This past week Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders made news when his Twitter account retweeted a video of celebrity Joe Rogan endorsing the left-wing politician on his very popular podcast, The Joe Rogan Experience.
This was controversial. In the past, Joe Rogan has said some pretty vile things. There are plenty of recordings of him on-air blurting out blatantly racist, sexist, and transphobic rants and many marginalized people felt betrayed that Sanders would publicly celebrate the support of a famous white male bigot.
Is Rogan the worst person in America? No. Is he occasionally funny? Sure. Does that cancel out his long history of kicking people so his listeners feel powerful and good about themselves? It does not!
Meanwhile, does the Sanders campaign need to brag about winning the shock jock vote? No. Sanders’ defenders mention how important it is for the Democrats to have a big political tent. Fair point. But I am sympathetic to those who don’t want to share a tent with hyenas.
Have you ever noticed how people who boast about ‘telling it like it is” get angry when someone else tries to tell them how it is? Well, here’s me telling it like it is: Joe Rogan is a racist, sexist, transphobic meathead. Yes, a meathead. Despite that, it’s hard to deny he’s had a hell of a career: stand-comic, sitcom star, reality TV host, mixed-martial arts commentator and, now, famous podcaster. He’s a cultural institution to millions of other meatheads.
And like any meathead, he says the stupidest fucking things. I apologize for the vulgarity but there’s just no other way to describe what happens when a meathead’s mouth begins to suddenly fill up with word chowder. This is not an excuse but it helps to understand a dude like him.
In a way, a meathead is the male version of a princess. Like a princess, a meathead means no harm. They both just want to stare into a mirror and either brush their hair or lift a kettlebell. Any concepts more complex than that is real intellectual thin ice. Both these types are people who are endlessly fascinated with their own ideas. Meatheads, and princesses, are constantly surprised by their own existence.
Joe Rogan is one cure for male loneliness. His fans feel less lonely because he’s broadcasting an anxiety-reducing message: meatheads unite! There are other cures, like alcoholism or the Marines. YouTube? Video games? White supremacist drinking clubs? But listening to a meathead pop his own brain cells like bubble wrap into a microphone for hours at a time is one way to feel almost connected. Joe Rogan says out loud the ignorant things many dudes think and that is thrilling. Men love listening to other men so long as those men aren’t saying upsetting things like “you could be wrong.”
I know some people are surprised by Joe Rogan’s popularity or that someone who hosts a podcast could have any influence. There are folks out there who think of podcasts as hobo radio. But not only are podcasts huge they’re also a surprisingly intimate medium. Every week, millions of listeners welcome a microscopic Joe Rogan into their wireless earbuds and brains and then he just hangs out in there and talks. Sometimes he interviews comedians and celebrities. Other times he interviews people who think the Earth is flat or who believe white people are superior to non-white people.
He’s a meathead so he tends to ‘uh-huh’ a lot when interviewing well-spoken maniacs. There is no harm in asking questions, you know. As the saying goes there are no wrong questions, just highly racist answers. But he lives in the heads of a lot of people. A lot of smart, decent people.
I’ll say one thing about Joe Rogan: if you listen to his show you will not feel condescended to. He doesn’t talk down to his audience. Joe Rogan does not have a beard nor does he live in Brooklyn. Here’s another fact about meatheads: meatheads rarely know they’re meatheads. I’m pretty sure I’m not a meathead. (Which means I probably, at the very least, have meatheaded tendencies.)
I have listened to Joe before. I don’t hate the guy. I’d be more than happy to talk to him, meathead-to-meathead. I would just tell it like it is. “Joe,” I’d say “You’re a tool who has told the same anti-feminist jokes since the late ’90s.” Then he’d turn to me and respond: “I hear you, dude. Thank you for making me face my own insecurities. I will do better and make fun of those who truly deserve it.” Then we’d chug, I don’t know, a protein shake?
The coming election is going to be about white men and their feelings, just like the last 58 presidential elections. I hope there are dudes out there open to listening to opinions from people who aren’t other dudes. Otherwise, there are going to be a lot of podcasts — and videos and memes and live streams — reaching out to alienated men. Telling those men what they want to hear — appealing to their vanities and exploiting their fears — is no way to improve their lives or the state of this country. It’s just how to manufacture more loneliness, more isolation, more unhappy lives.