I will admit that the headline for this post is a question that I never thought I would ever ask for any reason at all at any time ever. Since the pandemic hit, Carlson has, of course, become one of the foremost purveyors of COVID-19 misinformation and antivaccine talking points in the US while promoting ivermectin and other COVID-19 “miracle cures” long after science had shown them to be quackery. He is also almost certainly the foremost propagandist for white supremacist and fascism in the US, at least in terms of his popularity, reach, and nightly opportunity to promote such ideas to a wide and devoted audience. Given the veritable panoply of conspiracy theories, quackery, COVID-19 disinformation, and antivaccine pseudoscience that Carlson has spewed over the last couple of years, I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised about anything I’ve seen from him.
I must admit, though, that when I started seeing these sorts of Tweets over the weekend, even I was a bit taken aback:
That second image is a form of woo that even I didn’t recall ever having seen before, but it didn’t take me long to find out what it was supposed to be:
All I could think was that, if even Kid Rock—Kid Rock!—laughs at you and responds, “Dude, stop testicle tanning,” reducing you to responding with a reply as weak as, “Open your mind,” you’ve really wandered even further away from rationality than usual. Who thought that Carlson could go so far into the realm of quackery that even Kid Rock says, “WTF?” (I will—grudgingly—give Kid Rock credit for a somewhat amusing joke about naming a band “Testicle Tanning.”) While it’s good to have an open mind, it’s not good to have a mind so open that your brains fall out. On the other hand, I have little doubt that Carlson knows exactly what he’s doing.
Don’t believe me? Look at what Carlson says after that:
Don’t you think at this point, when so many of the therapies they’ve told us to take have turned out to be dead ends that have really hurt people, why wouldn’t open-minded people seek new solutions?
How many quacks that I’ve written about have said something similar, appealing to being “open-minded”? It’s even worse than that, though. in the clip above, Andrew McGovern, the “fitness professional,” interviewed by Carlson, claims that there are “so much data out there” supporting the wonder benefits of shining a red light on your junk, even though there most definitely isn’t:
This leads Carlson, propagandist that he is, to concede that this sounds ridiculous, saying “Half the viewers out there are going, ‘What? Testicle tanning. That’s crazy!'”
Not that the crazy stops him or even slows him down. Indeed, Carlson immediately pivots to a false equivalence:
But my view is, OK, testosterone levels crash and no one says anything about it. That’s crazy. So, why is it crazy to seek solutions?
This is a basic one-two appeal of quacks: First, there’s no good treatment or science doesn’t (yet) understand what’s going on. This leads to the false conclusion that we should try anything, no matter how ridiculous, and you should “open minded” about it. For his part, McGovern goes on to say that he’s been recently exposed to a term, “bromeopathy.” This is the most unintentionally hilarious thing I’ve seen a quack say in a long time. Combine “bro” with homeopathy (a.k.a. The One Quackery To Rule Them All)? Yes! That’s basically what this is almost, except that the red light will actually warm your testicles if you leave them in the red glow long enough. Of course, as some have pointed out, if you are worried about low sperm count, it’s really, really counterproductive to warm your testicles, given that the ideal temperature for sperm production is a few degrees F lower than body temperature.
After seeing Carlson’s trailer, I couldn’t help but remember a post from a more innocent time not long before the pandemic hit, when a certain viral image was going around the Intertubez:
And, complete with the sort of manly imagery that Tucker Carlson seems to love:
The difference, as you might or might not remember, was that back then the idea was to sun your perineum and your anus. (I kid you not.) Going against Tucker’s appeal to “bromeopathy” was this one image that was also going around:
The concept of sunning your butthole, perineum, or nether regions was a concept so ridiculous that at the time I openly wondered whether it was some sort of deliberate and elaborate trolling by social media wellness influencers. Apparently I was wrong.
I also wondered:
So. Many. Questions. For one thing, these are men doing the perineum sunning, which brings up the indelicate question of what they do with their…well, their junk…while their “buttholes” are supposedly soaking up the sun. That’s some delicate skin there! Of course, the perineum is also covered in delicate skin, and the skin around the anus is also quite delicate. That might be why you don’t want to sun it for very long; it’s likely to burn more easily.
Maybe testicular tanning was the answer, with gentle red light with a wavelength too long to do any damage to the very sensitive skin of the perineum and scrotum. No wonder Tucker Carlson fell for it.
While it’s easy to laugh at the ridiculousness of the idea of testicular tanning, warming your junk, or whatever you want to call it, the documentary, The End of Men, looks to be far less amusing given the silly quackery in it. To start to see what I mean, take a look (if you dare) at the full trailer:
I was initially a bit confused, wondering whether this was for just one episode, or if Carlson’s whole series was going to be about the supposed “end of men,” with individual episodes covering different things. It all became clearer when I found Carlson’s website, where, in addition to the trailer for The End of Men, there were trailers for episodes covering topics like—I kid you not!—UFOs and cattle mutilations and transgender “detransitioners,” this latter topic a favorite harped on by “gender critical” transphobes to argue that trans adolescents should not undergo gender affirming care even though it is the current standard of care. There’s even a conspiracy theory involving this that very much remembers antivaccine conspiracy theories. I’ve been meaning to write about it, but need to be in a mood when I’m ready to handle the utter shitstorm that it will almost certainly provoke. (Let’s just say that I’ve gone through this before…elsewhere…last year.)
Other episodes of Tucker Carlson’s
documentary propaganda, even as an older cis/het white guy, I can’t help but notice all the sweaty shirtless (and even naked) male bodies. Predictably, this led to lots of joking on the Internet social media about the incredibly unsubtle homoerotic subtext behind the last 50 seconds or so of the trailer:
Easy jokes about the gayness of all the imagery in the last third Carlson’s trailer aside (and, let’s face it, some of the jokes were hilarious), there is nonetheless something deadly serious going on with this trailer. If you know anything about fascism you can’t help but see it Carlson’s obsessive focus on utterly manly manliness, including testosterone levels and sperm counts, along with the concern that today’s men aren’t as manly as they used to be and that this decline in the manliest (American) masculine manliness is leading to the feminization and therefore degeneration of our country, as illustrated by the voiceover for the trailer:
Once a society collapses then, you’re in hard times. Well, hard iron sharpens iron as they say, and those hard times inevitably produce men who are tough, men who are resourceful, men who are strong enough to survive. They go on to reestablish order, and so the cycle begins again.
So apparently the manliest masculine manly men will be the ones we need to save us from the coming apocalypse and collapse of society! Seriously, though, the entire idea behind the trailer is that “hard times make strong men,” who then “bring order” (apparently fascist order) to reverse the hard times, order that then apparently provides all the girly men the safety they need not to die because they are protected by the order brought by the manly men made hard by the previous hard times. (I know I’m being repetitive. Just go with it for a moment.) It is very much fascist imagery, as PZ Myers mentioned. He even included this meme:
What, though, makes this montage and concept so disturbing? Here’s a hint. I saw this particular Tweet before I had even become aware of The End of Men, and the Tweet confused me until I stumbled upon all the jokes about Tucker Carlson’s trailer:
I also must admit that some of the responses were quite amusing—and disturbing:
And it’s not as though this Trump-soaked era doesn’t have its own manly masculine male iconography, although it never ceases to amaze me how anyone could produce “art” like this, which is so bad that it almost makes me miss Leni Riefenstahl:
Does Prof. Stanley’s name ring a bell? Here’s a hint: He’s a Yale historian famous for studying authoritarian and fascist movements. Still don’t remember? OK, he wrote a book that I read over the Christmas holiday weekend, How Fascism Works: The Politics of Us and Them. In fact, I used Prof. Stanley’s book as a structure for my discussion a few months ago about why the antivaccine movement has such an affinity for fascism by listing several of the elements of fascist ideologies described in the book and relating how antivaccine views share similar ideologies.
There was one aspect of fascist ideology that I didn’t really discuss much in that post, specifically how fascism is obsessed with hyper-masculinity and a strong male leader, specifically patriarchal masculinity and how the proper order of society is that it is run by men, with women’s proper role being to raise children and maintain the home.
Patriarchal masculinity sets up men with the expectation that society will allow them the role of sole protectors and providers of their families. In times of extreme economic anxiety, men, already made anxious by a perceived loss of status resulting from increasing gender equality, can easily be thrust into panic by demagoguery directed against sexual minorities.
In fascist attacks on universities, the universities play the role of the Nazi “Jewish conspiracy” behind the women’s movement. Universities subvert masculinity and undermine the traditional family by supporting gender studies.
Going hand-in-hand with the obsession with only the strongest, manliest, most masculine of masculinity, fascism also fears and attacks “feminization,” as represented by feminism and women’s rights.
Let Prof. Stanley summarize:
National Socialism targeted women’s movements and feminism generally; for the Nazis, feminism was a Jewish conspiracy to destroy fertility among Aryan women. Charu Gupta aptly summarizes the Nazi attitude toward feminist movements:[Nazis] believed that the women’s movement was part of an international Jewish conspiracy to subvert the German family and thus destroy the German race. The movement, it claimed, was encouraging women to assert their economic independence and to neglect their proper task of producing children. It was spreading the feminine doctrines of pacifism, democracy and “materialism.” By encouraging contraception and abortion and so lowering the birth rate, it was attacking the very existence of the German people.4In fascist attacks on universities, the universities play the role of the Nazi “Jewish conspiracy” behind the women’s movement. Universities subvert masculinity and undermine the traditional family by supporting gender studies.
Fascism also hates anything it perceives as the feminization of men, including homosexuality and, especially, transgender people. That makes it no surprise that Tucker Carlson is using his documentary series to promote transphobia.
Again, as Prof. Stanley notes:
Since fascist politics has, at its basis, the traditional patriarchal family, it is characteristically accompanied by panic about deviations from it. Transgender individuals and homosexuals are used to heighten anxiety and panic about the threat to traditional male gender roles.
In that vein, Robin Pennacchia at Wonkette observed this about Carlson’s trailer for his documentary series:
I feel like Tucker’s intention here is that men look at this and think “This could be us, but for the feminists!” and women are supposed to think “Oh no! What have we wrought! We could have had men like this, licking milk up off the ground and flipping giant tires around in the desert, but no! We had to have human rights!”
And I don’t think that’s happening. At least not for me. I mean, frankly, it’s not even hot in a problematic way, like Humphrey Bogart’s speech about how no one cares that he can ride or fight anymore. Men have been bitching about how no one will let them be manly anymore not just since 1939, but since Ancient Greece (at least). You think they’d be better at it by now, come up with something more appealing, some case more convincing, but no. Nope. Just dick power charging/tanning stations and raw eggs. You would think that people so desperate to bring toxic masculinity back would make a better case for it than “Hey, here’s a guy in an outside bathtub. You like that? Hmm?”
Unsurprisingly, Prof. Stanley was far the only person to notice the obviously fascist messaging and imagery in the trailer:
They’re not wrong, either. Fascism tends to worship the masculine while viewing homosexuals and transgender people as dire threats to what they view as the normal patriarchal order of things that has supposedly been “nature’s will” since time immemorial.
Did anyone notice one more thing about the full-length trailer? At around the 50 sec. mark, there’s a voice that will likely be instantly familiar to regular readers here. It is a creepy voice that I recognized immediately when I first heard the voiceover lamenting a decline in testosterone and sperm counts over the last 40 years, all as images of a baby, an egg being fertilized, a manly man doing pushups, and an apparently not-so-manly obese man with gynecomastia, before it’s revealed that the voiceover is coming from antivaxxer Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., who predicts a coming “calamity” because of this lack of testosterone and manliness. (I’ll concede that he didn’t use the word “manliness,” but he did predict an impending “calamity” due to low testosterone levels and sperm counts in men, characterizing this impending “calamity” as a “medical fact.”) Let’s just put it this way. The part of the trailer with all the muscular manly masculine men lovingly filmed doing manly masculine things is just the last third or so of the trailer. The first two thirds sets up the idea that the masculine manliness portrayed in the last part of the trailer is in dire danger. Those of us familiar with RFK Jr. and other crank and antivax claims can immediately guess what is supposedly endangering all this manliness and turning this generation of men into girly men.
Given that before RFK Jr. showed up the trailer featured images of pesticides, an obese man in a bathing suit, dead fish, and pollution, you can guess what RFK Jr.’s message in the episode will be. His shtick has long been the false claim that this generation of children is the “sickest generation,” all because of pollution, pesticides, GMOs, and, of course, above all, vaccines. While it is true that vaccines are not mentioned in the trailer, just the appearance of RFK Jr. tells me that they will almost certainly play a significant part in the story. Indeed, as I’ve mentioned before, antivaxxers have long falsely claimed that vaccines destroy fertility. Usually, it’s female fertility that antivaxxers fear monger about, but they also falsely claim that vaccines reduce sperm counts and harm the male reproductive system. Does anyone remember the story from singer and rapper Nicki Minaj that a COVID-19 vaccine caused testicular swelling and impotence in a cousin’s friend in Trinidad? She even claimed that the man had to call off his wedding. There was, of course, no evidence, but her claim was of the same variety as claims that vaccines reduce sperm count. There’s even a conspiracy theory that COVID-19 vaccines can make people gay or trans. It’s not a new antivax claim, either, as I recall having seen it years ago.
I’ve written a number of times about the commonalities between fascism and the antivaccine movement that have led to such an affinity between the two, with an increasingly strong alliance between antivaxxers and outright fascists like Proud Boys and fascist enablers and propagandists like Tucker Carlson: Mythic (lost) past, anti-intellectualism, unreality and conspiracy theories, victimhood, and, of course, “purity,” be it racial purity in the case of fascists or bodily “purity,” which has even led antivaxxers to portray themselves as “purebloods.” To this, Tucker Carlson has added toxic masculinity and fascist imagery of manly masculine men doing manly masculine things but whose manly masculinity is supposedly “threatened” by all the same sorts of things that antivaxxers fear, things that are supposedly “feminizing” them by lowering their testosterone levels and destroying their manly function of fathering children.
It should be no surprise that Carlson has fallen hard for serious woo (or at least decided that grifting based on such woo is a great path forward), either. After all, fascists are often into woo. The Nazis, for instance, had Heinrich Himmler’s belief in the occult and were huge proponents of naturopathy and other alternative medicine, including homeopathy. Today, people like Mike Adams and Alex Jones sell unproven supplements along with their quackery and antivaccine views. I might have to watch this particular episode of Carlson’s little fascist project, just to see how deep it goes. (I mean, UFOs?)
As Phillip Bump put it at The Washington Post:
It picks up on a line of argument that Carlson has been promoting for years now: that men — specifically American men — are weaker physically than they used to be and that this translates into weaker political leadership. The video is a weird combination of homophobia and homoerotica, but we can leave that to others to analyze. Either way, it’s a compelling bit of marketing. The testicle-tanning is the lure; the trap closes when you agree to follow the line from that to Carlson’s broader argument about a decline in masculinity and the rise of the left.
Because this is Tucker Carlson, it’s useful to remember that whatever the subject, the ultimate destination is the same: White Americans, particularly older men, are embattled in an increasingly hostile culture and he is giving them the tools to fight back. This episode isn’t called “Examining an Apparent Drop in Testosterone Levels,” after all. It’s apocalyptic, as is nearly everything Carlson produces. Everything is part of the same us-or-them, now-or-never fight between real, masculine Americans and the effete elites.
Sure, it’s easy to laugh at the “testicular tanning” and the “bromeopathic” treatments. They are the sort of things that fifteen years ago I would have played strictly for laughs in a light-hearted manner, as in an installment of Your Friday Dose of Woo. Like homeopathy and jade eggs, testicular tanning is the sort of quackery and woo that certain Very Serious Doctors and scolds of the skeptics movement keep contemptuously telling us are so obviously nonsense that we shouldn’t be wasting our brainpower with such trivialities. They’re wrong. Such ideas are, as ridiculous as they seem to you and me, powerful and often support far darker ideologies. They always have, and it’s never been nearly as easy as people think it should be to counter this sort of quackery.
Seriously, at this point, Carlson and his fellow fascists aren’t even trying to hide their fascist tendencies any more. The antivaccine movement, which had lured the right to its views through resistance to vaccine mandates, has now found itself subsumed by the much larger right wing ideology and belief system.