Joe Rogan & Kayfabe
Loving the laws of physics and hating fakers.
What you have to understand about Joe Rogan is that he hates kayfabe. It’s one of the reasons that I admire him and what I’ve seen of his podcasts. It’s also the reason I admire the UFC and it is the reason I distrust Rogan’s detractors.
For those unfamiliar with the term, kayfabe is basically everything people in my generation have experienced with professional wrestling since we were kids. The knowledge that it is staged and despite the athleticism displayed, it is all scripted. I grew up in Los Angeles, where the famed Olympic Auditorium downtown was the stage set for both professional wrestling and roller derby. Long before the WWF existed and mutated into the WWE (I have no idea what they are called now) we kids had heroes with names like Freddie Blassie who was only finally eclipsed by the one and only Bruce Lee. We boys practiced our wrestling moves on the front lawn and I was pretty good. I learned how to execute a ‘figure four’ which allows the performer to put enormous pressure on their opponent’s tibia. I understood what the wrestlers did was real, but even as a kid, I knew something was phony about it. Same thing with roller derby. Same thing with journalism. Same thing with anything that can be said to comprise a narrative, which of course include domestic politics and much of what occupies the chatting classes.
There was not so long ago an interesting article which fleshed out something I recognized in my own profession, which is the number of people who make six figures primarily by typing at keyboards into cyberspace and their predominance in endurance sports like running, cycling and swimming. It might be a stereotype, but as a cyclist and inveterate backpacker, I confess and confirm that these activities are appealing precisely because of their disjoint qualities. Coders are expected, in reality as well as film, to reach into a bag of tricks, type a few lines of code and disintermediate entire industries, or pass through impenetrable barriers, or connect millions of people to vital information. All through the power of mind. After years of doing exactly that on a much smaller scale, these evanescent virtues lose their luster. Cycling up that canyon road with 1500 feet of elevation, now that’s real. So much of our world is virtual, so long do we dwell in uninteresting versions of The Matrix, our souls cry out for harsh reality, even if it’s just eating spicy food or watching something that cannot be faked. Before COVID, I was a member of the local UFC gym, and I was just about to enroll in some form of pugilism classes, then I saw Michael Osterholm on the JRE 1439. I crave reality. I hate fakery. I am prototypical, even stereotypical in that. The apotheosis of the person a hacker wants to be is David Goggins.
What does sports have to do with Joe Rogan? Everything. Here’s why. If you play a sport, you know the rules. You know all the rules and you can watch anybody in the world play that sport and know if they are doing well or doing poorly. You can’t say that about interpretive dance. You can’t say that about foreign policy. You can’t say that about critical theory. You can’t say that about a large number of crypto-intellectual pursuits that are just as likely full of skill as they are full of bullshit. So you need critics, honest brokers, to help you tell the difference. But the thing about sports, is that it’s a working class pastime. Maybe not endurance cycling on $6,000 carbon composite bicycles, but certainly baseball, football, hockey and basketball. Used to be that boxing was in that category too, but it got corrupted beyond belief. And you know what else? A RedSox fan, a serious RedSox fan will go Full Metal Good Will Hunting on your latte-sipping ass when it comes to historical analysis of the pitching staffs of that team. I like that. Hell, I love it. You know what else? Some of the greatest journalists were sports journalists, like Frank Deford, Bryant Gumbel and Howard Cosell. Some of the most brilliant thinkers were sports coaches like John Wooden, Vince Lombardi and Casey Stengall. You have to know there is a certain elite in America who despise sports. How much do you want to bet these are the same folks who despise Joe Rogan? Not only Rogan, but everything associated with him and everybody who finds him interesting. Can you say class prejudice boys and girls?
“You have no business…” is the subtext of every Joe Rogan critique I’ve heard this past week. And this makes two weeks in a row in which America has been whipsawed by the obiter dicta of a precious few who are soaking up the attention of ordinary working class Americans. Fancy intellectuals don’t watch Whoopi. They don’t watch Joe. Am I anti-intellectual? Nope. I just simply detest epistemological casuistry. Very smart people do watch Joe Rogan and they are smart the way Howard Cosell was smart. They all hate the casuistry of kayfabe. They all hate play-acting and cheats and sophisticated bodewash. They love the essence of harsh competition and what preparing yourself to push your body to the limit does to your character. They love what making no excuses and pushing through as the most rigorous proof means. So do I. So do you. So do the skateboarders in all their fail videos. So do the coordinated dancers in their Instagram reels. So do the cup stackers. Even if it means 300 takes. Even it if takes 3000. Just to do that one seemingly impossible thing.
Rogan, like so many other podcasters, has found a simple tried and true format for discussing things that are very interesting to smart people who appreciate honest effort. It’s the long format. The long format is great because it gives a big chunk of time for things that take a long time to explain and have lots of interesting details. Done properly, it’s not about soundbites. Joe Rogan’s soundbites are 10 minutes long because they are real conversations the way real people talk, not voiceover commentators with scrolling texts and brightly colored infoboxes on the screen. Joe Rogan goes to the web, just like his audience can go to the web.
Speaking of which, let’s go to the web. Let’s get egregious. Let’s go to a tweet of Eric Weinstein’s that I retweeted.
Last count, JRE had well over 1700 episodes. This tweet has 10k likes. Is that big? I’m not sure. I think so. Clearly there are at least that many of us who know this trumped-up hitlist is irresponsible misinformation.
<obligatory seriousness>Apparently, Joe Rogan has said ‘nigger’ several times on his podcast. So has Dave Chappelle, to much larger audiences. Whatever, I can’t even get obligatorily serious about that. Sorry. Here’s a post for people who want to go down that rabbit hole. Please leave a comment.</obligatory seriousness>
Some of you are on to this, but let me patiently explain. If you are the sort of person who appreciates exactly the kind of stories you are likely to find a man like David Goggins telling, then you are very likely to also hate kayfabe in any of its forms. Any of you in my old tribe of Blue Star Families and the tribe I honor but am glad not to be a member of, Gold Star Families, I’m sure you know as well. Some people go far beyond the ordinary. I’m talking about physical excellence and the mindset required to achieve and sustain it. I’m talking about pushing the human body to the very limit the laws of physics allow it. It’s something a lot of us desire to try, experience or master. We highly respect those who do, and we like to talk about them, honestly and during these dark, cynical and fragile times, bravely. Anybody who knows anything about Joe Rogan knows he is self-evidently fascinated by the subject of extreme human performance. It goes beyond UFC sports to life extension (Peter Attia), and a host of other related topics, not the least of which is experimentation with a mind-bending array of drugs (Michael Pollan).
So here’s the best information I have found on Ivermectin. (And a pox on anyone who dares call it ‘horse dewormer’.) As far as I’m concerned this is one of the most beautiful, richly researched and timely websites ever. Do take note. It’s also not fake. BTW. Joe Rogan is not distributing the drug. That would be Merck. Follow the money.
I do want to point out an idea that I have long held, going on 30 years now, that was surfaced in a way that pertains strictly to media. What the enemies of Rogan have found a way to do is capture a moment of public attention, rather in the same way that our prior President did on the eve of his election defeat. They have no deep or longterm commitment to presenting a wide variety of information in a complex and free-roaming format that serves the self-determination of a curious public. They suppress dissent with short loud bleats of transparently self-incriminating accusations and say their enemies are enemies of the people of America. What a narrative. This is what I call Short Attention Span Theater. Stay tuned for that essay.
In a classic essay from 1965, Johan Galtung analyzed the structure of news. He argued that the frequency with which outlets publish — daily, and now instantly — limits their ability to cover long-term positive trends. Imagine if newspapers did not come out every day but instead once every half-century. They likely wouldn’t report on half a century of gossip about celebrities and politicians. Instead, they’d focus on major global changes since the last edition. In a 50-year newspaper, the fact that global child mortality has fallen from 17 percent to 4 percent would make the front page.
I wonder if my focus on current events is making me less Stoic. I have been cursing quite a bit.