Thirsting for seriousness in the long-form podcast
It is now common to see lengthy presentations covering deep subjects on YouTube and on various podcasts. It is also now common that millions, not thousands, of people are watching. Five-minute TV interviews with experts on various subjects are gradually giving way to more serious podcasts in the form of interviews and debates. What we are learning is that the American people are smarter and have a far longer attention span than they are given credit for.
One of the most popular podcasts is that of Jordan Peterson. He offers lectures and discussions on intricate topics ranging from Canadian government overreach and environmental apocalypse hysteria to the Bible as Jungian psychology. Peterson, professor emeritus at the University of Toronto, came to fame most recently by challenging the Canadian Parliament's bill C-16, which mandated he refer to students by their chosen pronouns even when said pronouns did not reflect biology. He refused, was put on leave, and eventually retired because of it.
Peterson's podcasts and YouTube channel are widely viewed by people of all ages, especially young men. His worldwide tours offering lengthy lectures with titles such as Introduction to the Idea of God, Genesis 1: Chaos and Order, and Karl Jung and The Lion King were rousing sold-out successes. Millions of views propelled his videos to the top of the viewing charts. His two popular books, Twelve Rules for Life and its follow-up, Twelve More Rules for Life, are huge bestsellers. His YouTube video "God and the Hierarchy of Authority," runs two hours and forty minutes and has been viewed by 2.5 million people to date. What is going on here?
"Jordan Peterson — Your Life Is Built for More" is the latest substantive interview of Jordan Peterson, hosted by Chris Williamson, host of the Modern Wisdom podcast. The theme covers how to gain meaning in life. I hear the groans, but far from offering up insipid, watery pop psychology, Peterson offers excruciatingly regimented hard advice to the coddled and indulged: clean up your own room before you tell people how to run the world. Tell the truth; treat yourself as someone you respect; specify your goals; and then, dammit, do them. Ultimately, Peterson is talking about things that people, especially young men, hunger for: fresh meaning amid the odiferous detritus of popular culture. More recently, younger women as well are starting to appreciate Peterson's tough, no-nonsense approach.
Dave Rubin hosted a YouTube video that ran two hours and had 8 million views. It was an interview with Jordan Peterson and Ben Shapiro titled "Religion, Trans Activism, and Censorship." Additionally, the thirst for long-form seriousness is no better illustrated than the very recent colossal six-hour (!) YouTube interview titled "Jordan Peterson: The Exclusive Uncut Interview" by Dr. Mehmet Oz. Almost two million people have viewed it so far.
Peterson's video debates with pop atheist Sam Harris were a roaring success. When they asked the live audience in one debate, after 1.5 hours of discussion, whether they wanted to adhere to the original plan for 1 hour of audience Q&A or continue the debate between the two men, the audience voted unanimously to continue the debate. It is almost as though many young people are discovering for the first time that their brains have been stagnant for decades and that they are capable of far more in-depth thought than they imagined.
Some of Joe Rogan's interviews are running about the same length; his 2-hour, 44-minute interview with Peterson and Bret Weinstein is par for the course. Deep-thought podcasts and videos by Ben Shapiro, Dinesh D'Souza, Michael Knowles, and Candace Owens with various other guests are running long as well, capturing a lot of eyeballs.
There is a thirst in the land, a hunger for seriousness that is lacking in short-form TV (think The View), films (think Power of the Dog), and politics (think AOC). Americans have been subjected to decades-long simplistic and insipid displays of American culture for so long that their intellectual ribs are showing, and they covet more meaty fare. The young especially seem to be craving substance. The seriousness of these podcasts and YouTube videos is satisfying a deep longing for meaning that seems absent in most of the American landscape.
The long-form video is offering up haute cuisine for the mind, while TV is still serving up Pop-Tarts and Cheez Whiz.