The influencer exhibits the privileges of manhood with none of its responsibilities
Seeing Andrew Tate sent to jail as part of a convoluted story involving sex trafficking, Greta Thunberg and pizza would have been the perfect way to close out 2022. Alas, it seems not to be true, at least not entirely.
It is true that Thunberg has been swapping jibes with the British-American former kickboxer and Internet personality on Twitter this week — he boasted about his many cars, she accused him of having a small penis — and that on Wednesday Tate posted a video in response in which he was dressed in a bathrobe and smoking a cigar with a box of pizza in front of him. Gleeful internet sleuths have suggested that it was the branding on the pizza box that allowed Romanian authorities to locate Tate in Bucharest and take him into custody last night on suspicion of human trafficking, rape, and forming an organised crime group alongside his brother Tristan. The siblings have been under criminal investigation in Romania since April.
Although the pizza box detail may be too good to be true, Tate’s detainment is still a remarkable news event. This is a man who has cultivated a public persona as a misogynistic gangster, and whose recent rise to fame has been enabled by his wit, good looks, and his apparent wealth — wealth that, it now turns out, may have been generated by trafficking women into the sex industry. Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised that what looked so much like a LARP may not have been a LARP after all. In the words of Oprah, “When people show you who they are, believe them!”
Although this may spell the end for Tate as a public figure, this will not be the end of the wider phenomenon of which he is a part. The Great Awokening has produced a widespread desire for irreverent, anti-woke content. This is particularly true among young men, who are both significantly more Right-wing than their female peers and also legitimately unhappy about their grim economic prospects. Tate is not the only figure offering such content, but he is one of the most compelling. And unlike, for instance, Jordan Peterson, Tate is explicitly anti-Christian, which makes him even more counter-cultural.
And yet, on one point in particular, Tate is very much running with the cultural grain: just like everyone else in the contemporary West, he is obsessed with gender. The mass entry of women into public life in the second half of the twentieth century, and the consequent blurring of socioeconomic gender roles, has not led to the withering away of masculine and feminine archetypes. Rather, our culture now encourages us to constantly probe at our gender identities, playing with and worrying over the different elements of masculinity and femininity, then mixing and matching those we like best.
The trans activism movement is the purest expression of this trend, but it is also to be found elsewhere on the political spectrum. “Male-to-male transsexual” is a term to which I was recently introduced by the UnHerd writer Katherine Dee, and which describes Tate perfectly, since he has deliberately undergone a transition (albeit not a medical one) to become a hyper-masculine caricature.
Importantly, this masculine role that he craves is a strangely modern one, since it cuts away so much of what constitutes historic manhood. Traditional masculine and feminine roles contain both privileges and obligations: for instance the protective principle of ‘women and children first’ comes with the expectation that women will perform caring and domestic work, while the status conferred on male warriors is conditional on physical self-sacrifice. But Tate’s pick ’n’ mix gender narcissism is all about rights — to dominance, strength, and “bitches” — without any of the duties to family and community. He is unmarried, with an indeterminate number of children from various mothers, and claims he does not even pay his taxes in the UK.
While his detainment suggests that Tate’s thuggish misogyny is not in the least bit fake, there is still something distinctly artificial about his public persona. But it is an artificality that seems to scratch a cultural itch, and which is therefore unlikely to disappear with the man himself. As long as gender narcissism of every political flavour prevails, there will be plenty more Andrew Tates.