Bonus content from my new piece for Rolling Stone about Tucker Carlson and precarious manhood
Interviews from the cutting-room floor.
Hello and happy Monday to everyone.
Let’s chat about it a bit.
The general idea behind the piece is that the hypermasculine, homoerotic clip full of half-naked muscle-bound dudes doing dude things has nothing to do with Carlson being “secretly gay” (as I’ve seen some people argue, baselessly), and is more than just a “rah-rah dudes rock!” type of video. The clip itself is part of Carlson’s years-long attempt to frame advances in LGBTQ rights, women’s rights, and racial equality as a threat to civilization.
Bonus content: Dr. Eric Knowles
In the piece, I quote Dr. Eric Knowles, an associate professor of psychology at New York University and a researcher of social identity and political behavior. There was so much great, important, insightful stuff that I wanted to share some of what didn’t make the cut in the story.
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On the video and the messaging behind it:
The video evokes many tropes of what has been called hegemonic masculinity—the cultural ideal of men as physically strong (those shirtless male bodies), competitive (all that wrestling), and aggressive (the guns and sports). As American men move through society, this is by and large what informs their understanding of what a “real man” is. When we combine the cultural backdrop of hegemonic masculinity with what we know about precarious masculinity—the tendency of men in almost every culture to feel that they must constantly prove their masculine bona fides, whatever that happens to mean in their particular culture—we can understand the effects of rhetoric like this. My research with Sarah DiMuccio provides insight into how men are going to go about proving their masculinity through politics.
First, the video broadcasts and reinforces in grandiose terms ("Thus Spake Zarathustra") that strong and aggressive men are the real men in American society; anyone else is one of Hopf’s “weak men.” In case they’d forgotten, men exposed to this rhetoric say to themselves, “Oh yeah, this should be my goal; this is what I must be.” Second, the inherent precarity of masculinity—that sense that “real man” status is tenuous and always in need of evidence—leads men to say, “I can’t take this for granted; I’ve got to prove to myself and others that this is the kind of man I am.” This precarity, this need to prove masculinity, is amplified by the video’s suggestion that men are at risk of emasculation by unstated cultural forces (pronouns?). Finally, our work suggests that politics is a major avenue through which (precarious) men prove their adherence to (hegemonic) masculine norms of strength, competitiveness, and aggression. This is where the research connects with Carlson’s love affair with fascists: Trump, Orbán, Putin, Bolsonaro, and their ilk comport themselves as hegemonic masculine ideals. Supporting them proves men’s manhood; opposing them calls their manhood into question. These leaders know it, too—Putin shirtless on the horse, Bolsonaro’s story of getting stabbed and surviving, Trump and his supposedly high testosterone levels and big “hands.” But it’s not only in their personae. It’s in the policies they advocate: always aggressive, always unforgiving, always disparaging of the weak. As Jason Stanley explains in How Fascism Works, sexual insecurity and avoidance of the feminine is and has always been a critical component of fascist movements.
You’ll notice that I’m casting the video not so much as evidence of its creators’ precarious masculinity (although that may play a part)—but rather as an act of political communication explicitly intended to leverage hegemonic and precarious masculinity so as to drive voters into the arms of the neo-fascist right in the United States.
On the link between testosterone levels/the concern about testosterone levels and precarious masculinity: