Pro-tip: Don’t check your email while you are driving. Not only is one out of every four car accidents in the United States a result of texting while driving, but you may be so shocked by someone you’ve known for years asking you to write about Tucker Carlson and testicle-tanning that you swerve and nearly crash into a river.
At least, that is what happened to me this morning. My editor asked if I might have an “angle on Tucker Carlson’s weird masculinity/ball-tanning shtick,” to which my first response was surprise that there was already an angle on Tucker’s testicle-tanning, let alone need for a new one. That is an image I never asked for and could have happily lived without.
Alas, this is indeed a thing, as proven by Carlson’s documentary series Tucker Carlson Originals, in which he interviewed someone called Andrew McGovern, who claims to be a fitness professional and is a pretty avid proponent of chestnuts roasting, if not on an open fire, at least in something akin to a microwave. If men want to increase their testosterone levels, McGovern says, they should consider red-light therapy.
While I would certainly recommend Carlson, McGovern, and most of the men watching this program try some sort of therapy, it would not involve lighting up their scrotum like two disco balls. Andy Levy, the co-host of “The New Abnormal” podcast, was not wrong when he compared this new-age pseudoscience to “a male version of Goop” – Gwyneth Paltrow’s quackers lifestyle brand. It is tempting, then, to leave it there, chalking this up as yet another bizarre far-right delusion like PizzaGate or the Big Lie – a sort of QAnon of the crotch.
The truth is, however, too serious for all that. Sure, red light therapy on your balls is unlikely to help increase testosterone as Carlson hopes and McGovern claims. Indeed, as many on Twitter pointed out, it might actually decrease male fertility. The desire to be ever more virile and macho is, however, very real and deadly serious.
A preoccupation with masculinity and gender roles is a hallmark of a fascist movement. Indeed, it is baked into the equation. Consider the fascist aesthetic: the strong, brawny Vladimir Putin riding bare-chested astride a stallion; Nazi soldiers goosestepping in perfect synchronicity; the very fasces – a bound bundle of wooden rods or sticks, representing strength in numbers at the expense of individual liberty – which Mussolini and others adopted as a symbol of fascist movements. It is a decidedly masculine, austere aesthetic built to convey dominance, power, and control.
Dominance, power, and control are characteristics intimately tied to traditional notions of masculinity in the west. According to sociologist Paul Kivel, in our hyper-gendered world, we associate masculinity – and therefore men – with such traits as “violence,” “toughness,” “strength,” and “control over women.” Feminists and their allies have for more than fifty years been pushing back against these socially constructed behaviors, insisting on the liberation of women from male oppression and the freedom of men from what Kivel calls the “be-a-man” box. This, we think, is key to a more equitable and just society.
Tucker Carlson believes women are “very primitive” and “like dogs.” He celebrates vigilantes like Kyle Rittenhouse. He has argued a fascist uprising in America is justifiable and that parents should “thrash” teachers who teach about LGBTQ Americans, and he idolizes authoritarians like Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban.
In this context, then, Carlson’s preoccupation with testosterone and virility can’t be written off as just “Goop for bros” or as the inane mutterings of a fringe loon. Rather, they are indicative of his fascistic worldview, one that positions men – or, more specifically in Carlson’s case, straight, white, Christian men – as the natural arbiters of total social control and anyone else (women, mostly, but also progressives, LGBTQ folks, and people of color) as inferior, subordinate, and ideally subservient. Those who don’t know their place are, as fascist movements of the past show us, not dealt with kindly.
That said, a bit of perspective is crucial here. Carlson is not about to goosestep his way into total power, and for now remains – while no doubt a national disgrace and danger to our very democracy – contained to spouting off on Fox.
Still, there is cause for concern. Large swathes of the American public deciding to barbecue their balls would not be ideal. If you’re reading this and thinking you might fry your own fritters, maybe don’t.
Beyond that, though, Carlson has the most-watched show on cable news – meaning that his words reach a vast audience. His presence on Fox News lends him a credibility, if only with his viewers. His word is gospel for millions of Americans.
For those reasons and more, it is imperative that while laughing at the absurdity of Carlson’s obsession with other men’s balls we also take a moment to consider what he is telling us. The seeds being planted in the minds of American men – that they have had something stolen from them, that their natural places as the kings of their castles and masters of the universe has been usurped, and that only through violence, aggression, and strength can they reclaim that mantle – are the seeds of a rising authoritarianism. They cannot be ignored, no matter how absurd they may be.
So, by all means listen to what Tucker Carlson says. It is an important bellwether of where the modern right is heading, and it could be crucial to preparing for the fight to save democracy. But please, for the love of all that is good and holy, do not tan your testicles.