While 2020 has been a bad year for most, it’s been a roaring success for podcaster Joe Rogan. As of Dec. 1, his show, “The Joe Rogan Experience,” is now exclusive to Spotify after reportedly inking a $100 million deal this summer.
After its humble beginnings in 2009 where Rogan, a UFC commentator and comedian, chatted with a friend and listeners in a home studio, the show has morphed into a fascinating salon where some of the world’s greatest nonconformists — including renegade journalists like Glenn Greenwald and Bari Weiss, multimedia creatives like Kanye West and Whitney Cummings, and politicians like Bernie Sanders, Tulsi Gabbard and Andrew Yang — discuss their ideas. It’s been said that one three-hour podcast with Rogan yields more book sales than any international tour, TV interview or public event.
At the same time, a progressive antipathy towards Rogan is reaching new heights of hysteria — not because the 53-year-old podcaster is some kind of dogmatic, Trump-supporting conservative. Far from it. Rather, he is a progressive-minded thinker supportive of LGBT rights, a woman’s right to choose, and drug legalization who also consistently challenges the orthodoxies of the left, such as the more concerning dogmas of trans advocacy, the excesses of the #MeToo movement, and the popular conflation of Trump’s most egregious characteristics with the millions of Americans who voted for him.
His signing with Spotify has ignited plenty of internal debate about censorship and freedom of speech. Rogan’s recent podcast interview with Abigail Shrier, the author of “Irreversible Damage: The Transgender Craze Seducing Our Daughters,” a controversial book about the dangers of trans identification among teenage girls, enraged several employees at Spotify, prompting 10 separate meetings to debate the removal of the episode.
“There’s a thought process now,” Rogan stated in a following episode, “that if you’re talking at all about trans people, you have to be 100 percent supportive. You can never question whether or not children should be allowed to transition . . . All this is madness.”
Rogan is a fundamentally critical thinker who formulates his views on a case-by-case basis rather than adhering to ideological narratives. The same man who describes himself as “left on everything” also asserted earlier this year that “I’d rather vote for Trump than [Biden]” because of his concerns about the former VP’s mental decline. For some, Rogan’s fluid, open-minded philosophy makes perfect sense, but for others it causes cognitive dissonance.
For those heavily invested in political narratives, Rogan’s platform presents a mortal threat — a grave transgression to their narrow-minded thought bubbles and ideological safe spaces. Unlike many ideologues, Rogan daringly humanizes perspectives that deviate from his own. “I like being proven wrong,” he said in a recent episode.
As a result, his loose endorsement of Bernie Sanders earlier this year drew explosive backlash among leftist activists within the Democratic Party. A piece in Slate this year lambasted the “unchecked bigotry” and “transphobia and sexism” of Rogan’s platform. Prominent LGBTQ advocate Charlotte Clymer urged the Sanders campaign to “acknowledge that Rogan is a transphobe and move away from this.” Meanwhile, a recent essay in The Atlantic confoundingly speculated that Joe Rogan might be “America’s Next Authoritarian” leader to fill Trump’s shoes.
Last month, I personally experienced the progressive backlash against Rogan after I wrote an op-ed for Canada’s The Globe and Mail explaining how his podcast profoundly impacted my life at 19. Mere hours after its publication, my essay ignited a firestorm of viral outrage and controversy, trending No. 1 on Twitter in Canada. More than 7,000 critical tweets included prominent biology professor Carin Anne Bondar who said she was repulsed by my praise of Rogan because he is a “#whiteman” in a now-deleted tweet. Four days later, The Globe and Mail published an alternative perspective entitled, “Joe Rogan’s podcast is a vehicle for intolerance,” in which the writer claimed he will “pray for the victims of these friendly conversations” on Rogan’s show and “for all those whose human rights are fragile.”
Over the past decade, Western discourse has degenerated into detractive identity politics, woke slacktivism, and spiraling ideological intolerance. Mainstream media networks have only fueled the fire, drumming up sensationalist headlines that exploit political division along racial and gender lines.
Unforeseen by everyone — including Rogan himself — “The Joe Rogan Experience” has become one of the last, few unwavering pillars of American liberalism, critically dissecting important topics in conversations that are simultaneously rigorous and breezy. His show has ushered in a renaissance of long-form, exploratory dialogue that has made intellectual inquiry appealing to a wide audience. (On Tuesday, Spotify revealed that Rogan’s podcast is the most popular podcast of 2020 on its platform, with hundreds of millions of downloads a month.)
“During the three hours of doing Joe’s show, you get taken on a journey: from politics and culture to spirituality and introspection,” Greenwald told me of his recent appearance on Rogan’s podcast. “Every word he says, you can feel the sincerity of someone doing their best, and not always succeeding, to understand the world and all its complexities. In a world of scripted orthodoxies and partisan dogma, it’s easy to see why it resonates for millions.”
In other words, as long as Rogan continues to push the envelope while remaining the beloved meat-headed everyman who likes to hunt, smoke weed and crack jokes, our public discourse will continue to expand and diversify for good.