Let’s start with a relevant, and important, confession: I have never listened to as much as a minute of a Joe Rogan podcast. The reasons for this are several: First, they are too long. Some people love long in-depth videos and podcasts; I do not. If you have something to say, convince me in five minutes, before my mind wanders off to the football. Second, I’ve always preferred reading to listening, because it’s easier to go back and re-read something than to rewind a conversation. And third because well, he’s American, so most of what he says is de facto more relevant to that wonderful, wacky, land than it is to the one I call home.
These points are important mainly because, I suspect, they are also true of most of the people – not all, but a great many – who are lining up behind the campaign to get Spotify to “de-platform” Rogan, and his podcast. Especially in Ireland.
There is rarely any doubt, after all, what side the Irish media will come down on when one of these culture war battles erupts in the USA. Their behaviour is so relentlessly consistent that one would almost suspect that they don’t really care about the issues at all, so much as they simply reflexively look at what “side” American progressive activists are on, and automatically take that one. Does some blue-haired, blue-ticked American feminist claim on twitter that Joe Rogan is “killing people”? If so, that will be, broadly speaking, the RTE line, and the subtext of next week’s editorial in the Irish examiner. It is boring, and relentless, in its predictability.
There are a few elements to the Rogan row that are fascinating, though, because they speak to what people are really fighting about.
For example, nobody seriously thinks that it would be possible to “cancel” Joe Rogan. Rogan’s opponents in the mainstream media cannot “unmake” him because they didn’t make him to begin with.
Ask yourself: Before this latest controversy, when did you ever hear his name being mentioned in the Irish media? Suddenly, out of nowhere, he is the subject of segments on Morning Ireland because he has 11million listeners. He did not get those listeners because of advertising on Morning Ireland, or on CNN, or MSNBC, or any other “mainstream” platform. He got them, mainly, because people were actively seeking an alternative to those platforms, because they were sick of them, and then found Joe Rogan. People who listen to Rogan listen to him precisely because they’re sick of listening to mainstream media and progressive cultural whinging about what you can, and can’t say.
The recognise in him too, an absence: An absence of the fear that comes into a mainstream presenter’s voice any time a guest appears to stray into “dangerous” territory. Imagine for a second the brief flash of panic in Ryan Tubridy’s eyes, followed by the “ah hold on now!”, if somebody said they thought immigration was too high, or men can’t get pregnant, and you’ll know of which I speak. People who are sick of that attitude are not likely to turn on Rogan because the people who embody that same attitude don’t like Rogan.
There will be no “cancelling”.
But this isn’t really about “cancelling”, either. In truth, it is less about what Rogan says, and more about where he says it. Progressives are used, after all, to dominating “mainstream” culture: Most big companies are painfully, plaintively, left wing. The same is true of media outlets: Gript, for example, is mainly tolerated because we are not “mainstream”. If some mainstream Irish newspaper was ever fool enough to hire yours truly to write a column, there would be war. Why? Because the left is fiercely territorial. The mainstream media is theirs, and boy, how it rankles when some barbarian occupies that territory. The same is true of Spotify and Rogan: Spotify is a big tech platform, therefore the expectation is that it will be a progressive platform, filled with music, true crime podcasts, and feminist TED-talks. The mainstream is a progressive “safe space”, and they get very angry when it is invaded.
So, Rogan can’t really be cancelled: He can only be cast out of the mainstream. Yes, he’ll take his 11million listeners with him, and add more besides, but that’s not the point. It is not so much about censorship, as it is about cultural dominance and the flexing of power. It is not “you cannot say that”, but “you cannot say that here, in our space”. There’s a wonderful insecurity about it all, when you think of it.
Because these instincts, after all, are not just confined to America: They dominate progressive, left leaning thought here at home as well. Witness the burbling rage, any time an unapproved voice is accidentally let loose on the Irish airwaves. Witness the tweets demanding answers as to why that person was allowed on. Or accusing a broadcaster of “platforming hate” or “misinformation”.
Ultimately, these impulses are grounded in fear. Not fear of the person speaking, but fear of the public. Progressives appear to have a constant nightmare – a niggling fear that secretly, silently, the public do not really agree with them, and could be triggered into open revolt by somebody simply saying the magic words on the wrong platform.
And finally, there’s the desire to pretend that Rogan is “fringe”. He has 11million listeners, sure, more than CNN has viewers, or ABC news has, or any of the rest of them, but if you can get him and those listeners banished from Spotify, then you can maintain the pretence that he is “fringe” and “extreme” and “dangerous”. If he is on a mainstream platform, you cannot.
And that, ultimately, is what this is all about, and why people who have never listened to a word Rogan has said are lining up against him. It is not, in actual fact, about what he says, or does not say. It is much more about who he is, and what he represents, and where he is allowed to speak. It’s the culture war: A war which progressives live in daily fear that they will ultimately lose.
Here’s Rogan himself on the controversy. I watched this, at least. He doesn’t seem very scary to me.
— Joe Rogan (@joerogan) January 31, 2022