Note: This piece is cross-posted in my Substack newsletter.
This weekend, Fox News commentator and UFO aficionado Tucker Carlson posted previews for the new season of his Fox Nation streaming service documentary series Tucker Carlson Originals. This season’s episodes designed to appear to the prejudices and preferences of old white conservative men whose last new idea occurred to them in 1979 include one on why trans people regret changing their gender, one on the crisis of UFOs attacking and mutilating our cattle, and the one that received the most ridicule: “The End of Men,” a documentary alleging that male testosterone levels have declined steadily for decades, and men will cease to be masculine in our lifetimes unless conservatism restores their virility.
The media have already had a field day poking fun at the homoerotic imagery in “The End of Men,” with its lovingly filmed shots of shirtless, muscular men exercising their way through a reenactment of Triumph of the Will, as well as the ludicrous scene of a nude man on a cliff using a light emitter to provide heliotherapy to his testicles in an attempt to enhance his virility.
There’s little to add to the chorus of voices who pointed out the essentially fascist undertones of the glorification of hypermasculinity, and many also noted correctly that the “end of men” rhetoric has been a feature of anti-feminist discourse for more than half a century, with conservative panic about men losing their virility and masculinity being a recurring theme in human civilization going back as far we care to look. Midcentury Americans worried that they failed to measure up to the frontier cowboys. The Victorians dreamed of manly medieval knights, who in turn looked to Roman virility. The Ancient Greeks had an entire ideology of decline, thinking themselves the shrunken, softened heirs of the Golden Age.
What I do want to point out, however, is the narration in Carlson’s documentary, which has some very dark undertones that many commentators laughing at the beefcake imagery missed. “Once a society collapses then, you’re in hard times,” a British-accented voice says. “Well, 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. They go on to reestablish order, and so the cycle begins again.”
This might seem like generic survivalist right-wing rhetoric, but it’s a fairly direct summary of The Fourth Turning, the right-wing reworking of Hesiod’s four ages of man by William Strauss and Neil Howe, the theorists who invented the concept of discrete American generations. They posited that time is cyclical, descending from periods of hard, masculine virtue into periods of effeminate decadence, ultimately leading to a crisis that reestablish the rule of violent alpha men. They dress it up in the fancy language of politics with a four-part cycle roughly paralleling Hesiod’s, but this is the underlying gist of their claim. They see our current world as being in an “unraveling,” setting the stage for a “crisis.” They specifically say that “During an Unraveling, the gap between acceptable gender roles shrinks to its narrowest point. The efficacy of masculine power (and feminine morality) is reidealized during a Crisis.” It is obvious how their simplistic idea about gender confusion in times of decadence translates directly into Carlson’s masculine panic and demand for enhanced virility and strict gender roles.
Former Trump advisor Steve Bannon adopted a bastardized version of the Fourth Turning argument, which he promotes on his right-wing podcast and among conservative activists.
So, while it’s fine to laugh at Carlson for filling men’s minds with idealized images of manly muscle men grunting and flexing their way toward testicular fortitude, we should not lose sight of the dangerous ideology undergirding the homosocial and homoerotic antics of the proto-fascists: They are preparing their followers for an Armageddon contest of straight white Christian men über alles.
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Esquire, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
Enter your email below to subscribe to my newsletter for updates on my latest projects, blog posts, and activities, and subscribe to Culture & Curiosities, my Substack newsletter.
Terms & Conditions
Please read all applicable terms and conditions before posting a comment on this blog. Posting a comment constitutes your agreement to abide by the terms and conditions linked herein.