Why are oiled musclemen drinking raw eggs for Tucker Carlson?
The most-watched cable news host's weird fixation on testosterone levels, explained by Nikki McCann Ramírez.
This term gets thrown around a lot, but the trailer for Tucker Carlson’s latest special, “The End of Men,” really is beyond parody.
It features a guy with his balls in what appears to be a toaster. Shirtless men shoot guns, chop wood, and wrestle. Over all this, a British narrator says, “once a society collapses, then, you’re in hard times. Well, hard iron sharpens iron, as they say. And those times inevitably produce men who are tough, men who are resourceful, men who are strong enough to survive. And they they go on to reestablish order, and so the cycle begins again.”
If an anti-LGBTQ pundit putting his name on a video featuring all this homoerotic stuff seems a bit ironic, well, it is. Nikki McCann Ramírez, a longtime Tucker watcher and researcher for Media Matters, tweeted out a clip from the trailer on Friday night with the caption, “I promise you are not prepared for Tucker’s latest montage.” The clip she posted has 7 million views as I write this.
There’s more. On Sunday, Ron Filipkowski tweeted out a clip from the special of Tucker and a guest talking about “testicle tanning” as a way to boost testosterone levels. (Don’t try that at home, kids.)
It’s funny, but considering that Carlson is the most-watched cable news host in the country, it’s also really not.
To get some expert insight on the ideology informing Carlson’s latest deeply bizarre special about the purported decline of masculinity in America, I rung up Ramirez, who recently started working the day shift for Media Matters. (She says her “Fox News diet still includes a ton of Tucker.” Condolences from us.)
“Tucker is focusing on this because, for a long time, he and right-wing media as a whole have been priming the men of their audience to view themselves as enforcers of the culture wars,” she told me. “These viewers aren't going to rush out to the nearest testicle tanning salon and have their balls baked. They're going to have an impression that there's a crisis in the world around them and that they are the ones who need to restore order.”
A transcript of our conversation, lightly edited for length and clarity, follows.
Everyone is obviously having a laugh about the testicle tanning thing. But I suspect there’s something more insidious going on with Tucker’s fixation on testosterone levels. What, if anything, does this tell us about the American right?
Nikki McCann Ramírez
The trailer was really visually absurd, but I think there were some really important things, particularly in the voiceover, that got buried. The first thing is that Tucker is focusing on this because, for a long time, he and right-wing media as a whole have been priming the men of their audience to view themselves as enforcers of the culture wars. Tucker has been covering this, and Fox has as well, this “war on men,” or “war on masculinity,” for a really long time. A really notable example is Fox freaking out about the 2019 Gillette ad. But they've held for a really long time this notion that men, particularly white men, the majority of their audience, are under attack by the left, by their movements, and that these things are eroding traditional values and the role of masculinity in society.
In Tucker's mind, a lot of these things would not happen if it were not for what he talks about as the mass emasculation of men and institutions. Tucker, for a couple years now, has really been fixated on this idea of declining testosterone levels in men across the country. I am not a testosterone and/or testicle tanning expert, but I am a Tucker Carlson expert, and what I can tell you is that there's a bit of a catch here. It's not so much a way to get his audience to focus on their individual testosterone levels, but to get them to pay attention to a more insidious message about what a man's role in society should be.
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I think the trailer was really absurd. I know there's been a lot of commentary on the merits of having a lot of muscular men do muscular man things, but I think the thing that really makes clear what Tucker is doing here is the voiceover. The guy says, "Once a society collapses, then you're in hard times. Hard iron sharpens iron, as they say. And those hard times inevitably produce men who are tough, men who are resourceful, men who are strong enough to survive, and then they go on to establish order, and so the cycle begins again” — the key idea being that society is collapsing and someone needs to restore order.
What do Tucker and Fox indicate to us is causing the “collapse” of society? First and foremost, the political influence of the left and the political goals of the left. You have things like immigration and Tucker's fixation on the great replacement, the rise of LGBTQ movements — particularly the trans movement, which is a direct challenge to traditional gender norms. Tucker has also included the BLM movement as a movement that's trying to erode the notion of a nuclear family. And things like education — we've seen the CRT panic, the notion that parents should have a direct hand in deciding what schools are teaching, even things like climate activism.
The thing that people need to remember here is that Tucker isn't trying to prescribe a solution to a medical problem [by harping on testosterone levels]. He's using a medical problem to sell his beliefs about the role of traditional masculinity. It’s right in that voiceover — that a real man’s role is to establish order. And the question here is, what does order look like for Tucker and for Fox News? These viewers aren't going to rush out to the nearest testicle tanning salon and have their balls baked. They're going to have an impression that there's a crisis in the world around them and that they are the ones who need to restore order.
One of the examples that really stood out to me — and I don't necessarily want to qualify this as a direct one-to-one — but when Kyle Rittenhouse shot protesters in Kenosha, Tucker's response was to question, why is it that a 17-year-old with a rifle decided that he had to be the one to go out and maintain order when no one else would? And that's kind of the extreme of where this would lead.
What does it look like when Tucker says that men — hard, strong men — need to maintain order? There's a ton of examples in his coverage. The way he talks about the military. There was a very notorious segment where a guest of his said the military didn't need women or LGBTQ inclusion. It needed type A men who wanted to sit on a throne of Chinese skulls. It's not just that Tucker is telling people like, oh, you need to go to a doctor and get your testosterone levels checked. It's, no, you need to change your behavior and embody this idea of an enforcer against the degradation of the world around you, an enforcer of the worldview that we are selling you.
There was a good Philip Bump piece in the Washington Post on Monday about how what Carlson is really selling is doubt, and debunking the extremely loose logic underpinning his suggestion about men tanning their nether-regions. But here’s the thing — Carlson’s obviously peddling BS, yet he’s the top-rated cable news host in America. You’ve watched a lot of his show. How do you explain both of those things being true?
Nikki McCann Ramírez
Oftentimes he is diagnosing real problems. But he's identifying not so much the problem itself, but the effect, and framing that effect as the problem in itself. I think a really good example is the way he covers homelessness, where the problem isn't income inequality or the disastrous housing market or policies that have made it difficult for people to seek mental health treatment, drug abuse treatment, or the way our medical system is set up. The problem is that these homeless people exist, they're mucking up our town, they're ugly to look at, and you should be disgusted by it. And he doesn't direct people toward long-term solutions.
He, in a very disingenuous way, frames populism in a way that just maintains the status quo. Like I said, this new special isn't about him directing his viewers to go get a blood panel and talk to your doctor about your testosterone levels. It's about telling people, oh, these LGBTQ people, these people of color, these immigrants, they're wrecking your country and the solution is for you to man up and do something about it. And that “do something about it” is left up to the viewer. Tucker will always hide behind the claim that he's never directing people to do anything, but he will praise people who do things in a manner that he sees as good. I think that's where that tension kind of exists.
When Covid was raging, there was I clip I posted where he said that Boris Johnson had been emasculated by Covid — that getting COVID emasculated you. It makes you more effeminate.
But at the same time, he was telling his viewers that people who trusted public health experts were effeminate. His entire spiel to his audience is identifying these culture war issues that they can latch onto, and not really providing a solution other than you should be angry at this or you should do something about this, but I'm not going to tell you what because that might get me in trouble.
That's where it's troubling — that he glorifies people like Rittenhouse. Because that's one example of what people can do — vigilante justice, taking matters in their own hands.
Nikki McCann Ramírez
Yeah. And a lot of Tucker's programming is about directing ire at groups that are marginalized, groups that are struggling, and saying, These people are the problem. Your world just kind of sucks. Your wage hasn't gone up, you have a bunch of medical debt, the leaders in power don't listen to you as a voter, and the cause is because they're focused on these groups. These groups are the problem, and you should be focused on ways to keep these groups in check, because these groups are asking for too much and it's taking away from you.
That's what this whole testosterone craze is. It's a little bit of an offshoot of scientific racism. If you can diagnose the cause of a social issue as a physiological problem, then you can direct the audience toward the solution of your choice even if that solution is kind of ridiculous, and involves you going to a special salon where they shoot light at your bathing suit parts.
I think Philip Bump's take was really good about how a lot of what Tucker does serves as a way to just undermine expertise. It's no coincidence that one of the people Tucker is interviewing for this special is RFK Jr. He was a really big player in Tucker's coverage of the Covid vaccine and Tucker's claims that no one was telling you the truth, and that pharma companies are hiding things from you. The right-wing media does this with practically every culture war issue. If you direct people toward the real solution, then you no longer have the controlling leverage on that issue. You've kind of given up the opportunity to frame it as something that benefits you.
There's also a fun profit motive here. I think Bump called it “Goop for the MAGA set,” but that's existed through all of right-wing media. The industry of fad diets, supplements, exercise regimens — like the carnivore diet — gorilla mindset, super male vitality. Those alternative health things are often seen as being targeted towards women, but it absolutely caters toward men and, among the right-wing media, it's particularly prevalent.
What Tucker does very well is identify an issue and then misdirect the anger and ire about that issue toward a population or a group or a system where targeting that issue would benefit him. Putting a target on a certain group benefits him, even if it isn't the actual solution to the thing he's mad about.
As we’re talking, the clip of the trailer you posted is approaching 7 million views on Twitter. Are you at all surprised it went that viral?
Nikki McCann Ramírez
Yes and no. The story behind that was that it was Friday night, I was watching Tucker, I was getting ready to go out with friends after the show ended, and I was kind of just tuned out and then I saw the one image of the guy T-posing on the light thing, and I just did a quadruple take. I was like, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait. What just happened? I rewound it, watched it twice, and I was just like … this is kind of hilarious. Like, who told him this was a good way to market this? And honestly, it blew up, so maybe it worked.
It was one of those things where it was really just a distillation, a very concise distillation, of the way the right views masculinity. We just put out a tweet and a post for Media Matters, where Alex Jones today was bragging that that part of the special, where it's just men chugging eggs and shooting guns at bottles of vegetable oil, was filmed on his land near Austin, Texas. It kind of brings together this idea that this isn't just a Tucker Carlson issue. This is an issue that's already really prevalent on the right — the notion of what masculinity should look like in this day and age and how the right can use ideas about masculinity to combat the perceived excesses of the left.
I think Tucker very intentionally knows that this appeals to an audience that already exists within his viewership. Tucker has been covering this for years now. In 2018, he had a month-long series called Men in America, which talked about the crisis of masculinity. It's something that is actually like pretty near and dear to his Tucker-ish heart.
[Editor’s note: I actually did a Twitter thread about Tucker’s “Men in America” segments back in 2018 that you can check out below]
I was mostly surprised because it was a Friday night and things that come out late on a Friday night don't usually get that much pickup. But I think people are aware that this issue exists, and I think of the comparison of [HBO show] The Righteous Gemstones and [Christian workout group] The God Squad. That was very much a parody, it's a comedy show, but it also shows that that kind of notion of masculinity, that conservative embodiment of masculinity, it already exists in the public. Some people make fun of it, but some people are very committed to it and Tucker's tapping into that.
So I don't think it was something that particularly came out of the blue. I just think that particular trailer connected things people already knew were in the zeitgeist and are now like, oh, this is something that the biggest name in cable news is covering.
You mentioned Alex Jones. I know over the course of your four years at Media Matters you’ve watched lots of Tucker, and I think there’s a perception that Tucker’s show is becoming more and more Infowars-ish, with this latest special being one of the best illustrations of that. Do you think there’s something to that?
Nikki McCann Ramírez
It's definitely a real thing. I have a timeline that I did with a couple researchers on the night shift team about Tucker's history of praising Alex Jones. Several times, we've identified monologues that have pretty much been directly ripped from Alex Jones's bloviating.
The Infowars comparison is a pretty easy one for people to make because Alex Jones is a figure that a lot of people can identify nowadays. After Sandy Hook, he became the face of the conspiratorial far right for a really long time. But it's not that Tucker is just sourcing things from Jones. A lot of Tucker's material is now being sourced by ultra conservative micro blogs. He’s very good at funneling things that are hiding out in the far right, ultra conservative, ultra nationalist internet ecosphere, and packaging them out to a cable news audience. That's pretty much what he does every night.
Fox even acknowledges that Tucker’s not a news program. It’s an entertainment program. They're not really doing hard-hitting reporting of the stories of the night. They're repackaging very niche culture war controversies that blow up on smaller outlets, that smaller right-wing influencers will hone in on, and bringing those up to a national cable audience.
It's not just that he's becoming Infowars. I think Tucker Carlson is becoming the content editor of the priorities of the right, and he's sourcing that content from places like Gateway Pundit, like Infowars. It's a nightly thing at this point. I don't want to limit it just to Alex Jones because I think Alex Jones holds a very particular place now. I think he’s someone who doesn't hold the kind of gravitas and power that he held on the right maybe five or eight years ago, but even with him saying, oh, Tucker filmed part of his special on my ranch — he's still in contact with these kinds of people. Tucker’s relationship with Alex Jones is a very good clue about from whom, and from what kinds of places, Tucker is sourcing his content.
Your Twitter bio says you watch “brain poison,” and I’ve dabbled it plenty of it myself. What do you think watching that much Fox has done to your brain?
Nikki McCann Ramírez
I joke to my friends that it's given me a little bit of Swiss cheese brain, but I think the biggest thing is that, even in my own life, you can sometimes feel the effects of having a singular or several narratives just drilled into your brain every single night. I don't like the term brainwashing, but it is kind of the principle that repetition equals retention. If you repeat something to someone enough times, just drill the messaging again and again into their brain, those people go out into the world and take that messaging with them.
In my case, I consume a diet of news and information that contradicts a lot of what Tucker is saying. I'm not viewing it earnestly, I'm viewing it very critically, but you start to notice it when you see a news story and you can practically word-for-word predict what the reaction is going to be, or predict what Tucker's monologue about it is going to be.
To go back to this testicle-tanning situation, it's not that his viewers are going to go out and be like, oh, I have to get my T levels checked. It's that this is just one more node in a long-standing narrative of his about masculinity is under attack in the United States: “The left wants to make you more effeminate, and it's up to you to become manly and to resist it.” The biggest takeaway from all of this Tucker-watching is that you get really good at identifying what the takeaway is going to be, and what people are going to leave with. You kind of see it in day-to-day life. Whenever something goes viral on the right, you can pretty immediately tell what the narrative is going to be and how it's going to be covered, particularly on Fox, which is what I focus on.
Sometimes it's a little depressing, but then the best thing you can do is go out in the world and go talk to people who aren't just watching the news, who are doing grassroots work, who are combating those narratives on a day-to-day basis. Those are the people who, I think, are the best antidote to Fox News brain. If you stay isolated in the media environment, it just feels eternal and awful and it's like a black hole of brain poison. So, that's kind of my antidote to all of this. I have a lot of really good friends who do awesome work on a day-to-day basis combating narratives that I track. It's an ecosystem and everyone has their place, but you gotta get outside and see what everyone else is doing or you will go crazy.