Elon Musk’s brief dalliance with vice on the Joe Rogan Experience, a podcast hosted by comedian Joe Rogan, and the media’s response illustrates the tragedy of the fourth estate. TV news is not a viable means for appropriate discourse.
Rogan’s podcast interview with Musk was his most viewed episode to date, with nearly 13 million views on YouTube. The content ran the gamut, from Musk’s flame throwing escapades, to his Los Angeles tunnel ventures, and our advancing existential threats brought by global warming and artificial intelligence.
But the media focused on a paltry 30-second segment where Musk smoked marijuana live.
“So, is that a joint?” Musk asked. “Or, is that a cigar?”
He appeared genuinely perplexed and curious. After Rogan confirmed the goods were legal, Musk pressed the rolled paraphernalia to his lips and inhaled.
The event was newsworthy because it’s a rarity for billionaire CEOs to ceremonially burn cannabis on air. Tesla Inc.’s stock was negatively affected, but it hardly warranted the resulting hoopla.
It was irrelevant white noise, the kind that incentivizes viewers to seek unconventional news sources, as trust in the media deteriorates.
The situation with Musk was a prime example — pot hardly matters anymore, at least not in the reefer sanctuary that is the West Coast. Still, the aftermath demonstrates a troubling, alienating trend that either strengthens President Trump’s campaign to delegitimize the media or worsens an already divisive political atmosphere.
It’s a serious problem.
The narrative surrounding Musk’s recent appearance on Rogan’s platform aggravates already frustrated viewers starved for substantial content, and, in their eyes, further cements the media’s irrelevance.
Ironically, the major news networks are not helping themselves, and they’ve failed to proactively respond to the growing popularity of the Intellectual Dark Web, where renegade host and social commentators gather to talk seriously about unsettled affairs.
These renegade commentators, who feel they’ve been walled off from the accepted narrative, have taken to YouTube or various podcasts to elaborate at length on nearly any topic deemed controversial.
They are, in a word, supplanting — at least for a sizable subset of the population — network pundits and their fleeting, chaotic round-table conversations.
The phenomenon is captured in Canadian philosopher Marshall McLuhan’s dictum — “the medium is the message.”
Essentially, McLuhan’s claim concerns the scope of change brought about by a new technology or medium, and how those novelties affect the structure and trajectory of societies more than the content of any specific message delivered through that technology or medium.
Plainly, the medium alters our orientation to reality.
For example, electricity fundamentally altered our relation to the elements. The automobile revolutionized transportation. Radio and television, while undoubtedly transformative, pale in comparison to the Internet.
The Internet radically transformed our relation to communication by solving a bandwidth problem.
Information flow is nearly instantaneous. The ability of the laymen and heretic to participate in, and influence, contemporary discourse has changed in previously unimaginable ways.
It’s also created a market for complex, hours-long discussions on weighty subjects in a format that old mediums are reluctant, or unable, to adopt.
Of course, technological advancements are not unburdened gifts. They solve, as well as create, problems. The same is true at the rough crossroads where both old and new media converge.
Given this turbulence, electing to briefly highlight Musk’s flirtations before transitioning to the alarming issues surrounding artificial intelligence, and global warming would have been the savvy, proactive choice.
Yet this is precisely the problem: serious, lengthy discussions on pertinent issues are non sequiturs — the medium is not conducive to broadcasting a sophisticated message. It’s a psychological ploy.
In essence, TV news favors charmingly glossed-over-complexities in minute chunks.
It’s seldom a useful strategy in a world where the currency of comprehension is depth and nuance. So, where news networks fail, YouTube and podcasts succeed.
The edges, however, remain disheveled.
Future historians will undoubtedly view this epoch as rancor. Nevertheless, Musk’s preference for being an incorrect optimist over a correct pessimist is effective.
This is because neither the medium nor the message is limited to screens and dials, but includes language and being. So, the antidote to the choppy transition of old to new is to embody and express the proper orientation to life’s complications, while making the trip worthwhile.
Christopher Salazar PZ ’20 is a double major in philosophy and classics with a minor in science, technology and society, from La Verne, CA. He once laughed so hard, half a french fry came out of his nose.