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Joe Rogan is one of the most popular comedians and social commentators of our time. Rogan is known for currently known for his stand-up comedy, including his popular feature “Triggered,” as well as his widely listened to podcast called “The Joe Rogan Show,” which features various famous athletes, comedians, entrepreneurs, and academics, including Neil Degrasse Tyson and Elon Musk. The topics that Rogan explore through his rhetoric are diverse, ranging from experimenting with psychoactive drugs, promoting the empowerment and optimization of self, exploring alternative histories, and arguing for a libertarian approach to freedom and individualism.
Rogan is an interesting rhetorical case study because he has a rich history of experience in various roles and forms of expression, and also in self-experiential escapades into the topics he explores, such as psychoactive drug use and optimization of body, mind, and spirit. Indeed, Rogan’s experience in popular cultural commentary roles have influenced him toward his particular effective usage of a wide range of rhetorical techniques that include logos, pathos, and ethos. In many cases, Rogan blends the three of these techniques, such as when he uses insights gained from his research or from knowledgeable guests on his podcast, establishes credibility through such guests, and uses humor to emotionally influence the audience toward aligning with his rhetoric. Rogan is certainly an eminent rhetorical figure of our time who is worthy of analysis, as he regular reaches millions of people through his rhetorical offerings. In the following analysis, I will demonstrate how Rogan is an effective rhetorician who often advances views and approaches of individualistic freedom and empowerment through optimization techniques, self-exploration, and inquiries into truth. Rogan’s rhetoric for greater individual freedom often touches on arguments for greater individual freedom regarding the legality of drugs.
In “Triggered,” Rogan’s opening words reveal to the audience that he is high on marijuana, which is an act of establishing the credibility of marijuana. Even though marijuana is legal in San Francisco, the site of this particular show, in the broader culture there is still a taboo against the drug. Rogan’s transparency in the beginning of the show is an act of ethos to influence the public, because he is proving that he can be an effective comedian while high. In this case, Rogan’s reputation as a successful businessman and entertainer brings credibility to marijuana, which helps to build his case that individuals should have the choice to use drugs or not.
At other times in “Triggered,” Rogan uses similar tactics of ethos to further this point, such as when he cites a successful Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) athlete as saying that using marijuana during official fights creates an unfair advantage. Rogan’s techniques in the above two cases is to disarm common claims of marijuana’s harmfulness by showing that high performers, such as himself and top athletes, use marijuana to become more effective at their crafts. Ultimately, Rogan believes that it is the individual’s right to experiment on one’s self with psychoactive drugs, and he uses his own experience as a rhetorical strategy based on ethos. On the same subject of individual freedoms for substance use, Rogan sometimes uses arguments infused by the rhetorical techniques of logos. In “Triggered,” Rogan tells a story about how buying marijuana edibles in legal stores can be dangerous, because “they’re not consistent,” by which Rogan means that each edible may have differing amounts of THC. Rogan goes on to say, “You don’t know what you’re getting, ‘cause they’re not making them the same place where they make Tylenol,” and then he portrays a fictitious scene in which a “some greasy dude with a Grateful Dead T-Shirt” is making the edible marijuana treats (“Triggered”).
Rogan’s subtle point here is that if marijuana were accepted as a mainstream drug in the way that Tylenol or even other recreational drugs such as alcohol are accepted and regulated, then we would have a safer and more precise system of manufacturing and distributing it. Rogan makes his point clearer in the following segment when he says regarding edibles that “one of the problems with it being illegal is that a lot of us don’t have a lot of information that we could use” (Triggered). Rogan then breaks the topic down scientifically, telling the audience that ingesting edible marijuana produces a chemical in the body called 11-hydroxy metabolite that’s five times more psychoactive than straight THC, which is the active psychoactive a user experiences from smoking marijuana (“Triggered”). This segment under analysis primarily uses logos, but in a secondary way, also uses ethos, because Rogan’s scientific information makes his argument sound more credible. In a New York Times opinion piece, Molly Worthen describes Rogan as part of a community of self-help gurus who “offer theologies and daily rituals of self-actualization, an appealing alternative to the rhetoric of victimhood and resentment that permeates both the right and the left. ”
Indeed, in many of Rogan’s rhetorical examples, he advocates an ultra-individualistic approach to life that resonates with libertarian thinkers such as Jordan Peterson. Rogan has had Peterson on his podcast several time, and clearly agrees with Peterson’s views against “social justice warriors” who wish to squelch ultra-conservative speech that some view as racist, sexist, or otherwise oppressive (Rogan & Peterson). For Rogan and Peterson, the value of individual freedom goes as far to grant even oppressive people the right to think and speak their views, even if they are offensive to others. For instance, Rogan agrees with Peterson on the issue of gender politics, claiming that there is a definitive link between sex and gender, and that professors in universities should not be forced to refer to their students by gender pronouns aside from the standard “he-him and she-her orientation. In this example, Rogan’s rhetoric shows how he believes in a framework of individualistic empowerment rather than a societal perspective. Some people believe that society or institutions need to change in order to help people change, but Rogan is more of the mind that if individuals had the freedom to live without the pressure of institutions, then people would be more empowered. One of the rhetorical trends that we can observe in Rogan is how he blends logos, ethos, and pathos. Most of the above analysis has focused on logos and ethos, but pathos is very important to Rogan since most of his rhetorical material has an overtone of humor. As a comedian, Rogan is very skilled at taking a controversial issue such as drug use or gender politics and making the situation feel lighter. On the topic of humor, Rogan has said that comedians are often the ones in society who can talk about things that aren’t unacceptable in the mainstream (Hedegaard). In Rogan’s own craft, it is clear that he uses jokes to open the audience to his other views, which he may establish with either logos or ethos. In some cases, Rogan may misuse humor such as when he culturally appropriates material, but most often Rogan’s humor is on point and serves to open up the door to further intellectual discussion.
For instance, with several highly intellectual and important people such as Elon Musk, Rogan has made jokes about artificial intelligence being the source of humanity’s destruction (Rogan & Musk). In these cases, Rogan uses humor to share his views about a serious and potentially devastating topic in a way that allows for the conversation to continue in a lighter atmosphere. Rogan’s humor is likely a central reason why he has such a wide audience base. Not only is Rogan exploring topics that are usually more complex and taboo than what society normally examines, but he is also entertaining. While some may argue that Rogan’s blending of rhetorical techniques, along with his primary usage of pathos, as limiting to his effectiveness as a rhetorician due to his favoring of humor over fact-based rhetoric, it is more likely the case that Rogan’s usage of humor-based pathos helps him appeal to a wider audience than he would without his humor.
It is true that Rogan’s rhetoric may not be as credible as the rhetoric in academic journals, but in terms of effectiveness, Rogan’s wide appeal demonstrates that his comedic base of rhetoric is in fact a strength rather than a weakness. Indeed, Rogan regularly reaches millions of people through his offerings. To date, Rogan has produced over 1,000 podcast episodes that are usually two to three hours in length, and many feature top figures of various fields. The prolific rate of Rogan’s works show that he has a large appeal, and the fact that Rogan regularly features guests who are top figures in their fields shows that Rogan’s effectiveness is not limited just to his appeal to the audience, but also in that he explores important topics and reaching meaningful conclusions. One of the other ways that Rogan’s rhetoric is valuable is in its courage to explore the topics that society usually shuns, and in its capacity to do so in a curious and open-minded way. For instance, Rogan has invited archeologist and author Graham Hancock onto his show several times to explore Hancock’s archeological views that go against the grain of the dominant scientific discourse. In these episodes, such as The Joe Rogan Experience #961 that features Hancock, Randall Carlson and skeptic Michael Shermer Rogan’s rhetorical position primarily serves to hold the space for an insight conversation and debate into differing accounts of history. In this and other episodes such as #1169 with Neil deGrasse Tyson, Rogan demonstrates more neutral language and stances regarding the matter, but acts more as a moderator to raise questions and clarify points. In this sphere, Rogan demonstrates the best qualities of his values for individual opinion and research into questions of reality. A wide range of cultural phenomena may have influenced Rogan’s rhetorical stances, such as the prevailing individualistic spirit common in the west, and also more recent trends of seeking self-actualization and optimization in pursuing excellence. Rogan’s life experience is one of high media success, as he was the host for the hit game show Fear Factor, as well as the commentator of the UFC and popular comedian, as discussed above (Worthen).
Rogan’s rhetoric sometimes reveals his core values of seeking to be the best he can be in all aspects of life, which is a spirit of the self-help movement touched on prior. Related to the culture of self-help and self-actualization that likely has influenced Rogan is “New Age” trends of self-exploration that are also increasingly common in our society (Hedegaard). Rogan demonstrates this through his willful individualistic exploration of himself through illegal psychedelic drugs that he often discusses as central to his mental and emotional work of coming to know himself better and generally growing as a person (Hedegaard). Like every other rhetorician, Rogan is indeed a product of his time. Further Rogan is a rich rhetorician to discuss because he blends a diverse cluster of cultures together to advance his views on betterment and optimization, and to explore philosophical questions of ethics and personal rights.
Drawing from a diverse history of expression, experience, and inquiry, that includes a successful career of humor and social commentary along with demonstrated growth and optimization through techniques of self-actualization and inquiry, Rogan employs a variety of effective rhetorical techniques to advance his views of individualistic empowerment. The topics of Rogan’s commentary range from illegal drug use to facilitate self-exploration and growth, exploring controversial topics of truth, and advancing values of freedom of speech and action that are sometimes associated with a libertarian approach. Since Rogan reaches so many people with his rhetoric that is persuasive, interesting, and often entertaining, he is an excellent figure for rhetorical analysis. Further, Rogan’s rhetoric is important because it relays his values and beliefs of individualistic empowerment that are on the whole beneficial in helping people to reach their fuller potentials.
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