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Stan Van Gundy and the Boomer Doomer Phenomenon as Case of Trust
Followers vs. Listeners and SVG vs. Joe Rogan
I’ve written about what I call the Boomer Doomer phenomenon, wherein elder coastals rage at a world that hasn’t lived up to their standards. I know these people. They live in my neighborhood. Regularly, I’ll go to a cafe frequented by retired older men, espousing such a worldview. As I described:
When I visit my closest coffee shop, there’s a regular crew of retirees who loudly gab at a circular table. The topics of frustration are as follows: Trump, anti-vaxxers, anti-maskers, the unenlightened Other who reside in the hinterlands, also Trump, and maybe some more Trump.
I forgot to mention that they reference Putin a lot as well.
I love these guys and I’ll often drop in at their table to chat after I get my coffee. They’re angry at the prestige media’s favored targets, but in a spirited, entertaining way. I don’t agree with a lot of their news-baked conclusions, but these dudes are good people and they’re probably doing retirement right. One day I wish to sit at a table, day after day, doing a podcast without the recording equipment. The cranky coffee shop boomers are wonderful, but if they had Twitter accounts, the digital output would probably be pretty annoying.
I’m reminded of that whenever I see tweets from Stan Van Gundy (age 62), former NBA head coach and current national broadcaster for Turner. For instance, here’s his spiel from Wednesday on popular podcaster Joe Rogan, as even the White House joins the media pressure campaign against him:
Well that’s quite a condescending assessment of the country’s most popular podcast. I realize this is anecdotal but I know sharp people who listen to Rogan, doctors and lawyers alike. Maybe they aren’t modal JRE fans, but a listenership in excess of 10 million boasts many types. Rogan’s audience is vast and varied because the podcast is powered by an eclectic guest list. Also, when you listen to the JRE, you’re mostly listening to Rogan listening. As in, he sits there and lets his guest, be they a comedian, MMA fighter, musician, or political figure of controversy, speak. The guy is not above criticism, which he would readily admit, but few tune into the long, rambling JRE for the express purpose of being told what to do. This isn’t the late Rush Limbaugh’s daily message to his Dittoheads; it’s a guy asking about hallucinogens, ancient civilizations, standup specials, aliens, animals, combat sports, and yes, infamously, Covid vaccine issues.
He might well be wrong on that last topic and his guests Dr. Robert Malone and Dr. Peter McCullough could be offering a really bad analysis of vaccine downsides. I interviewed Mike Pesca recently, who said he’d gone through the Malone podcast with a critical lens, identifying specious rhetorical tactics. But Rogan has also interviewed vaccine evangelists like Dr. Sanjay Gupta and Australian commentator Josh Zepps. As in, there’s no coordinated effort to get you believing anything. I can’t say the same for the people attempting to censor such talk.
You can fault me for handwaving away the potential for people making mortally bad decisions on the basis of these conversations, but here’s where I’m coming from, to be upfront about it: I don’t believe the vaccine skeptics, but I believe they’re not trying to control me. I weigh the latter part more, at this point. Their loudest critics appear incapable of relenting, relaxing and letting my kid proceed through life maskless. Guys like SVG, someone who, as an aside, has the privilege of working TNT games barefaced amid a sea of masked fans, don’t seem much concerned about that part.
I see something like this and feel deep contempt for the speaker, even if he is a good guy IRL and just a ball coach spouting takes. Why? Because he espouses the view that shrinks my son’s options in life. That’s more of a problem for me than individuals potentially making bad health decisions on the basis of a podcast. Just because the generalized media has a certain hierarchy of concerns doesn’t mean I do. We’re all informed by our personal station and circumstances, to a degree.
Listeners vs. Followers
I cite Stan’s attack on Rogan merely to illustrate a dynamic I see elsewhere. I’m not trying to prove that SVG is hurting the NBA’s popularity by doing this (though, maybe?) and I’m not saying that his reaction is illustrative of the NBA’s culture. He is an explanatory avatar, in this case. I’m merely pointing him out as an example of a highly programmable type, a cohort I see more of in the older set than in the younger set.
The youth get caught up in movements that build on social media, but they aren’t so into traditional media as an organizer. The younger set might have more extreme politics than the seniors on some issues, but the elders receive theirs in more of a top-down manner. This is as true for Fox News Dad as it is for the angry coastals. People of a certain age receive a tightly produced view of the world, every day.
The young live within the chaos of the Internet; the old live within the clarity of organized messaging from a few newspapers and news channels. The young obviously have their own groupthink detours and their own buzzwords, but it all seems to happen absent a belief in institutional competence. For instance, I don’t think many millennials or Zoomers would say this without irony, whatever their politics and propensity for groupthink.
Stan believes The Media, even some cable news channels. My millennial generation saw the Iraq War play out in their formative years and isn’t so trusting. As for the Zoomers? I’m just not sure these traditional media outlets are relevant to them at all. Joe Rogan, on the other hand, boasts an average listener age of 24.
By Stan’s own admission, he hasn’t really listened to the podcast he’s ripping.
In general, Stan Van Gundy isn’t a listener; he’s a follower and there’s a difference. A listener is someone who takes in information before knowing its applicability. A follower is someone who takes in information explicitly in pursuit of direction. The JRE is for listening, as you have no clue where most of these conversations are going. The major papers and cable news channels are for following — moral instruction disguised as relevant information.
The Boomer Doomers are followers, largely. Many are bright people, even if they can come off a bit zombiefied; they’re just trusting of respectable media, perhaps because they grew up in a more optimistic land. Primarily they trust the New York Times, but a few other publications with cachet have their hearts, which means, by extension, these outlets also have their heads. Does the New York Times do some good reporting? Sure, and it’s a far better publication than the Washington Post. But, for all its good points, the NYT has gotten obsessive with census category topics, which might have something to do with why Stan and Peak Boomer Doomer Gregg Popovich now talk endlessly about them as well.
When these outlets go mad, the educated boomers have no defenses for it. They spent their lives as smart, high-level professionals, who understood that smart, high-level professionals read these outlets. Basically, they outsourced, figuring it’s just wiser to place trust in a few publications based on the Northeastern Seaboard and call it a day. They don’t know about the hysteria within the Slack channels and everything else that makes modern journalism little more than neurotic narrative protection as output, and terrified groupthink as input. Frankly, they don’t want to know. Why should they, really? To what profit?
In a way, they’re right and we, the skeptical (I’m including HoS readers here), are wrong. What’s an easier day, filled with more activities? The one spent looking into all the mainstream narrative holes, or the one you kick off with a bit of New York Times, a dash of Washington Post, and a few dozen tweets? You could be done with it all before your breakfast toast gets cold. Yesterday, Van Gundy tweeted out six consecutive stories from the New York Times before switching it up with a WaPo. It’s an efficient way to consume, far more efficient than listening to a four-hour Joe Rogan episode.
It’s also why I can set my watch to whatever Stan’s going to say on political matters. Same for Gregg Popovich. They both reliably reflect the NYT consensus of any given moment. I should probably reference Gen Xer NBA coaches like Steve Kerr and Steve Nash at some point, but that’s another article for another day (I find the Gen X coaches less severe towards the public in their recent political proclamations, though I’m possibly going easy on Kerr due to knowing him).
But to bring it back to the boomers, because it’s always about them and forever will be, there is a disconnect here. The outlets they rely on for sense-making have abandoned any pretense of neutrality. All is propaganda because the new journalism ethos is to exchange “neutral objectivity” for “moral clarity.” That push came from the younger staffers, but the consumer is largely older, sometimes too old to know that anything is roiling the culture beneath the surface of all they trust implicitly. I’m friends with journalists at major city newspapers who tell me about their editorial meetings. The discussions often touch on what news to hide out of fear that it’ll send the wrong message. Er, I mean, stories they deemphasize right now out of concern for these extraordinarily sensitive issues and, well, whatever sanitized language gets the job done. On most days, “the news” is merely an act of curation and a highly intentional one at that.
If you know about these newsrooms, you know that the younger staffers are doing a lot of that curating, mostly because the bosses fear their fervor. So this is something of a paradox. Why is 54-year-old Joe Rogan more resonant with this demographic than the publications they shape? Well, for the aforementioned apolitical reasons, of course. Also because there’s a lot of younger people and different types gravitate to different venues. But I’d posit there’s another dynamic here: The younger generations can more easily smell their own clichés. When the scent is picked up, the source is avoided.
To Stan Van Gundy, a lot of the woke speak in these publications has likely been revelatory. Gregg Popovich talks like a man born again when he expounds about his white privilege. This is a whole new way of thinking, a level of empathy that might redeem our fallen nation. And if some of it seems outlandish or extreme? So what? That’s not the bigger picture, and certainly not too relevant to the life of an older millionaire.
But the young have been marinating in this stuff for some time now, from an early age. There is no novelty to it and its excesses also can’t be dismissed as peripheral. Indeed, it’s tiring even to its strongest adherents. And the young don’t believe the fashionable orthodoxies will redeem this nation because theirs is a country that always seemed marred. There’s nowhere to go. We’re all just here, atomized and waiting for the next thing.
Stan Van Gundy thinks the “problem” of Joe Rogan “would be solved” if only the citizenry were informed. But many of his listeners largely aren’t looking to be “informed.” I’m not even sure many people of a certain age feel they’re part of an interconnected “citizenry.” They just want to listen to people talking, absent the onerous taboos that pervade modern life. Just to hear that feels like a luxury sometimes.
So they’re in it for the listening and not necessarily the following. Some older pontificators can’t understand that. Indeed, I think they project their tendency to follow trusted sources onto the listeners. Someone who takes daily marching orders from a few publications naturally assumes that a podcast consumer lives similarly, that Joe is speaking some gospel, followed in lockstep. But that’s not quite how this all works. You read that Joe Rogan is “trusted” by a certain cohort but I don’t think that’s accurate. He’s liked. And he’s liked, in part, because he trusts so little of a media ecosystem that deserves maximum skepticism. And his loudest critics? They struggle to undermine his influence when attacking. It’s just so hard to believe people when all they do is believe.