Last week, classic rock icon/dinosaur Neil Young issued an ultimatum to music streaming giant Spotify, demanding they either remove The Joe Rogan Experience from its platform due to its covid disinformation, or his music catalog. Spotify predictably refused and inspired a flurry of puns about "The Needle and the Damage Done." The calculus was simple, it's hard to know who makes less money off Young's music, and Rogan's podcast is the most listened to program in the country. Joni Mitchell has demanded Spotify remove her music, a request yet to be answered but likely to meet the same result as well as any others that are sure to follow. But as long as the profile of artists demanding accountability from the service are limited to retired, politically moderate geriatrics, Spotify will not feel the effects of losing music whose core audience is largely too old to know how to use the app.
Neil Young's cultural zenith was in the days of CSNY, and like many groups at the time, focused almost singularly on anti-Vietnam War activism. Also like most boomers, his political vision has since narrowed. Having endorsed Joe Biden, gushing over his "compassionate" approach to public policy, he has settled into the mindset of complacency that defines the modern liberal. As the President's supporters remain in the anti-hangover of winning the 2020 election, they morph into the MAGA drones of old, hand waving away criticism and regurgitating talking points the rest of us grew tired of years ago when it was a different false-toothed mummy in the White House. From this delusion, the only actionable recourse is finding enemies to blame. The administration has decided that It's Actually All Of You who are responsible for the ongoing pandemic, and their surrogates have identified the sentient steroid piñata as the unvaccinated Pied Piper.
To be sure, Rogan's detractors are generally not wrong about him. He is an uncouth, ignorant oaf, and earnestly holds some of the dumbest beliefs concocted by a human brain. He confidently asserts easily verifiable lies and repeatedly platforms some of the most wretched personalities in the media ecosystem. I'm confident that given five minutes, I could convince him that the reason Russians are so good at domesticating bears is that they all have the same blood type. What he is not, however, is a movement leader. He has no political ambitions, and while wildly opinionated, he cannot be said to pose a real threat to the establishment beyond mainstreaming unconventional ideas. The logo for his podcast features his face in a frenzied grin, with a third eye superimposed on his forehead. A cynical if tacit admission, one that he frequently reasserts on his show, that he is not to be taken seriously. Of course that is the point of cultivating an unserious brand. You get to invite serious guests to have serious conversations about serious topics, and then you get to claim that no one is supposed to pay attention to you. This would be fair and correct if people in fact did not pay attention to him. Rogan's unwillingness or inability to acknowledge his influence is an indictment of his judgement, but it's the natural result of a media environment that rewards sensationalism and that is a climate the political establishment has been nurturing for far longer than Joe Rogan has been speaking into a microphone.
People tune in to JRE because they are exposed to thoughts they would not hear otherwise. Many of Rogan's highest profile guests are wholly discredited frauds like Elon Musk and Jordan Peterson, but the people pointing that out are mostly self-styled Responsible Adults with no credibility or trustworthiness outside their own insular orbits. Legacy admissions with "qualifications" and years of "experience" normalizing the worst excesses of capitalism, evidence that elite schools exist only to bestow upon their attendees the title of "expert." When the largest news outlets in the country are owned by billionaires and staffed by political advisers and corporate consultants, skeptics of average intelligence and media literacy look elsewhere for expertise, and they don't exercise a lot of prudence to find it.
This skepticism exists as a result of the neglect of public institutions. The government's refusal to provide basic necessities to people instills a distrust of those services, as most people have never experienced them as functional. Health care, education, infrastructure, all skeletonized for the benefit of the police and military, whose role it is to forcefully extract every ounce of wealth from the poor.
There are many reasons why the pandemic has been as disastrous as it is. If Joe Rogan can be said to be counted among them, he is one of the least consequential. The US government has not been equipped or willing to respond to a national crisis in decades. The CDC is compromised and as beholden to private enterprise as any other agency. On some level, most Americans realize that we are not in fact a representative democracy. Understanding that their aperture of personal freedom is much smaller than advertised, people seek out progressively pettier and more cruel avenues of expression. When you've sunk that low, refusing to wear a mask or get vaccinated becomes an act of defiance on par with Giles Corey, and raging against "wokeness" makes you Patrick Henry.
This is the axiom of capitalism, ensuring the state of the lower class is as precarious as possible for as long as possible. The people responsible want everyone to keep listening to them and not the hairless ape with the radio show. Kicking him off Spotify solves exactly zero problems, he exists because the United States created the conditions for someone exactly like him. Only a country run by people like Joe Biden can produce people like Donald Trump, and to some, only people like Joe Rogan can make sense of it.