The Joe Rogan Experience is one of the most interesting cultural phenomena of the last decade. The internet talk show is the most listened to on the planet and is largely responsible for the massive popularity of the podcast medium; 190 million monthly downloads is a staggering number by any measure.
One of the things that make Rogan unique is his ability to traverse multiple subjects with natural curiosity and little judgement while still asking probing and pointed questions of his guests. Add to this his credentials as a comedian, Ultimate Fighting Championship commentator, and jiu-jitsu black belt and you have a host who embodies the right mix of confidence, humility, and humour, able to appeal to a broad audience.
When in full flood, Rogan’s podcasts can be likened to a university lecture or Munk Debate, with a push-and-pull of ideas that results in an informative exposé on subjects ranging from deep space to ancient civilizations, psychedelics, identity politics, and everything in between.
He has invited controversy by hosting such people as conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, conservative thinkers Jordan Peterson and Douglas Murray, sex researcher Debrah Soh, and socialist politician Bernie Sanders. But as an independent thinker on an independent platform, Rogan has managed to weather the “cancel culture” storm despite continuing to invite controversial guests to discuss contentious subjects.
He seemed untouchable until he signed a recent deal with Spotify.
The Spotify Deal
Eager to corner the growing podcast market, Spotify may not have been totally aware of what they were getting themselves into when they signed a multi-year licensing deal with Rogan rumoured to be worth $100 million.
According to news reports, the show, which has been available on Spotify since September, has caused concern among staff who are unhappy about some of Rogan’s guests and their purported views. Now that Rogan is tied to a single platform he is subject to the scrutiny of executive boards, HR departments, and the like, who are eager to control and editorialize his content according to their ideas of what constitutes the politically correct and expedient.
Since Rogan has retained 100 percent creative control over his podcasts, Spotify will have to endure attacks from both internal staffers and external activists who now have a clear platform at which to direct their animosity. Spotify is now a lightning rod, and the company will have to deflect or absorb the ramifications of allowing a show that values and promotes freedom of speech and thought above all else.
Rogan often explores the more contentious issues of the day, for example the subject of transgender issues, which was recently discussed in-depth during a podcast with Abigail Shrier, author of “Irreversible Damage: The Transgender Craze Seducing Our Daughters.” Apparently, this podcast was cited as particularly problematic by Spotify staffers. Trans issues are rarely articulated in the public sphere because they have proven to be an especially volatile subject to examine. Challenging the accepted narrative invites immediate attack from those who see any discussion that veers from the accepted orthodoxy as an affront.
But this type of discussion is precisely the lure of the Joe Rogan Experience. The orthodoxy is challenged, discussed, and unpacked in real time with the deserved nuance to fully grasp the implications of trending social phenomena. Whether gender, politics, race, or otherwise, these subjects are incredibly nuanced when taken beyond the usual soundbites and rhetoric. Millions of people tune in to the Joe Rogan Experience to partake in forbidden conversations in what has ironically become a “safe space” for ideas.
None of this is to defend Rogan’s perspective or that of his guests; the opinions vary so widely that his podcast appeals and offends equally, another secret to its massive success. His show is entirely liberal but neither right nor left. Rogan is a liberal who despises woke culture but still embraces most progressive viewpoints. He makes fun of Biden and Trump equally and vocalized his support for Sanders in the presidential primary.
And yet he is under fire from the woke mob, who want to take him out. Because he is not willing to kowtow to the wokeness of the radical left, he has a target on his back. Now, via Spotify, his detractors have a weapon at their disposal.
The Podcast Medium
If anything, Rogan’s show has proven that there is a large audience for long-form discussion on a wide range of topics. It’s an unlikely phenomenon to have people eagerly tune in to hear a three-hour conversation that ranges between the contrite, profound, meaningless, and controversial. But it is incredibly encouraging to realize that so many people have the capacity and hunger for intense and wide-ranging conversations.
The medium lends itself perfectly to long, uninterrupted discussions. Podcasts are accessible when driving, exercising, or any mundane task that would otherwise be filled with less mental stimulation. Many people lack the time and capacity to read but most can find the time to listen.
Most news and social media are composed of soundbites. A commentator on any given news segment is lucky to be given five uninterrupted minutes, nowhere near enough time to unpack a complex issue with any sort of nuance. And so the general public is led to believe that issues are indeed that rudimentary and simple. There is simply no budget that would allow the airtime for an unplanned three-hour conversation—too much money is at stake.
Thinking Out Loud
The ramifications of curtailing speech and thought are nothing short of devastating to free societies. Free expression is one of the few safeguards against tyranny.
Although the cancel culture types may think they are doing a noble service by coming after any and all who disagree with their views, they will have the unintended effect of pushing conservatives further to the right, so alienated that they will see the fringes as the only place to air their conservative views.
As Rogan comes under attack with much more fervour than he has experienced in the past, it is imperative that voices of support equal the detractors. You don’t have to like his perspective or those of his guests, but the high-minded among us must acknowledge that they have their place and must be heard, if only to enable opposite viewpoints to bolster their own arguments.
What Rogan’s popularity, and the podcast medium more generally, have proven is that there’s a massive public appetite for in-depth discourse and the free exchange of ideas—a precious and dwindling commodity.
Ryan Moffatt is a journalist based in Vancouver.
Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.