Iconic podcaster and comedian Joe Rogan last week expressed concerns to his millions of listeners about straight white men being silenced. Irony much?
Mainstream news jumped on this soundbite of Rogan’s interview with comedian Joe List. Outlets were quick to point out how rich a claim this is for a celebrity with 11 million unique listeners per episode, and whose show was acquired by Spotify for some US$100 million last year.
And they do have a point.
A comparable gaffe took place last year when Oprah complained about a white “caste system that’s been put in place” in the United States — saying of white people, “no matter where they are on the rung or ladder of success, they still have their whiteness,” and that “whiteness still gives you an advantage, no matter”.
This was of course the same Oprah who is adored by an audience of mostly white women and who has lived a picture-perfect American Dream to accumulate a net worth of over $2.5 billion.
Given their respective fame and fortune, Joe Rogan and Oprah both have egg on their faces.
Even so, Joe Rogan’s point carries far less irony than Oprah’s. To see this, all we have to consider is the response to each from the loudest voices in media.
Rogan’s words were pounced on by a cacophony of voices, from trashy tabloids to highbrow journals. By contrast, Oprah’s ironic claims were greeted with crickets. Look for both on a search engine and prove me wrong.
Joe Rogan wasn’t silenced, nor will he be anytime soon: he’s far too popular. But in their furious response, those with cultural clout certainly showed their hand. If they could cancel Rogan’s unassailable popularity and muffle his voice that reaches so many, they likely would.
Rogan is no stranger to controversy. Often on his show he has challenged the choke of “woke” culture in America and wondered how it can be addressed.
In this interview with Joe List, he was speaking about comedy in particular. “Can you make a good comedy movie anymore,” he mused, “or have they made it so dangerous in terms of being cancelled, that comedy movies are no longer something you can do?” This is when he made his now infamous claims about straight white men:
You can never be woke enough. That’s the problem; it keeps going. It keeps going further and further down the line, and if you get to the point where you capitulate, where you agree to all these demands, it’ll eventually get to where straight white men are not allowed to talk.
Because it’s your privilege to express yourself when other people of colour have been silenced throughout history. You’re not allowed to go outside because so many people were imprisoned for so many years. I mean I’m not joking. It really will get there, it’s that crazy.
Wokeness and cancel culture are genuine phenomena observed by people on all sides of the “culture wars”. Last year, 150 high-profile writers — names as big as Noam Chomsky and Salman Rushdie — signed an open letter published in Harper’s magazine decrying “the forces of illiberalism” that are constricting “the free exchange of information and ideas”. They weren’t afraid to betray their political bias by casting blame for this on then-President Trump.
Barack Obama has spoken against wokeness too. Speaking in October 2019, he opined that, “This idea of purity and you’re never compromised and you’re always politically woke and all that stuff, you should get over that quickly.”
Even the New York Times highlighted recent comments from James Carville, the top strategist for Bill Clinton’s 1992 presidential campaign, who said:
Wokeness is a problem and everyone knows it. It’s hard to talk to anybody today — and I talk to lots of people in the Democratic Party — who doesn’t say this. But they don’t want to say it out loud… because they’ll get clobbered.
Wokeness is a problem. Joe Rogan hasn’t been silenced — but that wasn’t his claim. He said it may reach that point, and indeed it may.
Given his phenomenally large audience, Rogan left his flank exposed by using the word “silenced”. Had he warned of straight white men being mocked, harangued or cancelled from polite society, he wouldn’t have invited the same criticism.
And for a simple reason — he would have been correct, as his critics have revealed.