“I know nothing stays the same
But if you’re willing to play the game
It’s coming around again.” — Carly Simon
My six loyal readers missed me on Friday. At least I can keep telling myself that they did. The cold reality is that these writings have always been more for me than they have been for anyone else. It’s just a happy bonus that even one additional person finds them worthwhile.
In the intervening days, this whole Joe Rogan situation has just blown up. If we have an inkling that we’ve seen this before it’s because we probably have. At least we have seen the Neil Young portion of the proceedings before. Young has made a habit of combatting on free speech issues. Who knows? Maybe he has learned something in the intervening decades.
Stories like these have a number of layers. We should start with the deja vu all over again portion of this story. This is not censorship. Nobody has drafted any law keeping Rogan from doing what he is doing. Nobody is throwing Joe Rogan in jail for what he has been saying. Spotify is a private company that has the ability to make its own decisions regarding content. What we are seeing is that artists also have the right to choose where their art is showcased.
I think I had one Neil Young CD from back in the day. I have no idea where it is. I don’t own anything Joni Mitchell has produced. I’m not even sure if either of them have produced anything this century. I did go to a Crosby, Stills, and Nash concert once, but Young wasn’t there. That’s about as close as I have gotten to these particular artists.
However, if you take a step back, this whole story becomes fascinating. One facet is the Joe Rogan facet of the discussion. Still, that’s only the beginning. Spotify themselves are just another platform for music and podcasts, but they have taken a serious hit. Meanwhile, a boycott that started with two artists that haven’t done anything relevant in at least 30 years suddenly has grown beyond that.
The final leg in these protests has been the consumer reaction. Businesses like Spotify sign guys like Rogan because it helps expand their brand. Rogan has millions of listeners and if Spotify can be the one place you can hear it then you have to subscribe to Spotify. It makes perfect sense.
As a consumer of music and occasional consumer of podcasts I get it. There are literally hundreds of musicians and podcasts on Spotify that I would never listen to. Rogan’s is one of them. It’s not a hardcore protests on my part. He just isn’t my cup of tea. I don’t begrudge him his spot any more than I would begrudge any gangster rapper that I would never listen to. They are there for people that enjoy their work.
The question for us and for people like Rogan is what responsibility they have. Rogan is first and foremost an entertainer. He was on New Radio back in the day. He hosted Fear Factor. He was a co-host on the Man Show which lasted about 17 minutes once Jimmy Kimmel left. It’s difficult to look at that resume and somehow come away thinking he is meant to be taken seriously. I’m sure he would tell you the same thing.
Yet, he has his staunch defenders. I made this same point on Twitter last night and was lambasted by some guy that asserted that Rogan had on medical experts that know more than Dr. Fauci. Sure. Keep in mind that I said nothing negative about Rogan. All I said was that he probably wasn’t meant to be taken completely seriously.
As per usual, I want to be precise in these moments. The question was never whether Rogan had the right to say what he does, those artists have the right to pull their catalog, or consumers having the right to quit Spotify. The question was never whether Spotify had the right to pay Rogan or not pay Rogan. The question has never been a question of could. It is a question of should. Should Rogan be more responsible with his content? Should Spotify be more discerning with who they allow to broadcast on their platform? Should consumers be more responsible to vet the “information” they hear on the platform? The answer to all of those is likely yes. Yet, that answer isn’t completely satisfying either.