The strengths — and shortcomings — of “The Joe Rogan Experience” are not the obvious ones
Despite the massive success and cultural influence of his podcast, “The Joe Rogan Experience,” I must admit that until last summer, I had no idea who Joe Rogan was. Not a clue, I’d never heard of the guy. Since I’ve always tried to be as culturally literate as possible, I consider my previous obliviousness regarding Rogan to be a great failure on my part. So whoops, my bad.
Since unintentionally stumbling upon his YouTube clips about six months ago, I’ve learned more about Rogan and his audience and have carved out a little space for him in my media diet. As a result, both the positive and negative aspects of him and his show became more apparent. Yet, as I developed my reasoning for liking and disliking certain things about Rogan, I became increasingly perplexed by some of the less-nuanced reasons that others have for either loving or hating him.
Some of the more centrist, libertarian and even alt-right sects of Rogan’s audience probably love that he tends to not align perfectly with any specific political or ideological school. His aura of impartiality, however, extends far enough that he has given a platform to various types of controversial figures, something that fans love and that critics, especially on the left, condemn. Leftists may also find fault with Rogan’s criticisms of political correctness, his perceived hyper-masculine attitude and his casual, un-journalistic style.
His criticisms of political correctness, however, are completely reasonable. And arguing about his sit-downs with controversial people is merely a distraction. Instead, we should discuss how the podcast’s pseudo-intellectual atmosphere, Rogan’s lack of knowledge on certain issues and his radical levels of open-mindedness (which I’m not necessarily saying are bad things) often lead him to draw false equivalencies and perpetuate fatally flawed narratives.
But when people hate Rogan just because he can be contrarian and love him just to spite the squares and anti-contrarians, we lose sight of his main virtue: he is an excellent conversationalist. There’s something universally appealing about good conversation. I love listening to good talkers talk, which is why I continue to listen to clips from his show, even if I disagree with what’s being said or how they’re said. Americans are often too quick to disregard views and attitudes that don’t align with their own.
Despite being classically liberal on most issues, Rogan’s “un-woke” persona is fueled not just by his anti-PC rhetoric, but also by his status as a bit of a macho he-man. Some potential listeners may think he has nothing else to offer other than being an idiosyncratic representative of the testosterone-driven MMA culture that helped shape him. The fact that his podcast studio is a parody of a man-cave doesn’t help much either.
On the other hand, the macho he-men within Rogan’s listenership may also place too much weight on everything Rogan says since he’s “one of them.” Seeing someone you can relate to in an influential position makes it easy to inflate the value of what they are saying. This is especially true for those people out there who are tired of being talked down to by NPR and want to feel more like they’re just bullshitting with their friends. While there’s nothing wrong with preferring the more casual setting, it’s important to remember that Rogan is not a journalist, nor does he consider himself one, saying, “I talk to people. And I record it. That’s it.”
Thus, I would call Rogan’s show a platform for stimulating and entertaining conversation, not journalistic interviews. Nonetheless, his relatability and genuine curiosity work in tandem to create a product that feels like a good alternative to mainstream media, even though it is not. As stated before, one of my biggest problems with Rogan is his tendency to blame both sides (Republicans and Democrats) equally for the nation’s biggest problems, even when evidence firmly suggests otherwise. For example, Rogan, while no Trump fan, talked up some of the crazier Hillary conspiracies. Due to his lack of a stable ideology, Rogan often falls into the trap of making false equivalencies under the guise of reasonableness — what Bill Maher recently called, “a dumb-person’s idea of what a smart person would say.”
This tendency to be so seemingly unbiased or open-minded beyond a reasonable doubt has led Rogan to often invite controversial people on his show, including pseudo-scientists, conspiracy theorists and provocateurs. Notably, Rogan was criticized for having Alex Jones on his show and not grilling him about his comments on Sandy Hook, later claiming that he didn’t know enough about what Jones had said (perhaps that information didn’t make it through the cloud of marijuana smoke that lingers around Rogan). After learning the true nature of Jones’ Sandy Hook rhetoric, Rogan finally condemned Jones, prompting Jones to “declare war on him.” This shows the problems that arise from Rogan’s failure to adequately prepare for hosting controversial guests.
While the “free speech right” may love that Rogan gives a platform to people like Jones, today’s left is more likely to say that it’s reckless. I urge that latter group to consider a few points before being so adamant. First, it’s not a radical opinion to think that the Alex Joneses of America should have a platform to speak. It’s only radical to actually believe anything they say once they’re on that platform. For years, I’ve wavered on whether I think Jones should be banned from platforms or not. On one hand, folks like Rogan may be “legitimizing” people like Alex Jones. The fact that this exposure exists places an obligation on sensitive, curious and thoughtful people to listen. Not because you want to entertain their ideas but because you want to understand how they think and how they appeal to their audience. And because it’s damn interesting.
So while there are valuable lessons to be gained from listening to Rogan’s show, they aren’t at the surface level. You have to dig a little deeper. You shouldn’t listen to his show to learn facts; you should listen to learn how different types of people think about what you already know to be facts. It’s a wasted opportunity to approvingly nod along with what he says and remember what points to repeat to your friends and frenemies later. To get the most out of the show, you need the patience to listen carefully and to consider how different people’s perspectives represent certain parts of American culture.
Unfortunately, the on-the-go nature of podcasts is not especially conducive to patient, reflective and sensitive listening, and I don’t know if the majority of Rogan’s audience actually has the patience for that type of patience.
Written by: Benjamin Porter — firstname.lastname@example.org
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