One of the most impressive traits of legendary US radio personality Howard Stern’s career has been the ease with which he disarms his guests and gets them to open up. Stern has consistently shown an uncanny ability to weave his journalistic magic, prompting even his most guarded celebrity guests to divert from their PR talking points and divulge details they may not have intended to.
This is a quality shared by South Africa’s very own podcasting star, MacG. MacGuyver Mukwevho, the host of the popular Podcast and Chill with MacG, has become a hit over the past few years for his ability to infiltrate his guests’ protective armour and extract some gems. He’s done so on countless occasions, in the process garnering a legion of die-hard fans he calls “the Chillers”. He’s also swiftly garnering a reputation as a crude interviewer, with a particular disregard for women.
You may recall his controversial interview with TV presenter and rapper Jub Jub in December, during which enjoyed a laugh at Amanda Du-Pont’s expense, with Jub Jub’s claim of having “smashed” Du-Pont, prompting a teary Instagram video in which she alleged that she was repeatedly raped over the course of their long-term relationship.
In the midst of the public fall-out after Du-Pont’s post, and the subsequent avalanche of sexual assault allegations laid against his buddy, Jub Jub, MacG went on to open the very next episode with a staunch show of defiance. “After this episode, I’m just literally only addressing the Chillers,” he said. “Fuck everybody else.”
It’s all about the numbers
MacG has emerged from the Amanda Du-Pont and Jub Jub controversy unscathed. His numbers are higher than ever before, and his Chillers even more fervent.
Grammy-winning US singer Ari Lennox is a recent victim of the loose-lipped podcaster. Some weeks ago, MacG doubled down on this approach when he opened his interview with Lennox by tactlessly asking her if “someone was fucking [her] good”. The sheer terror on Lennox’s face told its own story. Worse still, was the smirk on MacG’s face as she expressed her discomfort at the question.
In a since-deleted tweet, Lennox said she would never do another interview. “I been on this sober high for weeks. Genuine gratefulness and happiness. But then… men. Every time… never fails.”
But how sustainable is this brand of podcasting, and is it likely to continue? Probably.
MacG isn’t the only loudmouth South African podcaster spawned by Stern’s decades-long run as a shock jock. Gareth Cliff falls from the same tree. In a timid interview in which MacG basically fawns over Cliff, the often openly racist Cliff lauded him for his crude approach to interviewing. “I like the way you’re fearless,” he said.
Cliff himself is no stranger to the misogynistic ways of the modern-day broadcaster. “You’ve paid the price in a number of ways for having an opinion,” he told MacG. “I think that all of these people who complain about those of us who have an opinion are secretly jealous because that’s the only way you know you’re free, if you can say what you think.”
The pair’s shared strategy is to shamelessly court their audience on the basis of taking a stand against censorship. MacG may have recently lost Amstel as a sponsor, but he’s gained tens of thousands of new subscribers these past few months alone, and he’s more popular than ever. His Patreon membership numbers will spike off the back of this latest publicity and new sponsors will pour in again.
Whenever controversy rears its head, MacG dances around the issue of being complicit, playing victim to his audience as he makes the feeble case that he’s done nothing wrong.
When the Jub Jub furore was unfolding, Ghost Lady, the curiously faceless female co-host who gets no camera time, cautiously tried to point out that part of the issue at hand were the male hosts’ remorselessness in their use of phrases like “smashed” in describing Jub Jub’s claims.
MacG brushed that off and took a sip of his drink. If one of Ghost Lady’s roles is to check the male hosts’ blindspots, her efforts on this platform are futile. This format of many male-led podcasts and radio shows has consistently shown itself to enable misogyny.
US broadcaster Angela Yee has had well-publicised run-ins with Charlamagne Tha God and DJ Envy, her male co-hosts at The Breakfast Club, many involving how she felt silenced. In Talib Kweli’s People’s Party, Jasmin Leigh has increasingly become more integrated into the show. However, in earlier episodes, the awkwardness of the format (in which she struggled to get a word in) was cringeworthy.
Still in the US, Joe Budden has incessantly made derogatory comments about women on his embattled podcast, which has recently seen two co-hosts leave. He even came to MacG’s defence in a recent episode, saying, “A rule of thumb for me was if I say it in a song, it’s in the world. It’s on board to be discussed [by] people. If I go in the street and a fan see me, they might say, ‘Yo that verse in Only Human when you was talking about such and such and such and such’, like it can be brought up. Once it’s documented it lives, it exists.
“That was something I used to battle with as an introspective artist. But Ari Lennox’s last nine verses have been sexually explicit. If you’re sitting with a shock jock, you have to know that anything you have ever said in a song is on record to be discussed. Now, could he have done that in a much more classy and tasteful way? Of course. But for Ari Lennox afterward to act like where did he even find the nerve, courage and gall to ask me such an explicit question? I’ve listened to all your guest verses. I love them shits. Part of why I love them is because you’re talking that talk.”
After Budden was roundly criticised for his take, he took to Twitter to double down on his statement. “I said whatever you think I said: do what you want with that.” This shared defiance to criticism is born out of the knowledge that their viewers couldn’t care less.
If social media is anything to go by, the levels of engagement coming from MacG’s support base have been, at best, degenerate.
Gender-based violence apologism
The pickle that MacG has landed in over the Jub Jub and Ari Lennox interviews not only reveals a lot about his dangerously flippant approach to journalism, but also how rape and gender-based violence apologists have found a safe space on social media.
A few days into the public furore over his Jub Jub interview, in his first public comments amid the fall-out, MacG tweeted, “Men lie, women lie, but numbers don’t,” with an attached image showing the views of the Jub Jub interview. This tasteless remark, and the subsequent comments, stand as a boastful reminder that even when a woman lays herself bare by retelling a painful lived experience that still haunts her, it can be exploited for entertainment value and popularity.
MacG has positioned himself as merely a facilitator, with scant regard for ethics and, by the looks of it, the same applies to his audience. Podcast and Chill scratches a certain itch for two types of entertainment and gossip fans: the ones who are tuning in for some great insight from their favourite media trailblazers and ones looking for juicy scoops. The latter tend to not care at whose expense the scoops are gained. As MacG rides the wave of escalating popularity, he is beginning to strike the figure of man not fully at ease. The listeners want their next pound of flesh and, to keep the circus turning, he must deliver, no matter the cost.