When I dropped out of school because of a chronic illness and teetered on the brink of despair, Joe Rogan was there. When I went through a bad breakup and felt myself lost at sea, Joe Rogan was there. When I was feeling as though I had no direction in life, Joe Rogan was there.
No, Joe Rogan is not my next door neighbor or my BFF, but his groundbreaking podcast The Joe Rogan Experience has been a guiding light for me in this bewildering age of unparalleled weirdness where so many of us clamor for an anchor to latch onto just to feel a sense of normalcy. And yes, especially young men who crave purposefulness in a culture that is often none too keen to provide it.
So it was to my pleasant surprise that The Atlantic had published an article entitled “I Tried To Live Like Joe Rogan” where proud Brooklynite Devin Gordon tried to make sense of JRE’s unprecedented popularity — that is, until I read it. Although the piece made some reasonable points and could be considered “charitable” by mainstream media standards (that doesn’t say much), it contained no shortage of polemical potshots and conveyed an embarrassing lack of insight into what actually lies behind Rogan’s mass appeal. It reads like a rusty old history teacher trying to describe what an internet meme is.
In probably the most telling line of the whole piece, Gordon writes that “a key thing Joe and his fans tend to have in common is a deficit of empathy”. This statement would seem to say more about the author than its subject.
The article is only the latest example of the ever-widening chasm between the intellectual class and…well…normal people. In presidential contender Andrew Yang’s book on automation and economic decline “The War On Normal People”, he describes what normal in America actually looks like:
“Most of us live around people like ourselves. What feels normal to each of us is based on our context. Knowing what’s truly normal or average in a big country like America requires some work. Take education for instance — if you are reading this, you are probably a college graduate or student and most of the people you know also graduated from college. That puts you, your friends, and your family in approximately the top third of the U.S. population … The normal American did not graduate from college and doesn’t have an associate’s degree. He or she perhaps attended college for one year or graduated from high school. He or she has a net worth of approximately $36K and lives paycheck to paycheck. He or she has less than $500 in flexible savings and minimal assets invested in the stock market. These are the median statistics, with 50 percent of Americans below these levels.”
When we consider what being normals is, it’s not much of a surprise that political pundits and social commentators are out of touch with most Americans. I’m not trying to score a political slam dunk here by going on about “the elites” or the downtrodden working man. But if you ask me who Joe Rogan’s audience is, I would bet the house that it doesn’t look all that much like The Atlantic’s readership. Most Americans are not on Twitter. At least 1⁄3 of the population is politically disengaged. Normal people don’t pore over the NY Times op-ed page on a daily basis. Not everyone cares about President Trump’s latest gaffe. And if the exhausted majority were a thing, a large portion would be made up of Joe Rogan people.
In a recent piece for The Spectator in response to the Atlantic article, Daniel J. Flynn hits the nail on the head: “Joe Rogan, in his comedy and on his show, thumbs his nose at cultural guardians and gatekeepers … Why is Joe Rogan so popular? For the very reasons The Atlantic criticizes him.”
It makes sense why the mainstream media wouldn’t have much of a soft spot for Joe Rogan. Indeed, I would wager many of the so-called deplorables that our elite coastal bubbles love to disparage probably watch Joe Rogan. Is it because his show is a swamp of alt-right dog whistles? Or, is it more likely that not everything in life ought to be viewed through a political lens and that we actually have more in common than we assume?
My intuition is the latter.