In the first of a series of articles on the rise of various online grifters that profit from the spread of misogyny and reaction, Adrienne Wallace takes a look at The Joe Rogan Experience.
Misogyny and sexism have taken many forms over time. In recent years, an increasingly worrying online trend has emerged, where a line of “professional” grifters have managed to monetise their own particular brand of misogyny to increasingly young, male audiences. The huge rise in notoriety for the likes of Andrew Tate, Joe Rogan and Jordan Peterson (to name just a few) has sounded alarm bells for socialists and feminists across the world.
Their rise in popularity is down to a number of factors; a rejection of traditional mainstream media alongside the rise in technological advancements and the all-encompassing use of socially unconscious algorithms. Most concerning however, is how their rise can be read as a cultural backlash to a rising women’s movement.
Rogan is in the Mainstream
Love him or hate him, Joe Rogan maintained his hold as the No. 1 podcaster on Spotify in 2022 with his show The Joe Rogan Experience. While Spotify has not revealed the number of people who subscribed to or followed his podcast, it is estimated to be around seven to 10 million, while on Youtube his content has been viewed over 2.2 billion times. He has cultivated a mass following and managed to cement his authority to an increasingly male audience by embracing his manliness in a world that is seemingly critical of masculinity. He often highlights his work as an MMA commentator and sports enthusiast.
It seems significant that he broadcasts these accomplishments before his more well-known role as host of the TV show Fear Factor. Although a more identifiable achievement to the general public, the former highlights a brand of desirable machismo his fans value. Additionally, his mistrust of authority and anti-establishment contrarianism are hallmarks of a new era of political discourse that appeals to many.
Rogan has appeared difficult to tie down to a single political ideology. In the past he has been sympathetic to both Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump. He has welcomed some deeply transphobic guests and ideas but then simultaneously prefaced some of his comedy work with very pro-trans commentary. Ultimately, Rogan creates a complicated reality that allows him to straddle both sides of the fence without getting a splinter.
In an increasingly polarised world Joe Rogan offers a seemingly apolitical space where the only agenda is free speech and “truth seeking”, and it is in this liminal space that he flourishes. His listeners find comfort in Rogan’s ambiguities, contradictions and uncertainties. However, it is in this territory where misinformation, misogyny and the ugly face of machoism/machismo? go unchecked. Rogan has learnt how to create a simple but effective configuration on how to appear balanced without actually being balanced. And this is possibly the crux of his appeal – his seeming neutrality is accepted with open arms but this ultimately leaves viewers defenceless to the multitude of dangerous speakers he has platformed.
Opening the Door to the Far-Right
While we often welcome the move away from traditional mainstream media, and in particular the idea that only experts or elites have the authority to discuss politics, it has also opened the door to wider and wider audiences being met with an onslaught of unfettered right-wing and dangerous views. After the 2018 collapse of the Infowars empire, right-wing extremist and conspiracist Alex Jones continued to reach a massive mainstream audience as a guest on Rogan’s show. A 2019 appearance was downloaded more than 30 million times before its eventual removal from Spotify. Discussions between Rogan and his recurring guest Jordan Peterson have been viewed millions of times on YouTube. That’s a lot of potential new listeners for Peterson, whose political views have already won him a huge following among white supremacists.
Gavin McInnes also thanks Rogan for his appearance on the podcast and boasted that it helped boost his recruitment efforts for his far-right organisation the Proud Boys. In light of this, Rogan has escaped charges of being an alt-right gateway drug. Again, this is largely due to his seemingly progressive political endorsements while supporters of Rogan can also quickly point to his research into YouTube’s ballooning far-right influence as a line of defence.
Although Rogan has offered some seemingly progressive declarations and political views, this can be read less as statements of intent and more as a clever tactic that allows him to claim political “neutrality” to say whatever garners him the most views. It is ultimately a ploy that distracts criticism from the dangerous views he platforms and promotes. Taken as a whole, Rogan’s content is certainly more reactionary than revolutionary but by touting conflicting ideologies he deliberately muddies the water. He gets the benefit of being too elusive for labels but any critic of his commentary is not befit of the same consideration – we quickly become labelled the “PC Brigade” or “woke left” and the prevailing dismissive attitudes are applied.
Misogyny and Racism
In 2011, Rogan gleefully laughed when comedian Joey Diaz described how he had pressured a number of female comedians to perform oral sex on him in order to get on stage for a comedy show he produced. When that clip resurfaced in 2020, Rogan came out in support by retweeting Diaz’s attack of those condemning him.
And what about the racist language? Videos emerged which showed Rogan’s repetitive use of the N-Word. Although he later apologised it was not the only instance where Rogan conjured racism to entertain his audiences. In another clip, Rogan recounts going to see the movie Planet of the Apes and used the movie title to reference the neighbourhood he saw it in. He complained he had been driven by a cab driver who “barely speaks English” to “the Blackest neighbourhood we could find” and, being the only White people in the theatre he claims they, “walked into Africa.” Then, in a moment of self-awareness, he added, “That was a racist thing for me to say.” Yes, it was. Rogan knew his story was racist but he also knew his audience would laugh at his characterisation of Black people as apes.
The question is not whether Rogan treats racism or sexism as fodder for his audience – that much is clear – but rather, does Rogan’s apparent self-awareness remove him from criticism? For his supporters the answer is a resounding yes. Ultimately, the casual nature of Rogan’s specific brand of discriminatory politics is a nonstarter with fans as a serious criticism of Rogan – which makes sense when you consider that one of the main ways modern oppression spreads is through a reliance on nuance that skirts the line between seemingly innocuous “jokes” and blatant harassment.
By backing bigotry time and time again Rogan can be seen, not as an anti-establishment hero simultaneously giving the finger to the status quo and the PC brigade, but rather as a modern reactionary with a carefully marketed brand that caters to the contradictory consciousness of the working class.
Feeding Off Alienation
Rogan champions what has become a clarion call of the right-wing, and one that is readily received by disenfranchised young men – for audiences to “man up” and take control of their own lives. His sympathetic approach to being a man in a world that appears to be increasingly critical of masculinity is at the core of his appeal to audiences.
The under-current however, is that the rising women’s movement is to blame for the real or perceived downfall in listeners’ personal circumstances. Rogan has regularly insisted that the #MeToo movement went “too far” and slammed it as “witch hunts”. The suggestion being that if only the “natural order” could be restored then his listeners would be returned to the proverbial top of the food chain. This is a theme that both Jordan Peterson and Andrew Tate also embrace, however each masters the call in a carefully crafted manner that speaks directly to different demographics.
By understanding the appeal of the rise of the grifters there is an important lesson here for socialists; that we must broaden our reach and message to alienated working class men. That we must highlight how rigid definitions of masculinity hurt them too, that the fight against sexism, racism and ultimately capitalism is one that will lift the drudgery and muck of ages from their backs as well. While millions of dollars roll in for Rogan under his new Spotify deal, only time will tell whether his audience will be able to see that they have more in common with working class women, trans people and the Black community than a rich white man with a microphone who will never endure the hardship of a housing or cost of living crisis’ – crises that can only thrive under a system that divides the masses.