The podcast bros profiting off the loneliness epidemic

The podcast bros profiting off the loneliness epidemic

Joe Rogan. Andrew Tate. Kevin Samuels. If you’re under the age of 45 and have a heavy online presence, these names may ring an unfortunate bell. The rise of red-pill style podcasts, propelled by influencer-friendly platforms such as YouTube and Twitter, has birthed dozens of amateur, copycat shows that all share one goal: encouraging men to reassert their waning social dominance by reigning women in.

While anyone with $100 and a Youtube account can share their views on any subject, men’s “self improvement” podcasts occupy an ever-growing niche in the podcast market; most social media platforms —except for Twitter, Reddit, and Youtube — have a bigger audience among young women than men. Through these platforms, men with an ax to grind against the opposite sex have successfully tapped into a particularly impressionable set of young, overwhelmingly male listeners. And while some may chalk up the content of these podcasts to some iteration of ‘locker room’ or ‘barbershop’ talk, the claims they make, and the talking heads who make them, are profoundly alarming.

Masculinity as a concept is in a state of flux.

Joe Rogan, for example, has long been chastised for the degrading, woman-hating, transphobic rhetoric on his internationally- popular show. And while his use of the “n-word” triggered a backlash serious enough to pressure Spotify to remove certain episodes from the streaming platform, his all too frequent, derogatory comments on women’s genitalia and claims that “toxic masculinity” is “needed” within American society receive far fewer repercussions.

Then there’s Andrew Tate, a former kickboxer-turned-podcaster currently on house arrest in Romania after being arrested and held on charges of rape and human trafficking. With over six million Twitter followers (Tate’s platform has been banned on other social media sites such as Facebook and Instagram) Tate might be the most unabashedly violent and misogynistic of them all. Tate has made such foul, deplorable comments against women—including an anything but subtle description of how he would use the machete he sleeps next to if a hypothetical girlfriend accused him of cheating—that many of them are not fit to be repeated, let alone published. His influence on young men goes way beyond engaging in harmful rhetoric; Tate also sells “exclusive” membership to his cult-like, far-right haven now known as “The Real World,” designed to teach young men how to acquire “an abundance of wealth” through online means— all for a nominal fee of $50 of course. Instead, users of the platform report Discord chats in which Tate shares his manifesto-like “41 Tenets for men”, encouraging them to “protect the sanctity” of their bloodstream and raise “strong, capable, and honorable sons” and “feminine and virtuous daughters”. 

And lest one would write off Rogan and Tate as just a pair of really bad apples, dozens of lesser-known male influencers across the United States and U.K. have heeded the call to develop their own brand of male-supremacy podcasts. One such podcast, Fresh N’ Fit, hails itself as the “#1 men’s podcast in the world.” The “bros” who host this podcast openly spout beliefs that “women are terrible people once they have more status than you,” while praising the traditional marriage and family set up of yesteryear—with very little regard for the fact that women in such marriages were often subjected to various forms of abuse and exploitation precisely because they had no rights and low status.

One cannot listen to any of the named podcasts without being struck by how angry these men are. And why are women, in addition to trans people, so very often the subject of their ire?

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If podcast bros and the many men who follow them seem like they are short-circuiting, well, it’s because they are. We are, in real time, witnessing an entire gender experience a phenomenon French sociologist Émile Durkheim termed “anomie”. Originally crafted to describe the sudden state of societal instability that accompanies major changes in norms and values, the “gender anomie” we are witnessing is a direct result of women’s increased social and economic status, and an increase in the number of people assigned male at birth disconnecting from rigid gender norms in altogether.

The likelihood of returning to a society in which women are second-class citizens, and gender roles and expressions are strictly regulated, though not impossible, is lower than any of the podcast bros would like to admit.

Masculinity as a concept is in a state of flux—but for good reason. For millennia, the societal construction of their core identity has been based solely around power and domination. Even the poorest, worst off men in society were guaranteed power over the women and children in their social sphere. But with every decade that goes by, that becomes less and less the case. Greater access to critical, liberal education has created the material circumstances that allow those marginalized by gender and sexuality to exercise free will and prioritize their mental, physical, and emotional well-being over adherence to oppressive social norms.

As a result, men under 50 are becoming increasingly sexless and, well, lonely: marriage rates are declining significantly, as a growing number of heterosexual women choose long-term singleness over spouses who lack emotional intelligence and political compatibility. Childbirth rates have, unsurprisingly, followed suit.

“Podcast bros” have capitalized on gender anomie both for their personal gain and as a way to foment men’s anger about their changing role in society, and the new expectations placed on them. They are the social equivalent of haphazardly tossing lit cigarettes during wildfire season.

And yet, curbing their influence is not as easy as encouraging people to simply ‘log off’ and ignoring the “he-man woman-haters”—the digital radicalization of young men and mainstreaming of explicitly chauvinistic rhetoric is being increasingly reflected within political spheres.

In the half-century struggle to overturn Roe v. Wade, conservative leaders pursued strategic, intergenerational efforts to organize the masses against abortion by convincing younger generations of men that they, too, had a stake in limiting women’s reproductive freedom. A similar strategy is in play as conservatives attempt to manipulate the public into believing that trans people wage a threat to society. Now, as abortion bans and anti-trans legislation weasel their way into almost every state legislature in the country, podcast bros become the mouthpiece for a movement that aims to reverse centuries-long progress in the liberation of women and dismantling of patriarchy.

How we respond to them will make all the difference as we ultimately decide what kind of society we truly desire to be. However one thing remains certain: time can only move forward, never backward. The likelihood of returning to a society in which women are second-class citizens, and gender roles and expressions are strictly regulated, though not impossible, is lower than any of the podcast bros would like to admit. Women won’t go back. Trans people won’t go back—at least not without a fight. But there is enough space, even within this anomie, to work together to carve out new understandings of gender, and reimagine the relationship between men and women.

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