Well, Gwyneth Pal-bro has struck again. That’s right, Joe Rogan, the semi-literate man’s answer to GOOP, is now on record saying he will not get the COVID-19 vaccine because he’s “healthy.” This happened on his podcast when his guest actor Jamar Neighbors asked if he was taking the vaccine, and Joe replied “No! I mean I would if I felt like I needed it. I just feel like if you maintain your health—and I think for some people it’s important.”
As my friend biologist Karen James says, I am not surprised at all. I am extremely disgusted.
I’m not surprised because Joe Rogan is a moron. This isn’t a controversial take, because Rogan himself freely admits that he’s an idiot. In TV Tropes this is known as “lampshade hanging,” the idea being that if you have something in your film or play that is obviously stupid and would draw the audience out of their willing suspension of disbelief you can just shine a spotlight on it and then move on. It’s self-deprecating and the audience gets to laugh along.
For instance, in the seminal Samuel L. Jackson film “Snakes on a Plane,” Jackson tells his superiors about the antagonist’s plan to fill an airplane with deadly snakes, to which his superiors reply “What kind of insane plan is that?” Like, wink wink, don’t worry, we know the plot of this movie makes no sense. Now that we’ve pointed that out, let’s all just move on.
That kind of lampshade hanging can be delightful if you are in the mood to turn off your brain and watch a stupid movie about a bad guy who fills a commercial airliner with venomous snakes. It can be obnoxious in a work of art that is attempting to be serious — many years ago I read the Dave Eggers book “A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius” and was extremely annoyed at how the writer seems to try to continually attempt to offset criticism by having the narrator say things like “I know what I’m saying is cliche.” (That’s not a direct quote — I haven’t read it in years.)
The problem is that you are calling attention to the bad writing to score cheap points instead of, you know, making the writing better. Like, I, Robot is meant to be brainy sci-fi, but in order to move the plot forward they need to have a character, to quote TV Tropes, “comment on the “messed up” building design that forces the characters to walk out over an incredible drop, across very thin walkways, without safety rails, in order to access the only service terminal to a giant computerbrain.” Instead of having him say that’s messed up maybe rewrite your plot so that it fucking makes sense?
Which brings me to Joe Rogan. Rogan has hung a lampshade on his idiocy, which he thinks saves him from criticism. “You can’t say I’m an idiot, because I already said I was, and by saying I know I’m an idiot doesn’t that actually make me kind of wise? Like in a Shakesperean “The fool doth think he is wise but the wise man knows himself to be a fool” kind of way?
And that’s way easier than trying to not be an idiot. After all, he is easily worth many many millions of dollars, Spotify just gave him a licensing deal worth more than $100 million, and his podcast gets about 200 million downloads each month. Intellectually speaking, he does the absolute least work he can and for that he is handsomely rewarded. Why bother to do the work to become more well-informed, and actually care about the message you’re sending out to millions of people, when you can just hang a lampshade on your stupidity and cash that check?
And that’s a real shame, because when Rogan started getting popular he immediately started spreading bullshit, like claiming that humans never landed on the moon. My friend Phil “The Bad Astronomer” Plait debated him a few times on the subject but found that Rogan was aggressive, full of logical fallacies, and an inveterate Gish galloper.
That’s just one example but there are plenty more — he’s used his massive platform to spread lies about 9/11, and he’s had alt-right goobers like Ben Shapiro and Alex Jones (who claims that the massacre of children at Sandy Hook never happened and has harassed the parents of the murdered children) on to say whatever they want without pushing back on anything but the most jaw-dropping claims. In fact, he had Alex Jones on his show this past October to talk about how the coming COVID-19 vaccines would be dangerous. Jones said that Bill Gates went on CNN and the host said “80% of those taking your vaccine trial are very sick and some are dying and Bill Gates just said “that’s the way it is””.
When people objected to that quote as well as many others (like “Dianne Feinstein is a Chinese asset,” Joe Biden uses Ukraine as a money-laundering operation, and Buzz Aldrin endorsed Trump and thinks aliens built the pyramids), Rogan’s only pathetic response was to go on Instagram and post a clip of what Bill Gates actually said and claimed that it was what Jones said. It was not. 80% of people in the vaccine trials did not, in fact, get “very sick” and none of them, in fact, died. Bill Gates didn’t just shrug his shoulders — he pointed out that it’s normal to have slight side effects from vaccines and that the FDA would work to ensure that they are safe.
Spotify, for their part, defended Rogan’s right to have Jones on to spout anti-vaccine bullshit.
The result of being rewarded for spreading bullshit? An escalation in bullshit. Because this month, Rogan stated emphatically that he would not get the vaccine because he’s “healthy.” Rogan takes (and promotes and profits from) dietary supplements, which aren’t actually necessary to be healthy and which have nothing to do with COVID-19. No supplement will prevent you from contracting or passing along a virus, and if they are promising that, they’re probably doing some illegal shit.
Does being “healthy” protect you from the worst effects of viruses like COVID-19? Yeah, probably! The fewer comorbidities you have, the better your chances of surviving. But as I’ve talked about before, doctors still don’t know what the longterm effects are for people who survive an infection. Even pro athletes have reported lingering heart and lung issues. Hell, even pro athletes in the very sport that Rogan participates in have reported these issues: 26-year old UFC fighter Khamzat Chimaev has had to drop out of two different matches over the past two months because of a COVID infection he had in early December. His trainer described how he has been in and out of hospitals and thought he was going to die. Being healthy is not a guarantee that COVID-19 won’t affect you.
But more than that, it’s not going to help at all when it comes to knowingly or unknowingly passing the virus on to other people. You might be healthy but the vast majority of the United States is not. They are very old, very young, they have diabetes, they have heart conditions, and telling them “get healthy” isn’t helpful. Many of them can’t just rewind the clock, and for those who can theoretically “get healthier” they can’t do it immediately. It takes time and energy — they can’t just start taking Dr. Rogan’s Pure Snake Oil and magically lose their comorbidities. And if you give a shit about people, you want to protect them regardless of whether they can or cannot improve their physical health.
It’s exactly the same as what I’ve said in previous years when it comes to being vaccinated for influenza or whooping cough: yes, it will help you by making you less likely to get an annoying-to-scary illness, and if you do get that illness it’s less likely to be serious, but the real benefit is literally saving the lives of the people around you. We need herd immunity for all of these things to get the full benefit of having a vaccine, and we won’t be able to do that when the people with the largest platforms are spreading stupid bullshit like “you don’t need to get vaccinated if you’re healthy.”
I don’t expect this to change Joe Rogan’s mind, because by saying this shit on his platform he only becomes more likely to defend it and dig his heels in instead of taking a step back and admitting where he went wrong. But maybe someone else with a smaller but still significant platform will take note before they make the same mistake. Get vaccinated when you can, and encourage the people around you to get vaccinated. It’s the only way we can get out of the situation that we’ve gotten ourselves in.