Dudes thinking big thoughts: Joe Rogan, Jordan Peterson and the lure of the rabbit hole

By Nathan Schneider, 14 April 2024
Image: Dan LeFebvre/Unsplash


When I started teaching college almost a decade ago, I began hearing the young men in my classes refer to a group of podcasters. The students who brought up these figures admiringly, even adoringly, were usually quiet and sat in the back of the room. Their feeds included Jordan Peterson, Lex Fridman and Joe Rogan—the elder sage, the curious ascetic, the guy to talk trash with over a protein shake. They were then on the verge of becoming household names.

​After fairly B-list careers in their primary professions, they have found their callings in the earbuds of the young. Each enacts a distinct but mutually reinforcing persona of white manhood, sponsored by a distinct set of advertisers. They appear on each other’s shows. Together, they inhabit a self-proclaimed “intellectual dark web.”

​As I tried to understand what my students were drawn to, I noticed a few things. First, virtually all of the content was extremely long. Podcasts and videos went on for hour after hour, as if in grueling rebellion against the supposition that kids these days need everything bite-sized. Second, at a time when white masculinity is often a target of criticism, they gave a kind of permission for dudes to just practice being dudes together, to think big thoughts, to take nothing off the table.

The common thread among Peterson, Rogan and Fridman is a studied resistance to commitment—political, religious and otherwise. More than mainstream news broadcasters these days, the podcasters go out of their way to defy political labels. None of the three claims a specific religious affiliation. Over and over, when criticized, these figures insist that they are just interested in the conversation, the dialogue, the hard questions.

Among those educating young people on streaming media these days—via podcasts and videos, and even through the brevity of TikTok—the eminent modality is the rabbit hole. Like Alice’s descent into Wonderland, these rabbit holes are journeys of obsession, fascination, impropriety and conspiracy that unsettle the supposed rules of normal life. To get lost in one is to find some relief from the heat and false simplicity of the Boomer-led culture wars. Listen carefully, say the streaming philosophers, but do your own research. People who are coming of age crave complexity, and their favorite content creators know it.

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Nathan Schneider, a contributing writer for America, is a reporter and professor of media studies at the University of Colorado Boulder.

With thanks to America and Nathan Schneider, where this article originally appeared.


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