Tucker Carlson wants you to tan your testicles. Or at least to seriously consider it. No, really, he does. Unless, of course, he doesn’t. In fact, he’s probably just using a juvenile joke to draw you into a new kind of conversation—a really far-right one, steeped in misogyny and racism.
The Fox News host, whose show boasts nearly four million viewers, broke the internet this week after seeming to advocate for testicle tanning in an interview with quack fitness guru Andrew McGovern. They ran a trailer for an upcoming episode of his Tucker Carlson’s Originals series called “The End of Men,” which centers the false notion that men’s testosterone levels and sperm counts are reaching crisis-level lows. In one ridiculous clip, a naked man—with muscled arms held aloft—heroically straddles a contraption that beams “red light” onto his genitals.
Carlson’s guest suggested that male viewers looking to increase their studliness could “take it to another level” and “expose yourself to red-light therapy.” Carlson interrupted to clarify: “which is testicle tanning.” McGovern nodded yes, “It’s testicle tanning, but also full-body red-light therapy which has massive amounts of benefits.” Carlson drags things back to testicles: “Half the viewers right now are like, ‘What?! Testicle tanning, that’s crazy!’ But my view is, okay, testosterone levels have crashed, and nobody says anything about it, that’s crazy, so why is it crazy to seek solutions?”
Well, it is crazy, and Tucker Carlson knows it. That’s why he kept repeating it: testicles. It’s clickbait. And the trailer for his show was designed with this in mind; it was stuffed full to bursting with over-the-top footage of jacked bros doing manly stuff. Captions decry modernity for creating such a bunch of fat, out of shape weaklings. Corny music plays over homoerotic B-roll of sinewy athletes hurtling spears and columns of young men in short shorts doing calisthenics. It’s a direct reference to (or parody of?) Leni Riefenstahl’s Nazi propaganda films of the 1930s.
The internet grabbed onto it with a quickness. Commentary poured in from Seth Meyers, Joy Reid, Vanity Fair, The Guardian, and others, including now this very publication (sorry, my bad, please keep reading). Some used humor, some didn’t. Everyone’s reaction seemed a bit silly—like getting mad about a fart.
But Carlson’s viral schtick reminded me of something not so silly: a passage from Bronze Age Mindset, a bizarre 2018 long-form essay that has become popular in the far-right “manosphere.” The book’s author, who uses the pen name Bronze Age Pervert, cynically advises that “the equivalent of the ‘meme’ in political action is the prank. You really can’t underestimate the power of a good prank.… This can be as little as putting up a funny banner or a witty slogan.” The goal, according to BAP (as all the cool-kid right-wingers call him), is to “make the enemy look ridiculous. You must show them for what they are, which is dour, old, sclerotic, ugly, pedantic; it’s good if you show yourself in the opposite light, although not necessary.” It’s a pretty apt description of how I feel for writing this: Tucker Carlson is an asshole; so am I.
Bronze Age Pervert is a master of setting this type of trap, and I’m just the sort of guy to step in it. He loves to exaggerate and glorify masculinity to the point of being jokingly gay. I am gay, so who cares. His now-suspended Twitter account once teemed with homoerotic images of sun-dappled bodybuilders and reeked of sexism and xenophobia. I found it deplorable. “The End of Men” is Tucker Carlson’s lame attempt to glom onto some BAP-esque clout, and I am still not laughing.
“There is a real connection between these male supremacists and white supremacist networks,” says Kristen Doerer, managing editor of Right Wing Watch, a project that tracks extremist activity for People for the American Way. She points to Carlson’s concern for faltering manliness as echoing male supremacist rhetoric, just as he has echoed white supremacists in his endorsement of the Great Replacement theory—a key intersection of these two groups. “These men are concerned about the white race being destroyed, and part of that concern involves the need for controlling women and particularly white women, and an investment in them having white kids.” She warns that the manosphere is fertile soil for red-pilling, recruitment, and general crosspollination. “It’s not too hard to go from one scapegoat to another: ‘I’m going to blame all Jews, or all people of color.’”
There is a tradition in far-right propagandist literature—to which Bronze Age Pervert is a modern-day inheritor—of a white male hero who rises up against a liberal, racially mixed, feminist, and/or otherwise degenerate society. The most famous in the canon is William Pierce’s 1978 novel The Turner Diaries, the protagonist of which inspired Timothy McVeigh’s 1995 bombing in Oklahoma City. Jean Raspail’s 1978 dystopic anti-immigrant fantasy The Camp of the Saints is the story of the last surviving white man on Earth; it was a professed favorite of Trump’s immigration advisors.
Today, this tradition is alive and well, living on Telegram, Discord, Reddit, Gab, and other online platforms. It’s a turbulent terrain of white male resentment, which found its footing in the 4chan and 8chan ethos of “There are no girls on the internet” and “Tits or GTFO” and the ensuing 2014 hate-fueled doxing of and attacks on female journalists known as Gamergate. Today, its center is held by a cluster of stars, whose celebrity has become increasingly mainstream.
Gavin McInnes and members of his Proud Boys have made a name for themselves by proclaiming celibacy and planning and joining misogynist and white-supremacist rallies. Sales of Jordan Peterson’s self-empowerment tome Twelve Rules for Life were bolstered by his early anti-trans comments. Slightly to their right, we find chauvinists like Mike Cernovich, whose testosterone-fueled Persicope rants garner millions of views, or Tim “Baked Alaska” Gionet, who faces charges relating to his involvement in the January 6th Capitol Hill riot and previously livestreamed his trolling of “fat” female pro-immigration activists with openly racist and smooth-chested attention whore Catboy Kami, whose real name is not quite pinned down, but who livestreams himself in anime costumes or blackface and says seriously effed up things to teenagers on Omegle and once went on a “hilarious” hot date with podcaster Nick Fuentes, the bigot-king of the Groypers, who targets rightwing pundits and … okay, I’ll stop there.
“You do hope that it stays on the fringes, and isn’t going into the households of four million people,” says Kristen Doerer. “But that’s what I’m concerned about. There are people who will watch Tucker Carlson and say, ‘He gets it,’ and be encouraged that their theory of the world is right. So, if you’re validating any of these groups, that’s where it does become dangerous.”
The danger is no illusion: Throughout the literary canon penned by far-right white-power activists and their hangers-on, there are stories and ideas which, at first blush, appear silly, sad, or demented. But however difficult it is to take their wild notions seriously, they have a purpose: to nourish apocalyptic ambitions among those who dream of civil wars and fascist coups. It can all just seem like a big, stupid joke until, suddenly, it’s not.