What's With the Far-Right's Interest in Ball Tanning?

If you think the Covid-19 pandemic was the first time the far right took strange health advice proffered by wellness devotees, think again. Bodily sovereignty and purity tests have long been part of fascist and white nationalist playbooks. Bipartisanship has a way of dissolving when it comes to the body — especially, as it now seems, when it comes testicle tanning, or so says Tucker Carlson.

In the nineteenth century, German strongman Eugen Sandow was the bodybuilding poster boy. Sandow was born Friedrich Wilhelm Müller; “Eugen” was allegedly short for “eugenics,” as he believed that his impressive muscularity reflected his strong, white roots. Stalin held mass exercise rituals to boost Russian identity politics (and Putin revived them). Kim Jong-un loves MMA-style cement bashing

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More recently, Alex Jones built his Infowars empire by shilling unproven supplements. Fascist fitness” became a thing. “Plandemic” creator Mikki Willis is promoting an affiliate code for an (also unproven) immune system-boosting vitamins from Vladimir Zelenko, the man who influenced Donald Trump’s views on hydroxychloroquine. In every case, a strong body is the goal, and most often, that means a virile male body. 

While the left has long been associated with wellness practices like yoga, meditation, and acupuncture, the right has been equally obsessed with bodily purity and optimal fitness. Medical contrarianism is now a brand, and brand ambassadors seem open to a vast array of nonsense. 

Which brings us to Carlson. 

The second season of the Fox News host’s docuseries is trending thanks to a trailer for the episode, “The End of Men.” The series promises to offer solutions to the “problem” of declining masculinity, with one promo video showing ripped bare-chested men flipping truck tires, chopping wood, and shooting machine guns in an ultimate display of Crossfit allegiance.  But Tuck outdid himself with one segment in particular on testicular tanning — a practice so ludicrous it might be the one time everyone can agree with Kid Rock.

As with many outlandish health claims supported by no evidence, the notion that low-level laser therapy will increase testosterone and fertility is not new. Red light therapy — or as the Hungarian scientists named it in 1967, photobiomodulation — is experiencing a renaissance in potential treatments for muscle recovery, depression, and wound healing, topics regularly discussed on far right wellness podcasts with affiliate links to massage guns and infrared saunas. 

Which naturally led some men to strip naked and point the light at their balls. 

In the trailer, personal trainer Andrew McGovern says there’s “so much data out there” in support of red light therapy “that hasn’t been picked up on or covered.” (There is in fact plenty of data — a PubMed search turns up nearly 5,000 results — but pain relief and powerful semen are not the same thing.)

There is risk, however, especially when it comes to dosage levels. “Advocates for this intervention use low levels of red light or near-infrared light, but the pop culture conversation over this has been about ‘tanning,’ ” says Jonathan Jarry, science communicator for McGill University’s Office for Science and Society. “I worry that this telephone game will lead some people to go to a tanning salon and repeatedly expose their scrotum to ultraviolet light, a much more energetic light that can cause mutations. Skin cancer is no joke.”

He qualified that statement by reminding me that scrotal melanoma is very rare, though there are other types of potential cancers associated with tanning your balls — a practice that McGovern cites as “bromeopathy,” a play on the terms “bro science” and “homeopathy,” and which very much lines up with the fascist fitness mindset. McGovern has claimed the term originates with those who “don’t trust the mainstream information.” 

Junk science is not a counterargument to scientific distrust, though it fits with the far right’s chronic assault on science — one which intentionally focuses on characters and whataboutism instead of clinical research. 

The jump from low testosterone to homeopathy isn’t as far as you might think. As Jarry explains, homeopathy involves a process of dilution so intense and rigorous that it destroys any active ingredient in order to derive its “essence.” This has been the fascist impulse for generations: to bend science in grotesque contortions in order to fit a predetermined message, one that most often involves an imagined and ideal masculinity that refuses to bow to weakness in any form. 

Jarry has written about the dangers of homeopathy for years, and has even taken part in a national initiative for labeling the lack of evidence of homeopathic products in Canada. (In the U.S., The Center for Inquiry is currently suing a homeopathic manufacturer for consumer deception.) Far right wellness advocates (and Aaron Rodgers) have flocked to homeopathic products since the pandemic began despite no evidence of their efficacy. This extends to testicle tanning.

“There’s nothing homeopathic about shining a light on your scrotum,” says Jerry. “It goes to show that the word ‘homeopathy’ is misunderstood by most, including outside-the-box health gurus. The idea that red light exposure below the belt is a form of homeopathy, the nonsensical notion that heavily diluted substances help cure the symptoms they would normally cause, doesn’t hold water. Homeopathic products are sugar pills, plain and simple.”

The message is clear: everything in modern society is an assault on men, and so these men must harness their God-given power to rise up and reclaim the kingdom. As Joe Rogan said, weak men create hard times and strong men are needed to kick off the party again. Perhaps there’s a guest list that demands massive amounts of testosterone in order to enter. It’s all a cycle, bro.

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