Will activists within Spotify wrangle in Rogan?
By Matthew Fraser, Opinions Editor
Everyone has an opinion and some people want theirs to be heard. In this modern day and age, social media is the new soapbox with which to shout your opinions at the masses; few, however, attract the attention of the masses. After a decade plus of releasing podcasts, Joe Rogan has made an undeniable name for himself as the king of the long form interview podcast. With guests who run the gamut from popular politicians like Bernie Sanders to crass comedian Bill Burr, Joe Rogan has made it clear that he can talk to just about anyone and his audience will love it. So, it seemed that a partnership with the world’s biggest streaming company would be a match made in heaven; yet the Rogan $100-million Spotify deal did not account for one thing: disgruntled activists within Spotify. Somehow, Spotify CEO Daniel Ek could not predict the outcry of the “woke” employees at his company and now, more than ten meetings have been held discussing the Joe Rogan Experience and any “editing” that Spotify may do to episodes. If nothing else, the calls for internal “oversight” prove that some people are unaware of the product they sell and the consumers they attract.
One of the main claims launched against Rogan is that he is “transphobic.” In this modern day and age that alone would get most people canceled and yet Rogan has weathered the storm. I attribute this to the fact that most people making this accusation neither know what that word means nor know what it is that Rogan said to deserve the charge. In 2013, Rogan (also a commentator for the UFC) spoke about a transgendered MMA fighter named Fallon Fox. Rogan’s (very profane) comments basically amounted to declaring that a body biologically born as a male should not be allowed to fight in female martial arts. For most people, the idea of a man being locked in a cage to fight a woman for 15 to 25 minutes is crazy and clearly dangerous, yet somehow, that statement has ballooned into “transphobia” (defined by Merriam-Webster as an irrational fear or hatred of transgendered people). Adding fuel to the fire, Rogan has used his podcast to not only talk about transgendered people but to question the age at which transitioning is acceptable; in a recent episode with Abigail Shrier, Rogan discussed the rising number of young biological girls identifying as transgender boys, the age at which this happens, and any connection that may be founded with social media. Throughout this interview, Rogan and Shrier made it clear that their concern was with people too young to understand the gravity and finality of their choice and who didn’t have the information necessary to make an informed decision. In my opinion, not exactly irrational by any reasonable standard, nor could it be defined as hateful. However, Spotify employees consider it to be an episode worth censoring.
Yet, what made Joe Rogan’s podcast so interesting and attractive was his off-the-cuff and uncensored style. People want the Rogan who talks about chimps and badgers guests about hallucinogenic experiences. People want a show where the only agenda is curiosity and idea testing. Clearly, someone in Spotify had no idea what they were buying when they made this deal. To any fan of the JRE who thought this deal was selling out, they have now been vindicated. It’s not surprising that a corporate behemoth would be riddled with “woke” activists. The fact that a group of people within Spotify have managed to keep roughly 40 JRE episodes off the platform and are now trying to have editorial control including “trigger warnings, sensitive content warnings, and fact checking” is evidence only of how poorly thought out this was.
If the game plan within the Spotify boardroom was to bring Joe Rogan and all his fans into the Spotify subscription base, every effort to censor Rogan will hurt that end goal. Case in point, Spotify lost approximately $4.81 billion in share value as the controversy surfaced. Some may argue that tech stocks had a bad week all around, but the Rogan controversy can’t have helped. A company that big having staff members threaten to walk-out if they are not given control over Rogan’s work does not inspire confidence in either consumers or shareholders.
No matter how much I hope that the JRE will remain unmolested after this Spotify rebellion, I am completely and totally unsurprised by it. There is nothing shocking about “cancel culture” rearing its head within Spotify to snap at Joe Rogan and it was only a matter of time before he grew large enough for a mob to successfully impede him. Still, I hope Rogan had some good lawyers go over the contract before he signed it and I certainly hope he is using some of that money to get some more now.