When a trailer for “The End of Men” episode of Fox News host Tucker Carlson’s “Tucker Carlson Originals” dropped last week with shirtless men swinging axes, wrestling and shooting guns, news headlines and social media users referred to it as “homoerotic” and “hilarious.” When more clips previewing the episode showed Carlson promoting the “bromeopathy” therapy “testicle tanning,” he was further ridiculed and roasted by late-night hosts. But experts in masculinity and extremism say while promotion around Carlson’s program may appear ridiculous, it’s elevating dangerous propaganda.
“He and his writers are seeking to exploit a popular line of discourse on the far-right fringe that mainstream audiences may not be aware of,” said Michael Edison Hayden, a senior investigative reporter with the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Intelligence Project, which tracks the radical right. “It’s this hyper-masculinized propaganda that speaks to people who actually really admire the notion of ‘men returning to men.’ My concern is that it has more appeal; it is more exciting to people than perhaps liberals and centrists may realize.”
Season 2 of Carlson’s series began streaming Monday on Fox Nation. Fox did not immediately respond to a request for comment regarding the release date of the “End of Men” episode.
Carlson frequently uses his platform, the top-rated “Tucker Carlson Tonight,” to lament a masculinity crisis, and while many sociologists who study gender agree boys and men are struggling, they diverge from Carlson on the forces responsible as well as on the solutions necessary to address it. Carlson often suggests feminism is eroding manhood, but his detractors blame a rigid notion of masculinity that focuses on strength and dominance at the expense of all else. Radicalization experts say fitness-orientated culture intersects with extremism online, and the promo for Carlson’s program, with its framing of physical fitness and the pseudo-science around testosterone health, is one way that toxic online narratives play on men’s insecurities to recruit them into more extreme ideologies.
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“This ‘bromeopathic’ idea to increase testosterone is there to counteract the effects of feminism and the feminization of the Western man,” said Pasha Dashtgard, director of research at American University’s Polarization and Extremism Research and Innovation Lab (PERIL). “This platforming by Tucker Carlson is happening because it falls into this narrative that there is a crisis of masculinity, that cancel culture and wokeness have emasculated men in America. Now conservative politics is pushing the narrative of recapturing the strong protector, fighter, testosterone-fueled American man. These ideas that on the surface feel ridiculous are being used to justify a pretty ugly conspiratorial narrative.”
Jackson Katz, creator of the film “The Man Card: White Male Identity Politics from Nixon to Trump,” said it’s short-sighted to mock or dismiss these appeals, because aggrieved white manhood is a crucial factor in the rise of virtually all right-wing cults and political movements.
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“‘Lower levels of testosterone’ is a metaphor for what these movements are really concerned about: reclaiming white men’s loss of status and cultural centrality,” he said. “Tucker Carlson, Senator Josh Hawley (R-Missouri) and others on the right are driving the narrative that many of the problems white men in this country face are due not to macroeconomic factors like automation and wealthy corporations shipping jobs overseas to countries with weak labor and environmental protections. No, white men are suffering because feminists and LGBTQ folks have somehow made them passive and soft. Instead of talking honestly about the true source of these problems, the supposedly ‘conservative’ solution they offer these men is to man up.”
‘This is a big transition for that movement’
Mark Greene, author of “The Little #MeToo Book for Men,” said Carlson’s program is normalizing ideas from the manosphere, defined by the Southern Poverty Law Center as “a constellation of anti-women websites, subreddits, blogs and forums.”
“What I believe Tucker Carlson is doing is he’s taking a lot of the recruitment strategies that are out there online for white supremacy and extremist movements and he’s bringing them into broadcast television. And this is a big transition for that movement,” Greene said.
The language used to promote the documentary can appeal to impressionable young men, Greene said, who may be confused or insecure about their masculinity. It suggests men are being feminized and erased, and it uses pseudo-science to reinforce the gender binary through biological determination, an idea that says people’s behaviors are directly controlled by biology. It emphasizes that men are born to be strong, and that testosterone will help return them to a period when that strength was valued and unquestioned.
“Once a society collapses then, you’re in hard times … those hard times inevitably produce men who are tough, men who are resourceful, men who are strong enough to survive,” a narrator says during the trailer. “They go on to re-establish order, and so the cycle begins again.”
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Carlson spoke with Andrew McGovern, who is listed on LinkedIn as a personal trainer leader in Columbus, Ohio, at LifeTime Inc., which operates a chain of health clubs. McGovern said people who want to take their testosterone “to another level,” should try red-light therapy.
“It’s testicle tanning, but it’s also full-body red-light therapy, which has massive amount of benefits,” McGovern said.
Michael J. Rovito, an associate professor in the Department of Health Sciences at the University of Central Florida who specializes in men’s health, called the therapy “junk science,” noting that most of the data come from animal studies, and one cannot extrapolate animal findings to humans.
McGovern promoted the therapy as part of “bromeopathy,'” a term he said captures medicine that is ignored or dismissed by mainstream science.
C.J. Pascoe, a professor of sociology at the University of Oregon who studies masculinity and homophobia, said promotion around the series emphasizes the sense that men and masculinity are under threat from a variety of sources. McGovern is talking about one “solution” to these threats, which runs into another perceived threat to masculinity: the act of seeking medical care. Men seek out medical and mental health care far less than women. Pascoe said when something is viewed as unmasculine or unmanly, “bro” is put in front of it, which is how “bromeopathic” is born.
“(It’s) as if that prefix will somehow imbue this practice or product with manliness,” she said.
When fitness culture and extremism intersect
The trailer for Carlson’s documentary features white, muscular male bodies exercising, wrestling, cooking, and shooting. A nude man stands on a rock tanning his testicles. A Black body is shown from the neck down, stomach soft, just before a clip of President John F. Kennedy saying, “There’s nothing I think more unfortunate than to have soft, chubby fat-looking children.”
This framing aligns with concepts American University sociology professor Cynthia Miller-Idriss addresses in her book, “Hate in the Homeland: The New Global Far Right,” which explores how the far-right recruits through messaging about fitness and male bodies.
“The desire for perfectly sculpted male bodies situates physical fitness and muscular manhood as expressions of both individual moral virtues like willpower, decisiveness, and courage, and desired collective traits like national strength, virility, and manliness,” she writes.
Experts say in the online male supremacist world there are many subcultures fixated on the physical body. Men who participate in these communities are focused on physical attractiveness as the determinant of sexual success, which is a proxy for masculinity at large.
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Hayden said it’s important to recognize that while the documentary seems outlandish, many figures the culture has found laughable have gone on to behave dangerously. Hayden said “Pizzagate” conspiracy theorist Jack Posobiec and Infowars Alex Jones were widely mocked before helping to inspire the Stop the Steal campaign.
People on both sides of the culture wars are in agreement that men are in crisis, but Dashtgard said Carlson’s focus on testosterone is not a solution.
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“Men are suffering. What can we do about that? We can offer them a vision of masculinity that is more expansive,” he said. “The idea is masculinities, plural, that you can ride horses and also write poetry. That you can be in a band and you can also work on your car.
Hayden said it’s critical for men watching programs like Carlson’s to be discerning about the content.
“There’s this idea in the culture that women and children are the people who are always being exploited, and men consider themselves impervious to that. It’s that very presumption that makes them so vulnerable to hard-right propaganda,” Hayden said. “These things are targeted to appeal to insecurities that men may not even realize that they have.”