Oh, to have the confidence of a mediocre, straight, cisgender white male. Especially the Gen X breed that came of age during economic prosperity and relative geopolitical steadiness, well-loved by monied Boomer parents and primed to be the willfully obtuse scourges of society. They will mansplain feminism to an ACLU lawyer fighting a Planned Parenthood case in the same breath that they will back the blue to a Black Lives Matter activist. They are the contrarian f*ckboys, and while they might not have things like consequences in their lives, they certainly have heroes. Two of whom, Joe Rogan and Bill Maher, gathered for a cheeky tête a tête this week to throw fuel on any libertarian conspiracy theory or problematic social justice fires of their liking.
It’s hard to fathom that the Joe Rogan universe can get any more obnoxious than it already is — but somehow, bringing on Bill Maher to discuss all manner of things that don’t pertain to them, yet deserve their weighty opinions, feels like the zenith of the Joe Rogan Experience. The two pop culture blowhards began the episode by blustering about Covid. Maher stokes distrust in the CDC with jokes about whether “the stuff they put in Twinkies” or rocket fuel is in the vaccine, while also suggesting that medical professionals can’t be trusted because it wasn’t too long ago that we were “rubbing dirt into wounds.” He pontificates, joint in hand, with no sense of the sickening privilege also wafting around the room, overlooking almost one million Americans dead and the harrowing experiences of healthcare workers since the dawn of the pandemic.
Of course, they take issue with “cancel culture,” with Maher suggesting that it’s a method of silencing people (when ironically, he wasn’t even silenced when he used the N-word on his own show). The two pseudo scientists label Twitter’s takedowns of pandemic conspiracy theories as censorship; they say that Covid came from a lab, not from animals, and are aghast that the topic has become such a political dividing line in the first place. (Fox News is already recirculating this talking point from the episode.) They ignore how accusing China of creating Covid has perpetuated hate crimes against Asians. Rogan chimes in with what could be a slogan for his chatty demographic: “If you don’t talk about it, something crazy is going on.” It’s a moment in the episode where Maher and Rogan’s lack of self-awareness betrays them: even when they’re inching towards a real discussion, their insistent pearl-clutching about the idea being controversial belies any legitimacy in their arguments.
But if the two had any salient moments, they were quick to undo them when it got to the topic of political ideologies and social justice. Maher tries to insinuate that he hasn’t changed, but that the world just has. It isn’t a new idea; as people get older, it’s normal to feel out of step with the way the world is heading. But with the carnival portrait Maher paints of today’s social justice causes, he takes his argument from a calmer stance on fiscal conservatism to a fever pitch of volleying slurs against minorities. As Maher asserts that he and Rogan are just “common sensical” and that the left has just “gotten goofier,” he says, “five years ago, no one was talking about abolishing the police; there was no talk about pregnant men; looting was still illegal.” In one run-on sentence, he manages to reduce three different causes into their least digestible stereotypes. Rogan is there all the while to have his back though, giggling and nodding along. He adds, “HBO isn’t saying it until you say it on HBO,” giving the episode even more of a masturbatory tone. It’s all nothing new in the Rogan-verse — but if you have fragile nerves, you might want to skip the listen, kind of like Rogan and Maher skip critical thinking.