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This was part of the trailer for an episode called “The End of Men”. It picks up on a point Carlson has been making for years now: that men — especially American men — are physically weaker than they were before, and that translates into weaker political leadership. The video is an odd combination of homophobia and homoeroticism, but we can leave that for others to analyze. Either way, it’s a bit of persuasive marketing. The tan of the testicles is the lure; the trap closes when you agree to toe the line from there to Carlson’s larger argument about the decline of masculinity and the rise of the left.
Because this is Tucker Carlson, it’s helpful to remember that regardless of the subject, the ultimate destination is the same: White Americans, especially older men, are beleaguered in a culture increasingly more hostile and it gives them the tools to fight back. This episode of his show isn’t called “Examining an Apparent Drop in Testosterone Levels,” after all. It’s apocalyptic, like almost everything Carlson produces. It’s all part of the same fight between us or them, now or never, between true male Americans and decadent elites.
Carlson kicked off this new season with an hour-long special in which he interviewed some of the topics of the upcoming programs and spoke with Fox News executive Justin Wells, who spoke during the first season. Carlson celebrated Fox’s willingness to give him the space and resources to do whatever he wants, which he clearly does.
“We shook up a few people in ‘mainstream media’ or whatever, obviously,” Wells said of the show’s success, rolling out air quotes, “because maybe some stories are controversial, but they are matters that people care deeply about.”
You will recall that one of the shows that the “mainstream media” found dubious was a long-running attempt to recast the January 6, 2021 attack on the Capitol at the instigation of government provocateurs. The three-part series included interviews with a former Trump administration staffer fired for his ties to white supremacists and with one of the organizers who pushed the “stop theft” narrative after the 2020 election. But the main idea was, once again, that the bad guys – the left, the Democrats, etc. – wanted to use the Capitol riot to brand the right as racist and dangerous to the country as part of a social or literal purge. It didn’t show up.
The most interesting part of what Wells said, however, is that people “care” about these topics “deeply.” Carlson himself had said something similar minutes earlier, saying he and his team had made “a long-running documentary series on issues that we believe are important to the country and to you.” The idea, which Wells and Fox probably hope is self-fulfilling, is that the shows tend to spark budding curiosity in audiences.
The reality is different.
Carlson is a lot like former President Donald Trump in his ability to capture the passions and concerns of the American political right. But Carlson does something Trump often pretends to do: He can actually shape what people think and focus on. Trump’s political strength has always been rooted in his ability and willingness to elevate what the right-wing media focused on. Carlson’s strength is in directing that focus.
A good example is the coronavirus vaccines. Trump wants his base to view vaccines as a miracle he brought to them. But, thanks in part to the skepticism stoked by people like Carlson, who would rather the right see vaccines as an ineffectual intrusion by us or them into their bodily autonomy, much of the right actually rejects vaccination. Trump is therefore toning down his stance to match his supporters.
Carlson is also advantaged by having nothing to deliver outside of rhetoric. He doesn’t even need to provide real solutions to the problems he claims to have identified, preferring instead to fall back on the kind of pseudoscience that is rampant in an age of trying to sell stuff to people who “do their own research. “It’s Goop for the MAGA set.
As part of his introductory special for season two, Carlson interviewed Andrew McGovern, a “fitness pro” who advocates testicular tanning.
“Half the viewers right now are like, ‘What? Testicle tan? That’s crazy!'” Carlson said. “But my point of view is, okay, testosterone levels are crashing and nobody is saying anything about it? It is mad. So why is it crazy to look for solutions? »
Leaving aside the central question about testosterone levels here, a claim that is not without debate, let’s focus on the false equivalence drawn by Carlson. It’s a logical division by zero: if something is acceptably crazy, then anything crazy must be accepted. Just because it claims the problem exists doesn’t mean any random attempt to fix the problem is worth noting.
McGovern, of course, agreed with Carlson’s framing, saying a lot of people “don’t trust mainstream information.” That’s why Carlson does this. He does not sell testicle tanners. He sells doubt.
As he ran through some of the hits from the first season, Fox executive Wells pointed to an exploration of UFOs that a program had considered.
“Last season we covered UFOs and this phenomenon,” he said. “We dove a bit into cattle mutilation. But this season, we’re really looking at that, a fine-grained approach to what’s really going on.
Carlson says it’s “a perfect story for this series” as it jumps from initial resistance to the idea of aliens mutilating cows to actually make people think. It’s the kind of thing, Wells said, that “if we did that on YouTube or some other outlet or whatever, they’d ban it.” Since there are no weird UFO videos on YouTube.
But, in an interview with two guys called “The Bearded Butchers”, we see the same logical problem at play. Cows had been mutilated or butchered (a crazy thing) and so aliens did it (a crazy idea that must be accepted). Something inexplicable has happened and now here is an explanation that reinforces the idea that regular American Joes know more than the officials are willing to admit.
“You ask about it, ‘shut up, conspirator!'” Carlson said of the UFO show. “And then you dig a little deeper and go, like, ‘What the hell is that?’ And I think we did.
That’s the point! Prevent people from feeling isolated and guilty for their marginal beliefs and instead celebrate them as correct, as embattled truth tellers fighting the establishment.
When clips of Carlson’s “End of Men” trailer circulated online, they often left out the part right before the testicles tan (and the attendant shots of beefy guys doing hard stuff). This included an unidentified individual who weighed in solemnly on how the alleged decline in sperm counts over the past few decades indicates that we are “heading for calamity”, which he says is a “mathematical fact”.
Some viewers might recognize the connection to the opening of the trailer, showing John F. Kennedy announcing his fitness program. The speaker of the “calamity” was his nephew, Robert F. Kennedy Jr.
And most readers will now say, ah. Because what Robert Kennedy Jr. is best known for these days is not his last name but his embrace of vaccine safety misinformation. His efforts to sow doubt about vaccines predate the coronavirus pandemic but flourished during it, and quoting him as any kind of authority on wellness right now is nothing more than a snub to people who actually know what they’re talking about.
And that, and everything else, sums up Carlson’s show.