Neil Young vs. Joe Rogan: Free Speech Wins

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Who do you trust more about COVID? A legendary rock star or the world’s most popular podcaster? The biggest takeaway from the latest culture war battle is that you get to decide.

Neil Young pulled his music from Spotify but you can still listen to his discography easily enough. And even if the world’s most popular streaming service had dropped Joe Rogan, he’d still have all sorts of ways to reach his massive audience. The scandal du jour reminds us that radical free speech is alive and well. In a profound way, it doesn’t matter if somebody somewhere wants to block it because it’ll be available a few clicks away, no matter what.

Young fired the first shots by telling the streaming service Spotify that they had to choose between keeping his music on its platform or continuing to host Rogan’s podcast. Young said Rogan spreads dangerous misinformation about COVID.

Spotify updated its rules about publishing content that “promotes dangerous, false, or deceptive medical information” about COVID-19 and other diseases but has stood squarely by its marquee star, whose contract is worth a reported $100 million. Young almost immediately inked a deal with satellite radio provider SiriusXM to distribute his newest album and curate his back catalog. And his music remains widely available on YouTube, Apple Music, and his own website. Same goes for Joni Mitchell, who quickly followed suit.

Rogan also keeps rolling on, telling listeners via Instagram that the whole point of his show is to have interesting conversations and let people come to their own conclusions. “If I pissed you off, I’m sorry,” he said. “And if you enjoy the podcast, thank you.”

Young’s call for Spotify to boot Rogan is risible, but his decision to pull his music is worth celebrating as an assertion of his right not to do business with an entity that offends him. Cancel culture is a real concern, but its impact is limited by the limitless nature of how easily stuff gets made and distributed these days.

Our world of cultural plenty was simply unimaginable in 1966 when Neil Young cut his first album with Buffalo Springfield. Back then, there were a handful of major record labels, a few movie studios, three national TV networks, and only AM and FM radio. Gatekeepers actually had a lot of power to suppress speech they didn’t approve of. 

Nowadays, even the mighty Spotify is just one streaming service among many. The problem isn’t that our choices are restricted; it’s figuring out how to triage what to read, watch, or listen to because there aren’t enough hours in the day to take in all the amazing movies, shows, songs, books, and podcasts available.

We get to decide what we’re going to watch and who we’re going to trust, which is a great outcome—but one we should never take for granted.

Text and narration by Nick Gillespie. Video production by Regan Taylor.

Photo Credits: Ross from hamilton on, Canada, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons; Stoned59, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons; Alterna2, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons; Louis Grasse/PxImages/Icon Sportswire EGS/Louis Grasse/PxImages/Icon Sportswire/Newscom; Bruno Marzi / MEGA; KRLA Beat/Beat Publications, Inc., Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons; Ron Sachs – Pool via CNP / MEGA / Newscom; Taidgh Barron/ZUMA Wire/Newscom

Music Credits: “Ain’t No Gambler,” by Rock n Stock via Artlist; “Coal Mine Rhythm,” by Dan Ayalon via Artlist.

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