As a twenty-something man who spends excessive amounts of time on the internet I have of course watched countless hours of The Joe Rogan Experience. Like any viewer, I know the martial artist-cum comedian-cum-actor-cum-commentator-cum-podcaster’s irritating traits. He is morbidly obsessed with mind-altering drugs. He has a dilettante’s weakness for pseudoscience. Worst of all, he — or, at least, his production company — censors people who make fun of his friends, despite his oft-expressed opposition to censorship. But whatever our complaints with the joke-cracking, pad-kicking, pot-smoking, elk-killing renaissance man we have to admire the range of his talents and the scale of his energy. And, besides, listen to anyone talking for hours and you will find a lot to dislike.
Progressives dislike Rogan for other reasons. You would think conservatives would have the biggest problem with him given his left-leaning politics, his drug use and his language, but it is leftists who have complained about his willingness to interview people like Ben Shapiro and Jordan Peterson, his mockery of ‘identity politics’ and his complaints about ‘transgender’ ideology. (As a tedious but useful side note: progressives who howl about Rogan ‘platforming’ the likes of Peterson never seem to acknowledge that he also has on leftists like Sanders, Cornel West, Kyle Kulinski, David Pakman, Abby Martin et cetera. They are million times more interested in what is being done wrong, in their eyes, than what is being done right.)
Rogan endorsed Bernie Sanders on a show with New York Times columnist Bari Weiss (Weiss, who was steamrollered when she tried to denounce Rogan favorite Tulsi Gabbard on her debut appearance on the show, managed to resist bringing up what she sees as Bernie’s unsavory associations). Now Bernie Sanders has acknowledged Rogan’s endorsement of his primary campaign, it is Rogan’s comments on trans issues have been the biggest problem for the ideological puritans on the left. You would think that the world’s most popular podcaster — who is watched and listened to by millions of people every week — endorsing the most left-wing candidate in the Democratic race for nomination would be cause for progressives to celebrate. For all his everyman bluster, Rogan is influential, not just among Democratic voters but among Republicans. He could draw tens if not hundreds of thousands of young voters who lean right towards the left. Hearing him praise the principled consistency of an explicitly socialist candidate is good news for them, no? No?
No. Well, it is for some. But others are up in arms. One tweet hilariously compiled every time Rogan has used the ‘n’-word but completely out of context so he might have been — and probably was — deploring its use. Another tweet, by someone who seems like a parody of a woke middle-aged white woman but is apparently real, called Rogan a ‘white nationalist’. There are many things you could say Rogan is too passionate about. Hunting. DMT. The sound of Brendan Schaub’s voice. But skin color? Definitely not.
“I think I'll probably vote for Bernie… He’s been insanely consistent his entire life. He’s basically been saying the same thing, been for the same thing his whole life. And that in and of itself is a very powerful structure to operate from.” -Joe Rogan pic.twitter.com/fuQP0KwGGI
— Bernie Sanders (@BernieSanders) January 23, 2020
Rogan has said un-PC things about trans issues. (I say that in a descriptive and not condemnatory sense.) Some years ago, Fallon Fox, a trans MMA fighter, was elbowing her opponents into unconsciousness in a startling display of physical superiority. Rogan was appalled that someone with a man’s biological advantages was competing against women. ‘You’re a man without a dick,’ he snapped in one famous rant. ‘Real women are getting fucked over,’ he said in a more recent clip.
I am on Rogan’s side in the argument about trans athletes and women’s sports. I agree with him, too, that children should not be given puberty blockers. But that is beside the point. If you think, like the feminist writer Sady Doyle, that the most popular podcaster in the world endorsing the most left-wing candidate in the United States should not be welcomed, when are yourself left-wing, because he doesn’t want to see biological males beat women, or to give puberty inhibitors to healthy children, you are operating on a level of purism that would make the most austere and adamantine Islamic fundamentalist look on with admiration.
Wonderfully, the wokesters even want Sanders to retract his acknowledgement and repent. Charlotte Clymer says he should ‘acknowledge that Rogan is a transphobe and move away from this’. A glorious plan! It would make him look weak, ungrateful and self-righteous to people who are inclined to agree with Rogan, and would make him look no less foolish and unreliable to his critics. Of course, as a conservative I almost hope that he does. But one reason that I grudgingly respect the gnarled old senator for Vermont is that he appears to be willing to reach out and talk to people that he might have disagreements with. Sure, he disagrees with Rogan when it comes to trans issues, but he knows that he can talk to him — and, by extension, to his audience — about areas of agreement like drug liberalization and corporate perfidy, and make the left seem more attractive in his — and their — eyes. This makes him a formidable opponent as tolerating disagreement for as long as one can build bridges is an essential political skill. Sanders’s critics, though, have no time for anyone who does not agree with them on absolutely everything. At best, they want to lecture them, and at worst they want to hector and intimidate them. This is not an effective political strategy, which, of course, I support its passionate use.
At the risk of playing armchair psychologist, I think another reason for some of these commentators hating Rogan is that they think they should be the sages the voters listen to, and resent the fact that some foul-mouthed meathead attracts far bigger audiences. Carlos Maza says that the Democrats should be ‘marginalizing’ Rogan. Surprise! You can’t ‘marginalize’ someone with a bigger platform than any of your representatives.
The irony is that there was a candidate who repeatedly courted the endorsements and financial support of people who turned out to be very dark indeed. Harvey Weinstein. Henry Kissinger. Ed Buck (who turned out to have a bizarre addiction to injecting black men with huge quantities of drugs, and killed two of them). That candidate? Hillary Clinton, who most of the people now railing against Sanders think was a martyred icon of political virtue. If I was a left-wing commentator it would be enough to drive me to take a hit of DMT and jump into a sensory deprivation tank.