the universal approval that society lavishes on trans people.
He’s also said trans people “should be allowed to live as they want”… before turning around again and calling them a “social contagion.” He’s been an advocate for gay rights, but when he moved to Austin and declared his intention to create a stand-up comedy utopia he immediately annoyed its already existing stand-up scene by performing a set with more anti-gay slurs than jokes. He slammed Trump, then said he’d begrudgingly vote for him in 2020, then mocked his supporters. He’s a contrarian because contrarianism has become the assumption that pissing off enough people means you’ve discovered a profound and challenging truth.
Rogan walked back those anti-vax comments and joked “I’m not a doctor, I’m a moron,” which is a fair point. But Rogan’s audience was already more vaccine hesitant than people who listen to good podcasts, so the damage was done. Rogan clarified that he’s not an anti-vaxxer, and I believe him. But I think Rogan could be made to believe anything, as long as someone confident told it to him five minutes ago.
One of the easiest ways to trick yourself into thinking you’re smart is to equate “freethinking” with “ignoring experts because that’s what The System wants you to do.” Rogan simultaneously presents himself as open-minded while having the intellectual curiosity of a doorstop; he’s welcomed everyone from conspiracy monger Alex Jones to alt-right chud Gavin McInnes to modern robber baron Elon Musk and let them sound off as though the world outside their weed-filled recording booth was hypothetical. He let Jones claim that China controls the Democratic Party, said the openly white supremacist McInnes was “an interesting guy who’s says funny shit,” and let Musk ramble about cyborgs instead of asking why his employees keep collapsing on the job. Rogan never questions his guests, even though they’re more self-interested than the experts he’s supposedly smart enough to distrust.
This is around when “But he’s just a comedian!” rings from the rafters. Sure, but he’s a comedian with one of the largest fanbases on the planet, a fanbase that thinks he’s sticking it to mainstream media by having even lower standards. That’s the same defense that was trotted out when he performed his slur-riddled stand-up routine. But that defense only works if your jokes and opinions aren’t about anything, if someone is inexplicably upset at you for making banal observations about traffic and coffee shops.
You can’t use “he’s just goofing around!” to dismiss chatting with a guy who believes in “race science” any more than I can say “Why are you mad at my hilarious prank?” after I slap you.
And yes, of course he’s said we’re on the verge of a world where “straight white men are not allowed to talk.” He, and many of his high-profile guests, love to complain that our culture has become too sensitive, that if we try to account for how other people look at the world then we will descend into an Orwellian hellscape where no one is free to speak and the $100 Million Joe Rogan Experiences of the world cannot exist. (The latter is, ostensibly, a downside.)
It’s tempting to claim a cheap irony here, that Rogan and his guests are using this gigantic media platform to complain they’re being silenced. But, at least in theory, they’re sticking up for the hypothetical everyman, the bros of the world who worry they’re going to get lambasted for saying the wrong thing at work. There are certainly conversations to be had about the internet’s tendency for random and cruel shaming, a problem that existed long before we started making it much, much stupider by dubbing it, ugh, “cancel culture.” But—and here’s the real irony—Rogan doesn’t really want to talk about it.
If there’s one theme Rogan returns to over and over again it’s that, because Rogan and the guests who tend to look and sound a lot like him are not personally inconvenienced by white supremacists or virulent homophobes or angry Trump revanchists then the idea that anyone could be inconvenienced by them is ludicrous, and probably part of a scam to render Rogan the real victim. The message ends up being “things are fine, you don’t have to try all that tedious self-reflection, anyone who complains about society is just doing it for attention.” You know, like those crafty trans people.
It’s probably not a coincidence that Rogan is having his more popular than Jesus moment at the same time Republicans are ginning up a war against critical race theory, or a cartoonish misinterpretation of it. Our schools, supposedly, are teaching children the Marxist propaganda that America is evil and white people should universally be scorned and guilted, at least in-between math and gym.
CRT is, in reality, a relatively niche academic framework for studying how racial biases intersect with the law. It’s not above criticism, but if your child is actually learning it they’re probably well on their way to becoming a lawyer or, sorry, a sociologist. But concerned American parents who also happen to be GOP consultants are working to make CRT synonymous with nearly any discussion of race, while also suggesting that nefarious lefties who might have the gall to suggest that race has played a role in American history will try to sneak the idea into classrooms with commie words like “multiculturalism” and “colonialism.”
You can learn more, if that explanation wasn’t exhausting enough, but eight Republican states and counting have banned the teaching of “divisive concepts.” Some have even banned CRT at the college level, because Republicans shift between denouncing higher education as coddling “safe spaces” that never challenge students and relentless propaganda machines out to brainwash your kids, depending on what day of the week it is. These bans will likely face legal challenges, but the overall vibe Republicans are aiming for is “Teachers aren’t allowed to discuss race because America is the freest country in the world.” Presumably slavery will be taught as a series of wacky misunderstandings.
It’s bleakly cynical that complaints about “cancel culture” have never been louder while, simultaneously, laws are being passed to outlaw inconvenient subjects. “We believe in freedom of speech and we’ll silence teachers until everyone has it” is not an especially coherent worldview. But we were, unfortunately, talking about Joe Rogan. Who, as a self-proclaimed passionate supporter of free speech, loves nothing more than to issue dire warnings that out of control “woke” opinions are dooming the country.
Rogan’s certainly no Republican, but "Freedom of speech means no one should ever question my use of gay slurs" is sure cut from the same cloth. They’re both the culmination of “If you think about it, do we really have to think about it?” anti-intellectualism, the idea that any conversation you dislike can be dismissed as crazy and destroyed. Rogan is one of many people who likes to insist that his politics are too complicated to fall on a spectrum, but if your most consistent viewpoint is “please don’t challenge me” then you’re actually not that complicated at all.
So we’re hearing that “straight white men will lose their right to speak” while watching teachers, usually not straight white ones, be denied tenure or fired if they don’t get in line. Picketing schools for viewpoints they aren’t actually teaching isn’t new—the late ‘50s saw a moral panic over communist teachings supposedly infiltrating American high schools, and in 1974 a West Virginia elementary school was bombed and school buses were shot at during a boycott over a perceived anti-Christian bias in new textbooks. But whenever the cycle repeats we all end up a bit stupider.
Now, I’m pretty sure if you Google “Joe Rogan critical race theory” an alarm goes off and a psychiatrist calls to ask what’s missing from your life, so I appreciate you making it this far. It’s not Rogan’s job to fix this or anything, but this shows how useless he is for anything other than dumbing us all down. He’s one of the most popular people in the country, and if the deepest thoughts he can manage are “anything I dislike can be dismissed as screeching propaganda,” well, expect a lot more CRT-style boogeymen to pop up, because God knows he’s proof that enough people will fall for them.
Top image: Joe Rogan Experience