Should Spotify remove Joe Rogan's 'redskins' broadcast?
The science of cancel culture and Rogan's scientific hypocrisy when it comes to tribal origin stories.
Do you remember that time in March 2020, just as everything was shutting down in observance of something called “the COVID-19 pandemic” that Joe Rogan invited Shannon Keller O’Loughlin, chief executive of the Association on American Indian Affairs, onto his popular podcast, which is now in the news for all the wrong reasons?
I was too busy at that moment preparing for impending doom and gloom, wondering when the kids would go back to school, and I was still asking every time anyone in the house went out without me if they saw anyone wearing a mask. (I thought that was an improbable prospect because the only American I knew to regularly wear a mask in public to that point was Michael Jackson, and we all know how that turned out. Plus, the CDC was saying that masks weren’t helpful against this particular virus in those early days — a public health messaging sin that’s contributed to lacking masking compliance ever since.)
Fast forward to last summer when I apparently had some spare time on my hands, and the YouTube algorithm Gods for some reason decided that I needed to know that Keller O’Loughlin had sat for an interview with Rogan for over two-and-a-half hours as he quizzed her on every aspect of being Indian, as if this one Choctaw lady could give him the definitive answers he was looking for, and he’d be all set.
This was show #1442 of his “Joe Rogan Experience.” I couldn’t help but wonder if he wished he would have waited 50 more shows to interview her, so that he could have served up a special 1492-themed podcast in which he could have endlessly and ignorantly interrupted what he appeared to hope at that time could become his very own token Indian.
Still, I was fascinated. Rogan — having previously been a stand-up comedian, whom I knew better as the former host of Fear Factor, where he cheered on people who chose to eat bugs for money, and as a background member of the cast of Phil Hartman’s NewsRadio — was interested in interviewing an Indian lawyer about tribal-federal law, the establishment of reservations, the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, and DNA testing? What mess might this turn out to be?
Judging from the sometimes pained expression on Keller O’Loughlin’s face as the show progressed, I knew she might have been thinking the same thing.
“I’m glad you were willing to come here,” Rogan said in kicking off the interview with a sly grin, hinting that he knew his background might cause some discomfort for this particular interviewee.
Maybe he was thinking that she knew he regularly used the N-word on the show? Maybe she knew that Bernie Sanders had gotten slammed by liberals for touting Rogan’s endorsement before the shock jock decided to support libertarian Jo Jorgensen over Joe Biden, because he claimed Biden lacked the the mental acuity to be POTUS? Maybe — being the mystical, all-knowing Indian that he seemed to think her to be — she could foresee that Neil Young, Joni Mitchell and several other musical artists would two years later be pulling their music off Spotify because they didn’t want to exist in the same moneymaking sphere as Rogan’s ongoing pseudo-scientific beliefs about the coronavirus?
Or maybe she simply knew, once arriving at the studio and really settling in, that this had greater potential to be a shit show rather than a teachable moment.
If so — spoiler alert — she was wrong. I learned a lot, although probably nothing I was supposed to learn.
“I’ve always been, sort of, peripherally interested, but never really delved into it until I read Empire of the Summer Moon,” Rogan immediately started, unclear if by “it” he meant into Indigenous people, tribes, Native culture, law, or what.
“Have you read that?” he asked off the bat. “S. C. Gwynne's book about the Comanches and about the Texas Rangers. And it’s such a crazy story that I just became obsessed.” (Rogan had read the book in late 2019 and then had its author on his show, which seemed to instill in him a particular fondness for Cynthia Ann Parker, mother of the historic Comanche Chief Quanah Parker.)
“No,” Keller O’Loughlin responded simply, as he rambled on, talking over her about other books he had sometime in the past read about Indians.
Rogan later called Quanah Parker “the last Comanche chief,” after which Keller O’laughlin reminded him that the Comanche Nation still exists today; they still have leaders. Mark Woomavovah, in fact, is the tribe’s current chairman. Some even call him Chief Woomavovah.
“Cultures aren’t static, and we’re not static,” Keller O’Laughlin said. “One of the major issues that American Indians have is that we’re often stereotyped into this picture, and if we don’t fit that, then we’re not legitimately Indian.”
“So are you 100 percent Native American?” Rogan went on to ask her. “What percentage are you?”
No one would ever ask an African-American person what percentage Black they are, but there it was happening, as it so often does, to an American Indian advocate live on air, and Rogan was concurrently framing this as an enlightened conversation.
Keller O’Loughlin’s brow furled.
“Is that racist for me to say that?” Rogan asked, sensing her tension.
Yep, actually it is problematic, she noted; blood quantum was a way for the U.S. government to historically limit the number of Native Americans.
He later said the word “redskins” in referring to the former name of the Washington football team now known as the Commanders, despite complaints from the famous T-Bone and Heather.
“Is that an offensive word…me even saying it, is that offensive?” he asked, again, surely all in the name of enlightenment.
“Yes, yes,” Keller O’Loughlin responded. “The majority of Native American groups, tribes, they’ve all let the team know that that name is offensive.”
I’m not one to say that Rogan, or that one program, should be pulled from Spotify because he said the R-word, a verifiable racial slur — although I understand Spotify’s rationale for removing the many episodes in which he has previously said the N-Word — but what happened next in the interview is what really intrigues me, given the current controversies surrounding him and his program.
When Rogan asked Keller O’Loughlin about the Bering Strait Land Bridge theory regarding the populating of the Americas, she noted that most tribes have their own origin stories, and they feel they are valid.
“There’s a lot to unpack there that science really has ignored,” she said.
Rogan seemed shocked that an educated person like Keller O’Loughlin could believe in the validity of any origin story, specifically a Choctaw one that says their people came from the Earth, which she explained to him.
“You understand how, scientifically, that would be a real problem, — people coming out of the ground, like poppies,” Rogan said. “That seems highly unlikely.”
“We have a clear line from ancient hominids to modern human beings that science has been able to piece together,” he added, noting the science behind evolution.
Yes, criticism of Native American origin stories is rational and right, according to Rogan, due to…drum roll, please…science.
But skepticism of COVID-19 vaccines, which science has also created, is justified.
It doesn’t take a scientist (or a journalist) to tell you that there is a logical problem to that way of thinking.
Rogan, it seems, ultimately believes in science, but where he draws the line is perplexing.
At one point, early in the program featuring Keller O’Loughlin, he said that as everything was shutting down due to COVID-19, it made him think about how Indians didn’t have immunity to the diseases that Europeans carried with them upon contact.
Those words tell me he understood back in March 2020 that immunity was and is important — better immunity could have saved more Indians, he was suggesting — and he believed back then that science was also important.
So why since then has he promoted so many anti-vaccine theories on his program that have gotten him into trouble with the artists and members of the general public who now criticize him?
The science is possibly wrong on vaccines is what Rogan would tell you, but he believes on faith that the science is right about tribal origin stories being wrong.
How can Rogan be so absolutist here?
My hunch is because origin stories involve experiences that happened long ago that Rogan feels more comfortable in trusting science to debunk them. Maybe, in his mind, there is more scientific evidence against them, too.
Since the COVID-19 vaccines have been developed in our recent lifetimes, he feels like he’s more of an equal to the scientists who have promoted the importance of the immunity that they say is created by these vaccines.
That this situation has wildly increased Rogan’s visibility hasn’t hurt his desire to question COVID-related science, I’m also betting.
If he wants to continue down controversial paths, I’d suggest now reversing course against another aspect of science and start supporting tribal origin stories. The esteemed Vine Deloria Jr. wrote a whole book in 1995 about this topic that could give him some excellent talking points: Red Earth, White Lies.
Read the book, become a champion of the Native people’s origin stories, Joe. That’d really get ‘em. And it would be logically consistent with your current views on science all at the same time.
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