Opinion | Tucker Carlson preaches ball-tanning. Is he practicing it?

If you’re a retirement planner, it’s best to keep those credit cards debt-free. If you’re a nutritionist, it’s best to minimize those pasta-and-bread extravaganzas. If you’re a firefighter, it’s best to replace those smoke-detector batteries every daylight saving time.

And if you’re Tucker Carlson, a star anchor at Fox News, it’s best to … train red light on your genitals.

Practice what you preach, that is. The 8 p.m. anchor at the No. 1 cable news network’s streaming service Fox Nation last week released “The End of Men” (subscription required), a work that obsesses over the alleged failure of modern America to produce virile bros. It’s a stream of footage showing the bulging deltoids of real men, as opposed to the lame-os who grow up on seed oils. Part of the formula for the modern he-man, the film suggests, is testicle-tanning. Dramatic visuals capture the glory of the enterprise:

But the central question is this: Does Carlson himself follow the regimen recommended in his own film?

The practice hit the mainstream last spring, when Fox Nation floated the trailer for “The End of Men,” complete with the red-light shot. Commentators teed off on the imagery, though we here at the Erik Wemple Blog decided to withhold judgment until the full episode hit the Internet.

What a disappointment. Over the course of a 34-minute film, the tanning discussion flashes by in less than 90 seconds. The narration comes from two anonymous men, one of them who’s called “Raw Egg Nationalist” and introduces the topic by saying, “There’s a kind of schism, actually, on right-wing Twitter about — you’re either sunning your balls or you’re freezing your balls.”

Anything wrong with room temperature?

A fellow who claims to go by the Twitter name “Benjamin Braddock” (the character played by Dustin Hoffman in the 1967 film “The Graduate”) then swoops in to address the particulars:

The bro science behind it is based on very real science that’s emerging — and that’s [that] the benefits of red-light therapy, our cells respond to certain wavelengths of light and red light — it penetrates much deeper into the body, and the effect of red light is to increase the cells’ energy. … So by increasing the cellular health of your testes, you’re increasing the function of what they do, and a big part of that is producing testosterone.

No, you’re not, according to Allan Pacey, a professor of andrology at the University of Sheffield Medical School. “I don’t know of any evidence that irradiating the testicles with red light … has any benefit.” In remarks to Insider, Rena Malik of the University of Maryland Medical Center said, “It’s not going to work. There’s no empirical evidence that it works and it doesn’t make sense that it would work.”

Perhaps to add epistemic underpinning to its argument, “The End of Men” displays text on the screen from a scholarly paper in the field of light therapy: “Influence of Ultraviolet Irradiation upon Excretion of Sex Hormones in the Male,” by Abraham Myerson and Rudolph Neustadt from Boston State Hospital. If that all sounds a bit out of date, it’s because the study was completed in 1939. Its conclusion, which is displayed in “The End of Men,” reads, in part, “Ultraviolet irradiation applied with a mercury quartz lamp increases the excretion of androsterone in urine.”

There’s a back story behind the Myerson-Neustadt study. A September 2021 journal article by Matthew McLaughlin, a University of Toronto PhD candidate and one of the few scholars focusing on Myerson, notes that the pair examined whether boosting the concentration of male sex hormone androgen might “cure” patients of homosexuality. Toward this end, they deployed both testosterone injections and the ultraviolet irradiation technique cited in “The End of Men.” “The four patients displayed a quantifiable change in the amount of androgens they excreted, but only one showed clinical improvement with respect to his homosexuality,” writes McLaughlin, who notes that Myerson was attempting to “help patients conform to social standards regarding normal sexual behaviors so they could fit in to society” — and that this approach, while harmful, wasn’t a “reflection of his personal convictions on homosexuality.”

As Myerson progressed in his work, says McLaughlin, he turned away from light therapy as a scientifically sound way of increasing male hormone levels.

Panic programming over the fate of men has been a specialty of Carlson’s for years. “Modern life is making people stressed and miserable,” riffed Carlson on an April 2019 show. “It’s also causing what appears to be biological collapse of the species — I’m not making this up. Male sperm counts have fallen by 50 percent in just 40 years. Huh? No one reports on that.” Apocalyptic messaging of this sort has stemmed from a 2017 analysis suggesting a “significant decline in male reproductive health, which has serious implications beyond fertility concerns.”

How does this topic fit in with Carlson’s own politics? Snugly: The Fox News man — virile, muscular, steeped in history — is under siege from the softness of a woke society, and the evidence shows up in the numbers, goes the argument, which cites declining sperm counts and the like.

And that brings us back to Carlson himself. Is he a red-light guy? “Unfortunately privacy concerns prevent me from discussing the specifics of ball tanning with anyone outside the ball-tanning community,” responded Carlson. “In order to answer your questions, I’d need verification that you yourself are a member of that community. Feel free to attach photo evidence to this secure email.”

It’s all fun and games, in other words. Contrast that ha-ha-ha posture with the serious appraisal that Carlson offered this April, when he was promoting the season’s documentaries. “I mean, don’t you think at this point, when so many of the therapies in the past they’ve told us to take have turned out to be dead ends and have really hurt people — why wouldn’t open-minded people seek new solutions?” he said. (He made a similar remark in this interview.)

One moment he’s joking, the next he’s serious: It’s typical Carlson, whose fans seem not to care about contradictions or hypocrisy. Even when their manhood is at stake.

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