Why Big Companies Keep Siding With Podcast Bros

Sure, these podcasts are hotbeds of misogyny, racism and misinformation—but does any of that really matter? According to Spotify, nah.


Stacy Lee Kong

Jan 28 2022

11 mins read


Image: Spotify

‎A confession: until this week, I’ve mostly been living in ignorance about exactly what Podcast Bros are like. I've obviously listened to podcasts, I know lots of people who make podcasts, I've even been a guest on a few, but the particular phenomenon of a Podcast Bro (that is, a man who uses his ‘self-improvement’ show to spew the vilest shit about women for hours every week) is one I don’t have a lot of experience with. In my defence, I'm not the target audience, so I guess it's not surprising that I missed how common these podcasts had become, largely by building on the tradition of redpill-style 'self-help' content while marketing themselves as apolitical. But then a video went viral on TikTok and I learned!

The video in question was of Instagram model Brittany Renner absolutely tearing Myron Gaines and Walter Weekes, the hosts of Fresh & Fit, to shreds when all three were guests on DJ Akademiks’ Off the Record podcast last week. If you haven’t watched it, please do. It’s great.

‎The clip—which is part of a way longer interview that’s not quite as awesome—was all over my feeds. I even shared it to Friday Things’ Instagram after I saw Spotify post the clip on their TikTok account. I hadn't planned on writing about it, until I started thinking about Podcast Bros in general and started seeing connections between Fresh & Fit, which bills itself as “The #1 Male Self Improvement Podcast in the World” (🤢), and everything else that has been going on in the news this week. Like… Joe Rogan and Jordan Peterson being racist on Rogan’s podcast, and Neil Young leaving Spotify to protest Rogan’s vaccine misinformation. It all made me think about not just why these men say these things (... misogyny), but also who allows them to do so.

Who is Brittany Renner and why did she tell these guys they aren’t special? 

Renner’s business is fitness influencing, but she’s probably known more for her romantic relationships—she’s been linked to Trey Songz, Ben Simmons, Drake, Colin Kaepernick and most recently, Charlotte Hornets forward P.J. Washington, with whom she shares an infant son. The couple broke up in March 2021, leading to speculation that Renner had ‘trapped’ Washington by getting pregnant. (She says they agreed to try for a baby before she went off birth control.) In short, she’s exactly the sort of woman Gaines and Weekes like to use as an example that women are crafty at best, worthless whores at worst.

A pre-interview comment that they “warn guys about girls like [her]” was the spark for Renner’s takedown—and that kind of commentary is totally on-brand for them. Self-styled life coaches, they say they're teaching men confidence so they can access fitness, money and sex. To be clear, this is not like, love-yourself confidence; it's more you're-better-than-all-women confidence—incel bullshit, basically. For example, they’ve recently covered topics like how to know a woman is using you, the fact that wealth is transferring to women at “alarming rates” (though… child support) and the demise of the nuclear family. Plus, your usual crypto get-rich-quick schemes and advice for tax evasion, naturally. It’s just a lot of misogyny, racism and cruelty. In fact, they were just called out by rapper-turned-media personality Joe Budden for disrespecting rapper Asian Doll, who they’d invited on their podcast only to berate her, and faced backlash for saying they don’t date Black women, who they refer to as “ghetto” and “Shaniquas.”

‎But none of that criticism has led to any real change. Fresh & Fit still has a huge audience, including 566,000 subscribers on YouTube alone, and they’re still saying the same shit about women, who they talk about in the basest of ways. Most tellingly, while Spotify might have reposted the clip of Renner owning them, it clearly doesn’t have a problem with hosting their content on its platform.

It really all comes down to money, which we saw play out with other podcasters this week, too.

Here's how Joe Rogan fits into all of this

And by other podcasters, I mean Joe Rogan, the comedian and podcast host who has famously interviewed conspiracy theorists and right-wing celebrities, including disgraced former Breitbart editor Milo Yiannopoulos, Proud Boys founder Gavin McInnes and alt-right meme Alex Jones. But while he used to simply be a classic toxic centrist who gave problematic people a platform and didn't push back on their bigotry, he's now engaging in that bigotry himself. Nicki Swift has a good run-down of his worst moments, but in short: he uses racist, transphobic and homophobic language, says cancel culture will silence straight white men and is a disaster from a COVID misinformation perspective. He's said young and healthy people do not need to get vaccinated (they do), promoted the use of ivermectin as a COVID treatment (it can actually be very dangerous—and there’s no evidence that it even works), and planted doubt over whether mRNA vaccines are even vaccines (they are). And this week, he welcomed back his old friend Jordan Peterson to the show.

‎If you have so far have managed to escape knowing who Peterson is, first of all, congratulations. Second of all, I'm sorry, because I'm about to ruin it for you. He’s a psychologist, University of Toronto professor emeritus and full-on conservative troll who first entered the public sphere in 2016 with a video series explaining why he refused to use gender-neutral pronouns, even if students and staff requested it. It all went downhill from there. Now, he’ll shill for every possible conservative talking point, no matter the topic. For example, he says he recently resigned from his tenured position as a professor because it became “morally untenable” to continue working in academia, since it is intellectually comprised and overly obsessed with diversity, inclusivity and equity, which he shortens to “DIE.”

He’s also not sure about women’s empowerment, in general. (It may not be good for society.) Horrifyingly, he told Rogan being trans was a “sociological contagion,” comparing kids coming out as trans to “the satanic ritual abuse accusations that emerged in daycares in the 1980s.” Climate? Not real, he says. No, not climate change. He literally, he says climate is not real, which I suppose would make it difficult to believe in climate change. Rogan didn’t push back or question what his guest was saying. In fact, he happily agreed, and sometimes expanded on, each increasingly nonsensical statement.

Spreading misinformation isn’t ‘just asking questions.’ There are real dangers to what Rogan is doing

‎The duo also discussed the meaning of Blackness, and came to the conclusion that Peterson isn’t white—he’s “kind of tan”—and Michael Eric Dyson, the academic and political commentator who has criticized Peterson in the past, isn’t Black. His skin isn’t dark enough, according to Peterson; Rogan concurred, arguing Dyson couldn’t be Black because he is not from “the darkest places [in Africa] where they are not wearing clothes all day.”

There’s clearly not a lot of intellectualism happening here, but I actually don’t think clever analysis is the point. Instead, Rogan and Peterson are engaging in the type of meaning-making that you often see in cults. Author Amanda Montell breaks this down in her recent book, Cultish, where she identifies “‘cultish’ linguistic tendencies from ‘the crafty redefinition of existing words’ (i.e., calling a gym a ‘box’ for no real reason), thought-terminating clichés (labeling good-faith doubts and concerns as ‘limiting beliefs’), and monikers that establish an us-versus-them binary (the ‘truth seekers’ versus ‘sheeple’ of QAnon),” according to a review in The New Republic. When these two nit-pick at the words Black and white, it’s meant to undermine the entire concept of race—and therefore racism. It's not like they believe that a Black man isn't Black, or more importantly, that they're not white. This is all a rhetorical strategy to introduce doubt over things that we know are real.

‎And that’s not the only dangerous shit Rogan allows to happen on his show, obviously. In December, he released a three-hour episode featuring Robert Malone, a scientist-turned-vaccine skeptic who made “a wide variety of medical claims… about vaccines and other issues, including that ‘a third of the population’ have ‘become hypnotized’ through ‘mass formation psychosis’ as if in Nazi Germany and ‘totally wrapped up in whatever [top federal U.S. virus expert Anthony] Fauci in the mainstream media feeds them,’” according to the Los Angeles Times. In response, 270 doctors and scientists signed an open letter calling on the company to stop Rogan from spreading this type of public health misinformation, and this week, music icon Neil Young joined the chorus, threatening to remove his music from Spotify if the company refused to take action. Spotify declined to do so, and Young has since followed through, removing his music from the platform... which he says has poor audio quality anyway.

It's no surprise that Spotify sided with Rogan—or that it continues to platform Fresh & Fit

I don’t think anyone was surprised by Spotify’s choice; in May 2020, it paid Rogan more than US$100 million to exclusively move to the platform, bringing his 200 million monthly listeners with him. Whatever revenue Young’s music might generate likely pales in comparison. In fact, I’m willing to bet there’s someone at the company who has run the numbers and can tell you exactly how much more money The Joe Rogan Experience brings in compared to Young’s catalogue.

‎But that paints its decision to repost the clip of Renner schooling Gaines and Weekes in a very different light. When I shared it, I was mostly thinking that Spotify re-posting the clip only emphasized how badly she’d dunked on them‚ because corporations are only ever going to make the least controversial jokes. But now, it strikes me as hypocritical. Sure, the social media manager who reshared it isn’t likely to be an exec charged with this type of decision-making, but still. There’s something ghoulish about a company implying it stands in solidarity with women and derides misogyny in its public messaging while choosing money over ethics when it comes to its actual decision-making. In fact, I'll go further: Spotify is choosing to specifically prop up media that targets impressionable young men and gradually inducts them into a culture of misogyny, hate and selfishness, something made easier by the very nature of podcasts and how people tend to hear about them. (That is, via the funniest, most shocking or inspiring clips, usually circulated without context.)

This raises good questions about what companies like Spotify owe their users. In the past, it may have been able to duck responsibility for problematic content by claiming it was just a host for other people’s work, but by putting Rogan on their payroll, it has (maybe unwittingly) entered the content creation game. Eventually, it's going to have to take responsibility for what’s festering on its platform—and that includes even those podcasters it doesn’t pay.

And Did You Hear About…

The rumour that Dakota Johnson locked customers inside an NYC coffee shop on Oct. 9, 2016 because the baristas would not let her make coffee herself. This is exactly the type of low-stakes, absurd celebrity story I live for, and also Vulture’s investigation is 👌🏽

Vice’s smart take on how West Elm Caleb went from a funny thing on TikTok to content fodder, and why that’s a bad thing.

This very thoughtful piece on now-adult survivors of school shootings.

Rolling Stone’s long read on Torontonian and alleged social media scammer Sophia Nur.

The academic who studies misinformation and extremism—and explains both topics in v. engaging TikToks.

Bonus: the weird celebrity stories in this viral Twitter thread.

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Joe Rogan
Jordan Peterson
Brittany Renner