Tucker Carlson decided to open a new season of his Fox News show by tackling the big national problem no one wants to acknowledge – the decline of manly men. The pretty, bowtied WASP introduced his marks to his new favorite theme: a “collapse” in testosterone levels accompanied by a rise of male nancy-ness that threatens western civilization. His guest was some random dude selling “bromeopathy” through a faux documentary called The End of Men.
What followed his intro was the gayest minute on Fox News since Rear Admiral Ronny Jackson’s worshipful celebration of Trump’s health. Carlson treated his audience to a video montage beginning with nostalgic images of “strong men.” It included the caption that, “Strong men made good times” while in the background a strong man hurls his javelin. I mean, if that’s your idea of a good time…
The video featured sweaty shirtless hunks wrestling. A shirtless bearded Adonis swung an axe. An inexplicably shirtless underwear model fired an assault rifle. In case this was all too subtle, they threw in a shot of a guy pulling on udders. Yes, seriously, udders. At the close of the sequence, a nude Adonis flexes his guns while basking in the manifying red light of a magic ball scanner.
Fun observation – All of the burly men were white. The single black man shown was obese and lumbering. A montage full of ripped black men would be promoting a completely different porno, though the target audience would have been the same.
Why did Tucker Carlson open his season with an ad for a John Waters summer camp? There’s a lot here to unpack.
For starters, this montage is a helpful reminder that every Republican accusation is a confession. People screaming about “the gays” are almost always exposing their own sexual insecurities. From child trafficking (Matt Gaetz, etc) to voter fraud to “cancel culture” (Republican school and library boards all over the country), every Republican talking point exposes their darkest obsessions. Republicans don’t want anyone to “say gay” because every mention of the concept makes it tougher for certain Republicans to hold the act together.
What’s all the fuss about testosterone levels? A study a couple of decades ago seemed to suggest that male testosterone levels were declining globally. In hindsight, this appears to be a data glitch resulting from an overall aging population. The people who managed to ignore climate change and covid have not, in fact, uncovered a real problem. They have, however, exposed their own deepest terror – declining male power, mostly their own.
Carlson didn’t get rich by misunderstanding his audience. The kind of men drawn to Fascist propaganda are the kind of men who feel dogged by failure and inadequacy, easy marks for grifters pitching “real man” remedies. Fascism embraces a bizarre cult of male sexual power, perhaps best described as homoerotic homophobia, in which an erotic obsession with an ideal male form is pared with exaggerated demonstrations of not-gayness.
What does Fascist homoerotic homophobia look like? It looks like the far-right’s obsession with “cuckold” imagery and language. It looks like Steve Bannon’s erotic rhapsody on Fascist uniforms and style, all about leather, violence and power. It looks like Ernst Rohm, the openly gay leader of Hitler’s SA (predecessor to the SS), and his strange, homoerotic embrace of the mannderbund, or “men’s state.” You see it in the “Proud Boys,” who decided to give themselves a super-not-gay name better suited for a Castro Street bathhouse. It looks like Paul Pressler, the Southern Baptist preacher and Republican anti-gay political activist who’s a gay pedophile. It looks like Jerry’s Falwell Jr. ‘s three way with a Miami pool boy. An ideology that worships male power also worships male sexual power. That worship can be expressed in odd ways.
Strange as this Carlson episode is, it’s not new. Themes and images he touched on, caressed and fondled on his show are central to Fascist mythology and to the white supremacist ideology from which Fascism rose. Carlson dressed up his show with male underwear models because that kind of homoerotic imagery appeals to a certain class of homophobe while tweaking the aspirations of chronically insecure Fascist men.
Everything old is new again. To understand why Fox News cultists will spend the next year shelling out cash to tan their sad, shriveled balls, we should perhaps remember the American Nazi who became a millionaire selling goat testicles and racial panic.
John Brinkley may be the most American American who ever lived. He began his career hawking fake medicine in Tennessee in 1907 and by the 1930’s presided over a news and entertainment empire. Generations before Fox News or Tucker Carlson, Brinkley perfected the rightwing infotainment grift.
For most of the 1910’s, Brinkley rambled around the South scraping a living from phony cures. His frauds, affairs, bigamy and occasional thievery left him constantly on the run until he struck out west, making it only as far as Kansas. He settled in the little community of Milford, promoting himself as a doctor. It was there that he hit on the first half of an idea that would make him rich – goat testicles.
Brinkley started selling expensive goat testicle transplants as a cure for just about everything, but especially the loss of male “virility.” And yes, that means transplanting goat testicles into people. No, it didn’t work. He struggled for the first few years against a hostile medical establishment and the burden of some very unpleasant patient outcomes until he discovered the second half of this magic formula – radio.
In 1923, Brinkley scraped together the money to buy a radio station in Milford, KFKB. He filled the airwaves with goat testicle promotions along with long political rants, farm reports, fundamentalist preaching, country and gospel music, and whatever other entertainment he could assemble. Business boomed.
But for the brief, covering reference to “the female,” this sample of Brinkley’s pitch for his goatnut cure is almost as gay as Tucker Carlson’s video clip:
“Note the difference between the stallion and the gelding. The stallion stands erect, neck arched, mane flowing, champing at the bit, stamping the ground, seeking the female, while the gelding stands around, half asleep, going into action when goaded, cowardly, listless, with no interest in anything. Men, don’t let this happen to you. A man is as old as his glands.”
Another pitch began, “Are you a manly man, full of vigor?”
And another urged them to fight, “the disease that’s in your body, the disease that’s destroying your earning power, the disease that’s causing you to keep your nose to the grindstone and spend every dollar that you can rake and scrape. You men, why are you holding back? You know you’re sick, you know your prostate is infected and diseased… Well, why do you hold back?”
By 1928, Brinkley had raised the power of his transmitter to the point that the station could be heard nationwide, a position he secured by carefully offering time to politicians across the political spectrum. Spreading the wealth was a key to Brinkley’s widening scams. When doctors in nearby states complained that his broadcast advice was undermining their business, he organized a syndicate of doctors and pharmacies. Listeners would be told to get their care through associated providers and those providers would deliver kickbacks to Brinkley.
Careful cultivation of politicians and a willingness to cut others in on the action helped protect Brinkley from a flood of malpractice suits and investigations, at least for a time. A steady stream of assaults on his bogus medical license were absorbed by doctors and officials with little incentive to crack down.
By 1930, the federal government couldn’t ignore the wave of complaints or Brinkley’s consistent flouting of broadcast rules. A crackdown ensued. As the tide of the investigation turned against him, Brinkley decided to run for Governor of Kansas. He began his campaign too late to get on the ballot, so he toured the state holding massive, entertaining rallies to train voters on the write-in process. Brinkley probably won. Enough of his write-in ballots were invalidated on a technicality to swing the election against him. In February 1931, his final appeals failed and his Kansas radio station went off the air.
Brinkley wasn’t done. He ran unsuccessfully for Governor again in 1932 and 1934. Meanwhile, he sold the Kansas station to a local insurance business and gradually moved his operations to Del Rio, Texas. Just across the border, out of reach of the US government, Brinkley set up the largest broadcast tower in the world, originally ten times the power of his Kansas station, later 200 times stronger.
His Mexican operation set him free to sell his wildest schemes yet, selling “crazy water crystals,” an increasingly bizarre collection of fake remedies and autographed photos of Jesus Christ. His Mexican radio station also became the genesis of modern country music, bringing figures like the Carter Family, Jimmy Rogers and Gene Autry to a mass audience. Right along with them, Brinkley introduced his new Nazi friends, William Pelley and Fritz Kuhn. Brinkley funded William Pelley’s new Nazi organization in North Carolina, the Silver Shirts. His radio station offered them time to share their anti-semitic conspiracy theories nationwide.
Brinkley’s obsession with sexual vitality dovetailed nicely with Nazi themes of eugenics and the threat to the white master race. The Nazis made the use of abortion and birth control severe crimes. Raising birth rates and promoting the sexual vitality of the master race was a vital Nazi concern. Brinkley was a natural ally of the Fascists, using both his money and his media platform to support them. The kind of people excited by a mythology of endangered male potency are easily drawn in by an ideology of threatened male power.
The 1940s were a bad time for Fascists. In a decline that seems remarkably similar to Alex Jones, Brinkley’s many enemies seemed to pounce at once. As war began in Europe, Brinkley’s Nazi sympathies drew fresh hostility from Washington. In 1941, the US government reached an agreement with Mexico to shut down Brinkley’s station. The same year he was indicted for fraud in Arkansas. He promptly declared bankruptcy, dying a few months later in 1942.
Neither the homoeroticism of Tucker Carlson’s dick lamp nor the paranoid themes behind it are new. White people are Schrodinger’s Race, simultaneously a beautiful, master race of supreme vitality and a weak, declining, impotent force, forever sinking beneath a dusky wave. Carlson’s End of Men shtick embraces this paradox. He offers viewers a magic ritual to awaken their lost racial supremacy, attaining a kind of elevated white power unavailable to their “affluent” city cousins who foolishly listen to “experts.” Like 19th century Ghost Dancers, Carlson is introducing the mythology and worship rituals which promise to restore their lost power. There are a lot of insecure men unhappy with their plight, looking for trouble. Carlson and the Republicans are offering them an attractive explanation, recycling a Fascist ideology to weaponize them.
And finally, here’s Republican Congressman and man’s man, Madison Cawthorn, in lingere. Yes, this is real.