David Heinemeier Hansson

April 28, 2022

Rogan popped the cancel balloon

I know it's a couple of episodes ago on The Current Thing show, but remember when much of the media together with Neil Young and a motley crew of "270 health professionals" (that included dentists, consultants, students, psychologists, and a licensed marriage and family therapist) had a collective freak-out over Joe Rogan?

That episode droned on for weeks with a million think piety pieces about tHe mIsINFoRmAtiON that the world's favorite podcaster was inflicting upon the public by having a few folks with unsanctioned views on covid on his show. It even had a trending #CancelSpotify hash tag on Twitter for a minute. 'Member that?

If you do, but it seems like it was years ago already – and not just the few months that have actually passed – it's probably because The Current Thing is at once both the most important topic in the world and a memory hole to be forgotten five minutes later. And Rogan is no longer The Current Thing. (That honor now befalls Elon Musk!)

Anyway, the listening public has spoken about the grave dangers posed by the man with the microphone: It doesn't give a shit. Or, rather, whatever shits it gives are about listening more to what that guy has to say, and the guests he brings on his show. Spotify has just released the financial numbers from their first quarter, and they've continued their growth utterly unimpeded by the whole kerfuffle. More than 182 million total subscribers, up almost a fifth year over year. Oh, and Rogan's own show apparently picked up a staggering 2 million additional subscribers all by itself on account of the Streisand flattery.

It's a bold bet, but I'm going to call the top on the cancel and censorship party on account of this agitation fiasco. That doesn't mean we won't have more attempts, more piety thunk pieces, more human sacrifices to the meat roaster of heretical bonfires. Just that we're over the hill, and the next time some big-time comedian says something that's a little too funny, or a big-time podcaster shares their microphone with someone that's a little too off the official script, that it won't lead to the kind of week-long hysteria we saw with Rogan.

(Sure, the line between wishful thinking and predicting the future is thin, but hey, here I go!)

That's the problem with bringing out the big guns. When you trump up charges of crimes against humanity against a mild-mannered, broadly intellectually curious, and all-round popular podcast host, it's a big gamble! It's a BIG IF TRUE moment.

But when folks then examine the evidence for themselves, and actually listen to an episode of Rogan, even the infamous one with Dr Malone, and they fail to find even the most basic substantiation of the charges? Well, it naturally indicts the indicter rather than the indictee. 

It also leaves a permanent mark of "wait, we were freaking the fuck out over this???" in the public psyche. And that mark is still going to be there for the next time we hear the same segment cry wolf in the name of The Science.

I understand that the minimum safe distance for discussing an episode of The Current Thing is to only do so after it's finished, but I'll still venture the claim that the audience is getting more adept at picking up on the subplots. Meaning that the echoes of the Rogan episode are affecting the current Musk episode. Meaning that when the same segment invokes the same moral outrage in the same shrill tones, the discount factor applied to the message is rapidly increasing.

You always have to be careful not to tip so far that the mere presence of the shrill voices mean you take the other side out of reflex, but it's fair to say that you can easily turn the volume on them down. Way, way down.

Like all those new Spotify subscribers did.

About David Heinemeier Hansson

Made Basecamp and HEY for the underdogs as co-owner and CTO of 37signals. Created Ruby on Rails. Wrote REWORK, It Doesn't Have to Be Crazy at Work, and REMOTE. Won at Le Mans as a racing driver. Fought the big tech monopolies as an antitrust advocate. Invested in Danish startups.