A series of articles equate healthy living with fascism
If you’re heavily immersed in the digital world, it might be tempting to read an article like the one that appeared on Politico on Monday, titled “The testosterone primary of 2024 is ‘getting out of hand’”, and assume that the mostly digital subculture of Right-wing bodybuilders has finally seeped into the mainstream.
There are elements of truth to this claim. Prominent personalities in the space, like Raw Egg Nationalist and Bronze Age Pervert, have considerable organic reach, including a wide range of people in politics and journalism. They inspire thousands of imitators across social media platforms, and they’ve received some important media attention. For example, Raw Egg Nationalist was featured in Tucker Carlson’s documentary The End of Men, and Peter Thiel mentioned Bronze Age Pervert in a recent speech.
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A few days ago, UnHerd writer Mary Harrington made a similar suggestion, and I’ve argued myself that because Twitter is a major source of inspiration for media professionals, its most popular subcultures will likely filter into the mainstream. These trends will then be adopted (and crucially, diluted) by influencers and corporations looking to sell something. However, there’s another significant factor at play here, and that’s the bizarre politicisation of being healthy, which is slowly becoming coded as “Right-wing”.
In March, an MSNBC op-ed said that far-Right groups value physical fitness, and that encouraging fitness in others is a core part of their rhetoric. On its face, the claim shouldn’t be controversial. It’s not even very interesting: prominent far-Right political figures have long celebrated and proselytised for the cause of staying in shape.
But that’s not how the article was read, or even promoted on social media by MSNBC. Online, it was another data point in the increasingly popular (and absurd) suggestion that an interest in fitness, and health more broadly, means you’re far-Right. Looking at the bigger picture, it’s part of a larger trend where mainstream media links traditionally masculine interests or concerns, such as the global decline in sperm count, with the bogeyman of the neo-Nazi next door. Is your son going to the gym more often? Sorry, folks: he might just be a fascist. And forget congratulating a friend on their weight loss. That’s now “fatphobic” and therefore problematic, an indication of far-Right sympathies.
This notion is so preposterous that anyone possessing a modicum of common sense wouldn’t even entertain the idea of refuting it. Physical fitness shouldn’t be a political statement, even if it theoretically can be. And yet the mainstream seems to be determined to create a climate in which fitness is another “Right-wing dog whistle” — the label frequently attributed to “free speech”, America’s First Amendment.
Of course, this trend of associating fitness with extreme political ideologies only serves to blur the definition of “far-Right”. It allows moderate figures — such as podcast host Joe Rogan, writers Bari Weiss and Jesse Singal, or political commentator Tim Pool — to be erroneously considered far-Right ideologues.
It is plausible that Republican candidates draw inspiration from certain online personalities and want to appeal to their audiences: just look at Ron DeSantis’s cringe-inducing attack ad against Donald Trump, a poor imitation of the organic memes the former president inspired in 2016. It’s more likely, though, that they’re trying to speak to people (read:men) who are being gaslit into believing that health and physical fitness now “belong” to any political party.
Ultimately, they’re saying, “If it’s Right-wing to be healthy, wouldn’t you rather be Right-wing?” And honestly? Who in their right mind wouldn’t vote for that.