For all the talk about Joe Rogan and cancel culture last week, the situation doesn’t really lend itself to any narrative of an out-of-control community of censorious wokeists forcing society to cater to their arbitrary whims. Rogan may be facing a lot of criticism for multiple uses of the n-word and other derogatory comments about Black people on his podcast — to say nothing of COVID-19 misinformation — but that criticism hasn’t led to any actual repercussions. His $100 million deal with Spotify remains intact, and his podcast remains the nation’s most popular with 11 million downloads per episode. According to the Hollywood Reporter, Spotify CEO Daniel Ek acknowledged that Rogan’s comments were “incredibly hurtful” but said Spotify will continue to host the podcast.
“I want to make one point very clear — I do not believe that silencing Joe is the answer,” Ek wrote in a letter to the Spotify staff. “We should have clear lines around content and take action when they are crossed, but canceling voices is a slippery slope.”
Far from illustrating just how big of a deal so-called “cancel culture” is in the U.S., the whole episode seems rather to demonstrate its stark limitations. Last week, artist India.Arie resurfaced a compilation of Rogan saying the n-word and comparing being around a group of Black people to Planet of the Apes, which led to Rogan apologizing and removing 71 episodes of his show from Spotify. By the weekend, around 113 episodes had been removed, by Rogan’s choice. He is still free to continue building his vast platform, amassing far more wealth and resources than any of us will ever have. If this is getting canceled, may we all be so lucky.
Rogan was already facing criticism for hosting some COVID-19 vaccine skeptics, which had led to artists like Neil Young and Joni Mitchell to pull their music from the streaming giant in protest while other artists raised concerns about Spotify’s paltry payments to musicians. But Rogan’s offensive comments about Black people drew an enormous level of scrutiny.
But all the scrutiny in the world can’t force Spotify to take any real action. Cultural commentators swarmed with takes about the woke mob out for Rogan’s head, but unless the argument is that Rogan shouldn’t be criticized for using racial slurs, it’s hard to see what exactly they’re upset about.
Tyler Huckabee is RELEVANT's senior editor. He lives in Nashville with his wife, dog and Twitter account.