Comedian and podcaster Joe Rogan is caught in a spiral of controversy.
It all started when “The Joe Rogan Experience” hosted COVID-19 vaccine skeptic Robert Malone and a number of musicians pulled their music from Spotify in protest. It continued with Rogan apologizing for using racial slurs over the past few years, prompting the streaming service to remove dozens of its older episodes from the streaming platform.
Considering the thousands of hours of content produced by Rogan, the review is unlikely to end there. As we argue in our forthcoming book, Rogan’s podcast has long promoted right-wing comedy and libertarian political voices, including some that trade racism and misogyny quite happily.
However, what makes Rogan’s rise particularly significant is that it goes beyond the standard partisan political fights that Americans have grown accustomed to on social and broadcast media.
Rogan is not just a purveyor of right-wing ideologies. He is also someone who has built an empire presenting these ideas – and a wide range of others – to listeners from all political backgrounds. His truly unique talent is to attract from this spectrum a massive, young and largely male audience that advertisers covet strongly.
When the Federal Communications Commission introduced the Fairness Doctrine in 1949, broadcasters and television broadcasters were required to present controversial ideas in a way that reflected multiple perspectives. However, the combination of cable television, targeting niche consumers, and President Ronald Reagan’s deregulatory FCC successfully overturned the mandate.
In 1987, conservative talk radio personalities such as Rush Limbaugh took totally partisan approaches to content creation and audience accumulation. Ignoring their political opponents as potential listeners, they veered further and further to the right, gathering an increasingly homogeneous audience that advertisers could easily target.
Later, as Fox News’ popularity and reach grew, it took a similar approach, promoting conservative media figures like Bill O’Reilly, Sean Hannity, Tucker Carlson and Greg Gutfeld to preach to the right-wing chorus.
Today, some conservative voices such as Ben Shapiro and Steven Crowder take this logic one step further technologically, embracing the silo effects of social media algorithms to connect with users most likely to engage and to disseminate their content. While such figures certainly shock those who disagree with them, their place in the media sphere is well established and mostly ignored by naysayers.
Rogan, on the other hand, is subject to the ideological whiplash.
Initially, he backed Bernie Sanders for president in 2020. Then he moved on to Donald Trump. He interviews and poses open-ended questions to figures ranging from staunchly left-wing voices such as Cornel West and Michael Pollan to right-wing charlatans such as Stefan Molyneux and Alex Jones.
There is no political common ground between these people. But there is a demographic link. For one thing, they’re all male, just like the vast majority of guests on “The Joe Rogan Experience.”
They are also provocative guests who attract young people and especially young men, a group notoriously difficult to unite, often with disposable incomes and a tendency to believe that mainstream political ideas do not reflect their own.
While Fox News sells politics to viewers, Rogan sells a bold sense of authenticity to podcast listeners. His mix of comedy and controversy certainly has political implications, but from his perspective, it’s not politics. It’s demographics.
Spotify’s main attraction
Rogan’s business model of hoarding young male listeners, who make up a good portion of its 11 million listeners per episodeis particularly powerful in today’s fractured media environment.
Rogan is, for better or worse, a true outlier in the world of contemporary spoken media. Most political and comedy podcasts use the business model of finding ideological space, connecting through cross-promotion and guest selection with similar shows, and allowing social media algorithms to drive traffic as they see fit. .
“The Joe Rogan Experience” takes that idea and pulls it in multiple, conflicting directions. Media personalities left and right have — until now, at least — coveted opportunities to appear on the show. Once a comedian or podcaster has saturated their own political space, Rogan offers a chance to win over new converts and, in principle, to have a discussion that breaks free from partisan constraints. For many Rogan fans, this breadth of discussion and freedom from standards is central to the series.
Rogan, however, is far from a neutral host of a new public sphere. His feigned naivety is too often a cover to promote edgy, offensive and irresponsible theories that appeal to his audience’s self-proclaimed suspicion of authority.
He pushes the boundaries of political discourse by “just asking questions”, but then hides behind his background as a simple comedian to distance himself from any unwanted repercussions.
Spotify, like other streaming services, relies primarily on a wide array of content creators, each of which attracts a small dedicated audience, but none of which is, on its own, particularly powerful.
Rogan is the closest thing to a mass cultural product you can find in the world of podcasting. He’s also one of the only names in podcasting big enough to make headlines, good or bad. For a company like Spotify trying to grow subscriptions, it’s very hard to resist Rogan’s cross-party, youthful, mass appeal.
Rogan’s recent apology, however, proves he’s not immune to the pressure. We suspect Spotify is trying to thread the needle: covering up Rogan’s penchant for misinformation and offensive provocation just enough to meet the minimum standard of acceptable corporate citizenship without tarnishing the comedian’s brand and demographic appeal. .
This article by Matt Sienkiewicz, Associate Professor of Communication and International Studies, Boston College and Nick Marx, Associate Professor of Film and Media Studies, Colorado State University is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.