Remember Dr. Oz? He rose to popularity in the 2000s, as an “expert” on various talk shows, and then later, of course, his own talk show. Regrettably, his education as a surgeon and his long standing post at Columbia University did not prevent him from touting all kinds of garbage on this show, from dodgy supplements to questionable weight loss products.
When it came to nutrition questions, and wonderings in 2000s, Dr. Oz came up A LOT. So much so, that I figured IF I had a list of people to kill (that’s a reference to a scene from Billy Madison), Dr. Oz would absolutely be on that list.
Well, what was “Dr. Oz said” in the 2000s became “I heard on Joe Rogan” in the 2020s.
At first, I mostly ignored all things Joe Rogan, but then my baby brother messaged me a few years ago, asking about this nutrition thing he heard about on Joe Rogan’s podcast, and was it true? That’s when it really came on my radar. Young peoples were getting their nutrition and fitness information from Joe Rogan now, and this was now officially MY business.
So, what’s this 4-hour podcast monstrosity, and how do I feel about it?
On one hand, it is THE most popular podcast in the world. On the other hand, someone told me that ONLY alt-right crazies can possibly listen to that podcast. I mean…. Okayyyyy, no. But, hmmm….. Right?
JRE fans usually quote relatability, length, breadth and exposure as pros of the show.
It’s hard to argue with relatability.
If Dr. Oz became popular as “an expert”, Joe Rogan became popular as “an everyday guy”. Joe is someone you’d grab a beer with. Joe does not use big words, and he never makes you feel stupid. It’s “us regular folk” vs. “all those scientist smartie pants”. He’s all about UFC, hunting, and comedy - the holy trinity of everyday American Joe. JOE! Even his name is common and every day and relatable and non-threatening. He’s a dude version of “a girl next door”.
Length is a strangely macho thing to wave around as a strength. Like…. “But look how LONG!”.
Really? That’s where we are at?
The longer, the… better?
Once I get away from phallic humour (which is… hard. So HARD. Ok, I should really stop), I guess I COULD see some upsides. Instead of having brilliant people show up on mainstream television and have to present their knowledge and experience in 10-second snippets, invite them to do a four hour interview. No limit to how deep we can go! Cool. Cool.
I’ll give Joe Rogan points for breadth and exposure. Topics vary from nutrition to music to philosophy, and Joe does not seem to shy away from inviting people he disagrees with. Folks who would normally be forever invisible to the public eye, get a large (very large!) public platform. Get on Joe Rogan, become known to the masses. Giving a platform to people who should be heard seems like a good thing. But, WHO should be heard is decided through Joe-lens, and I feel like that lens has a pretty wicked bend in it.
This is where I feel like I have done my due diligence considering the potential upsides, and can switch to all the things that grind my gears about JRE.
While JRE’s bro-ey vibe is enough to turn me off, I’m more concerned about:
The invariable result of a layperson interviewing the expert, is that you end up with grossly oversimplified takeaways where all nuance is gone. This is how “meat has lots of protein, and protein is good for you” turns into “you should only eat meat, and vegetables are bad”.
Expert says a thing.
Joe: So what you are saying is - twists the thing to fit his own agenda.
Expert (visibly appalled): "Well, no, not quite". *tries to bring nuance back, and mostly fails.
Repeat ad infinitum.
When two people are put side by side, the impression of equivalence is created - no matter how false that impression might be. Registered dietician and Reiki master are not equally equipped to discuss nutrition, and yet… if it’s happening on JRE, it very well appears so.
Few years ago, Rogan dropped a false story in an episode without fact checking - the story has already been debunked by multiple sources. Joe issued an apology, and managed to make even THAT relatable and endearing. Everyone makes mistakes!
Everyone DOES make mistakes, however, a lack of due process of fact checking, given the size of the platform, is concerning, to put it mildly.
This was not the only instance of Rogan saying something and then walking it back to “I was a moron” days later. Unfortunately, I doubt his audience is keeping close track of the walkbacks.
Mainstream media has its downsides, however, proofread-condense-spell check-fact check flow is standard. Meanwhile, “alternative sources of information” is JRE and some other dude’s YouTube channel. Who the hell is keeping track of the walkbacks and “oopsies” that only show up on Twitter?
In Joe Rogan land, “smart” is an insult, and ignorance is displayed as a badge. We, simple folk, is “we”, and scientists are “they”, and what do “they” know anyway? This shift has been happening for a while - Tom Nichols talks about it in “Death of Expertise” - in less than a decade we went from peer reviewed something (anything!) to cute reels as sources of information. Today, Joe Rogan is telling me what to eat, and whether or not to get vaccinated, and IG mom is telling me how to parent my children. And that’s… terrifying.
And this brings me to Chinese food.
I’ve been approaching Joe Rogan the same way I approach really greasy really shitty Chinese food.
It’s Thursday night. Your friends are hungry, there is nothing else around, so you get some. You eat it, and you almost enjoy it. Almost. If not for all that cognitive dissonance.
It’s not good for you.
It’s not even that… good.
Oh, and you really hope your neighbors don’t see you.
It is (maybe) worth it.
Like… once a year.