Posting will be lighter this week, as duck duties are consuming an inordinate amount of time, especially protecting the brood (and Honey) from people chasing or disturbing them and from marauding drakes with lovin’ on their minds. Bear with me.
In her New York Times op-ed this week, Bari Weiss ponders the increasing popularity of podcasts, particularly those of Joe Rogan, and floats the idea that podcasts are “eating the lunch” of print media. Now I’ve never listened to Joe Rogan, but several of my friends have been on his show, and I know he has fans everywhere—and wields enormous social-media power. I wanted to discuss two issues, but first read the article:
First, I am curious about what readers think about podcasts versus print. While pondering the future of this website—and believe me, I’m not thinking about ending it and taking up podcasting—I do see that many people who formerly ran websites or wrote books, people like Sam Harris and Lawrence Krauss, are taking to podcasting. In fact, that is now Sam’s main way to disseminate his views and stay relevant. Why? According to Weiss, two reasons. First, podcasts are convenient—unlike reading, you can absorb them while doing other stuff:
Reading or watching the news is no longer immersive, as it was when you sat down with a bunch of papers or in front of a living room TV. Now it is a fragmented experience, usually done on a cellphone.
“The problem,” he told me, “is that the cellphone also has YouTube videos of the craziest things ever — babies landing on cats and animal attacks and naked people.”
Why would you read a 2,000-word story about the collapse of health care in Venezuela when you can zone out with some TikToks?
“Nobody ever thought: We need to gear our entertainment, our media, to people who cook, who jog, who hike, people who drive. Even books on tape can require too much thinking.” But a podcast, he said, “doesn’t require that much thinking at all. You get captivated by the conversation. One of the things about this medium in general is that it’s really easy to listen to while you do other stuff.”
Journalism is one thing that podcasters are competing with: Why read a profile of Elon Musk with staid quotes when you can listen to him get high and riff for two hours in Rogan’s studio? Television is another.
I have to confess that I’m immune to podcasts. When I want to occupy myself, I read print on paper (I’m now enjoying the hell out of Flannery O’Connor’s short stories), and when I want diversion when I’m cooking or cleaning, it would be listening to music or having television on in the background, just for the sound. This is probably a character flaw of some sort: I am able to absorb information almost entirely through reading, and don’t really enjoy hearing discussions, even when they’re by smart people on intriguing subjects. (That said, I do watch the evening news and am not immune to discussions like the one I recently posted between Ricky Gervais and Richard Dawkins.) I can’t even read stuff online: virtually everything I want to read carefully, or post about, I have to copy and paste into a Word document and then print out. Maybe it’s my age—brought up in an era without Internet. (I even remember rotary-dial phones!)
The second reason, and one explanation of why Rogan just sold his show to Spotify for about $100 million, is that podcasts aren’t afraid to take on controversial subjects, and haven’t bowed to what Weiss calls the increased delicacy of the “prestige press” (which presumably includes the New York Times). Good podcasts, unlike the liberal media, don’t have to frame their stories so they don’t get “backlash on Twitter”. (The NYT, probably to Weiss’s distress, has become more and more a version of HuffPost, catering to the sensibilities of the Authoritarian Left. See here for one example). As Weiss says:
The timing of Rogan’s rise and the Old Guard’s disintegration is not coincidental. His success was made possible, at least in part, by legacy media’s blind spots.
While GQ puts Pharrell gowned in a yellow sleeping bag on the cover of its “new masculinity” issue (introduced by the editor explaining that the men’s magazine “isn’t really trying to be exclusively for or about men at all”), Joe Rogan swings kettlebells and bow-hunts elk. Men are hungry. He’s serving steak, rare. Condé Nast, GQ’s publisher, has laid off some 100 employees since the pandemic began. Meantime, “The Joe Rogan Experience” has 190 million downloads a month.
Here’s that cover, which I well remember, touting the vices of toxic masculinity and the virtues of androgynous men:
. . . Indeed, you can rely on Rogan to talk about just about anything at all.
Take the minefield of gender identity. When he talks about the sensitive topic — one that has become nearly untouchable inside the institutional world — there is none of the throat-clearing I’ve become used to.
“There is no balanced perspective to say: Be free! Change your pronouns, change your name, be whoever you want,” Rogan said. “On the Fox News side they want to say ‘This is left-wing lunacy and everyone’s losing their mind.’”
At the same time, on the left, “there’s an aggressive, progressive doctrine that has to be followed, and followed with full compliance and no room for debate,” he said. “When it comes to competition, especially combat sports, with transwomen fighting biological women, people are so progressive they let that slide, to the point that biological women are getting pushed over.”
“Nobody wants to touch it because nobody wants the blowback.”
In other words, and I emphasize again that I haven’t listened to a single Rogan show, he seems to appeal to those who don’t want a heavy dose of social-justice warriorism: to people like Bill Maher, Bret Weinstein, Bari Weiss—or me.
Other reasons Weiss floats for Rogan’s popularity include his strong anti-censorship stand, even for commercial venues like YouTube that don’t have to follow the First Amendment. As Rogan says, “What has made society better today than it was hundreds of years ago is not just our prosperity. It’s the evolution of ideas. Anything that wants to limit discussion is dangerous to the evolution of ideas.” And I agree with him.
To Weiss, who seems to fear for the future of not just journalism but also her own job (“Every day it seems another blue check mark with a degree from the right college hangs up her pixelated-shingle, while the rest of us avert our eyes, hoping we won’t be next.”), Rogan’s popularity is evidence against the idea that “the elite left controls the culture.”
So, here are my discussion questions for readers. First, do you think podcasting is the future of news and discussion, and will increasingly replace reading, either from a screen or from a paper page? Do you listen to podcasts more than you used to? If so, why? (I, for one, worry that podcasts will replace novels and nonfiction books, even though those kinds of books—including both of my trade books— are on audio discs or download-able.) Do you read a lot less on paper or Kindle than you used to?
Also, do you listen to Rogan, and if so, do you like the show? If so, why? Do you think his success rests on his flouting the guidelines for the “elite media”?