March 8, 2024 - 11:30am

It’s not clear if Freud ever actually said, “sometimes a cigar is just a cigar”. But in most cases it definitely isn’t.

If the first episode of Fox & Father is anything to go by, cigars are now de rigueur for any dissident male opinion-haver banished from the respectable mainstream by the hegemonic dominance of wokeness, or liberalism, or feminism — or whatever is doing the banishing.

The show itself, produced by the Reclaim Party YouTube channel, Reclaim the Media, and starring former GB News hosts Laurence Fox and Calvin Robinson, is more or less the culture-war fare you’d expect. Perhaps its most intriguing dynamic is the substantive tension between Fox’s blend of Divorced Dad ressentiment and mushy Right-liberalism, and Robinson’s conservative Christian moral clarity. There is often genuine difference between the two, carried through by the evident friendship between these outcasts from Respectable Public Opinion, that gives the show the feel of a pub debate between friends that will likely appeal to its core audience: the mushrooming cohort of politically disaffected and increasingly Right-leaning men.

In accordance with this, the cigars reveal the show’s real mimetic genealogy. This is neither peevish Gen X anti-wokeism nor Christian sexual mores, but the Tateosphere. The modern media figure most associated with cigar-smoking is the masculinity influencer Andrew Tate, who connects the habit to a “fireblood” state of mind maximally associated with productivity. Tate was also the first to interview Fox at length after his departure from GB News for making a joke about the sexual desirability of a female journalist.

At the time, I suggested this conversation was a taste of things to come; Fox & Father supports such a reading. Importantly, as well as heralding a new vehicle for clickbait context-collapse, the arrival of Fox in the Tateosphere also signalled the burgeoning and increasingly visible mediaplex now catering to men.

The clearest signal that Robinson and Fox have situated themselves within this memeplex is the opening clip for their show, a jittery montage of the pair glowering at the camera in dramatically-lit close-up while smoking cigars. The aesthetic is pure Tate Speech, even if the relatively spindly and bookish Fox and Robinson do nowhere near as convincing a rendition in Fox & Father of the pimp machismo archetype of manhood.

Quite the opposite, in fact. So much so that one might query this choice of aesthetic, especially in contrast with the content, which is at least somewhat more thoughtful than Tate’s output. But perhaps the Tate-style signalling is the point. Freud himself loved smoking so intensely that he continued after two operations for mouth cancer and, according to his 1947 biographer, found non-smokers irritating, meaning “nearly all his apostles took up smoking”.

Meanwhile, as far back as 1922, the International Journal of Psycho-Analysis was arguing that one of the reasons people smoke is “the phallic significance of the cigarette, cigar and pipe”. Perhaps, then, we can read the modern mimetic YouTube media-cigar that’s now spread from Tate Speech to Fox & Father as further evidence of a proliferation of micro-Tates. After the copycat fashion of Freudian apostles, these now also embrace the cigar, as a symbolically potent (not to mention literally poisonous) sceptre of “toxic masculinity”.

Indeed, Fox himself makes the symbolic connection between cigars and anti-feminism, saying in response to Robinson’s critique of the entire mediasphere as hegemonically feminist: “They’re not smoking cigars like us.” The fact that neither seems particularly to enjoy their literal cigar (Robinson accidentally inhales and coughs at one point) is neither here nor there.

In his old age, Freud reportedly said that cigars had “served me for precisely 50 years as protection and a weapon in the combat of life”. Now, the cigar’s phallic connotations, mimetic power, and weaponisation are all once again in evidence.

The literal microphone and phallic cigar are, together, the “protection and weapon” Fox and Robinson have adopted in their crusade to reclaim not just the media, but also the now universally condemned and allegedly “toxic” space of masculinity. The set may be flimsy and cheap-looking, and the cigars awkward, but at present Fox & Father has few UK competitors in this space. I expect many imitators to follow.

Mary Harrington is a contributing editor at UnHerd.