Aaron Rodgers has earned a couple of hundred million dollars playing quarterback, supposedly the most cerebral position on the football field, for the Green Bay Packers. Yet, when faced with the prospect of getting vaccinated for Covid-19, he chose to ignore the best medical advice and to bypass the small army of doctors at the beck and call of every NFL player. Instead, he sought out the healing counsel of Joe Rogan, a stand-up comedian, podcast host, and UFC commentator who infamously treated his own case of the virus with a cocktail of drugs including Ivermectin, ordinarily prescribed to humans battling parasitic worms.
When the unvaccinated Rodgers revealed this information while explaining his positive test last week, some of the shock that greeted the revelation was misplaced. After all, he is 37 years old and therefore a member of the 18-40 male demographic that has long been in thrall to Rogan, the college drop-out from Massachusetts who is the voice of this generation the same way Howard Stern was the soundtrack for their fathers. Where Stern slung schlock and soft porn, pushing the boundaries of commercial radio, Rogan peddles pseudo-science, platforms conspiracy theorists and exudes the tiresome, brolic machismo of a meathead messiah.
Rogan is the go-to retailer of all manner of quackery for those who think evincing ignorance makes them appear edgy
“Few men in America are as popular among American men as Joe Rogan,” wrote Devin Gordon in an exploration of his popularity for The Atlantic magazine. “It’s a massive group congregating in plain sight, and it’s made up of people you know from high school, guys who work three cubicles down, who are still paying off student loans, who forward jealous-girlfriend memes, who spot you at the gym. Single guys. Married guys. White guys, black guys, Dominican guys. Two South Asian friends of mine swear by him. My college roommate. My little brother. Normal guys. American guys.”
Spotify paid Rogan in excess of $100 million for his ability to draw just those people in huge numbers to his podcast. The singular nature of his audience also explains why a politician like Senator Bernie Sanders (11 million downloads) or an attention-seeking entrepreneur like Elon Musk (24 million) or any from a slew of respected academics have agreed to sit down with him. They wanted the reach and the price they pay for it is joining a line-up of guests that includes foul characters like Alex Jones (the man who denied the Sandy Hook massacre ever happened). Not to mention their CVs now include appearing on a show whose host has been accused, quite regularly and with cause, of being homophobic, transphobic and Islamophobic.
Sitting down with Harvard dons is a long way from the night 24 years ago when Rogan, then best known as a comic and sitcom actor, conducted backstage interviews at UFC 12, an event so frowned upon by polite society that, due to licensing issues, it was held at the Dothan Civic Center in rural Alabama. He did the gig for free because, as a former national Tae Kwon Do champion, he loved the concept of caged combat. Last Saturday night, after a four-month hiatus, he was back on the microphone as colour commentator at UFC 268 in Madison Square Garden. In the near quarter century in between, his star has risen with the sport, both moving almost in tandem from the fringes to the mainstream.
Even allowing for the contribution hosting NBC’s Fear Factor made to his burgeoning celebrity along the way, his lengthy association with the octagon during an era when it captured the imagination of American adolescents has always afforded him increased credibility with those more driven by testosterone than deep thought. Some MMA purists may complain that these days he’s not as informed about the game as he should be but, in a sport where fanciful exaggeration and childish over-exuberance are the default settings, he continues to bring an uncritical fan-boy’s eye to proceedings. Shamelessly so.
“If I’m talking about fighters and fights, I’m always very respectful, I treat it with reverence,” said Rogan, explaining his giddy approach to providing analysis during contests. “I’m trying to do my very best, to give life with these words, to honour what they are doing. That’s what I’m trying to do. My goal is, I’m like a professional fan and I know enough about it to make it a little bit more exciting, and I’m a comedian so I can give a little flavour to things. I want to enhance the broadcast.”
Of course, his impact now stretches far beyond breathlessly obsequious post-fight interviews with Conor McGregor et al. At a time when so many no longer prize expertise and openly distrust scientific knowledge, Rogan is the go-to retailer of all manner of quackery for those who think evincing ignorance makes them appear edgy. His podcast is a one-stop snake oil shop for the kind of misguided buffoons who, like Rodgers, believe they are uniquely qualified to conduct their own research and to unearth new treatments that are somehow beyond the ken of those who spend their entire working lives battling contagion.
They have put their faith in a demagogue for the dexamethasone generation who injects himself with testosterone, takes human growth hormone (HGH) and shills for his own, invariably dodgy, brand of brain supplements. Yet, the same fella thought a recent Australian television show sketch mocking him and his myopic followers was official government anti-vaxx propaganda. Like so much to do with him, a joke that isn’t funny anymore.