Punching down as a cover for male fragility
A new crop of "conservative comedians" aren't actually funny, but they'll take every opportunity to pretend to be
The Hodgetwins spent Christmas Eve tweeting out a 2020 Scientific American article entitled “The Racist Roots of Fighting Obesity.” The “conservative comedians” made the jump from YouTube stardom to, in this tweet, being boosted by Elon Musk, which actually often happens—and which, for some reason, appears in my algorithm with increasing frequency even though I don’t follow Twitter’s owner, or the duo of Keith and Kevin Hodge.
For context, the Hodgetwins cut their teeth online with very bro-y workouts—both men are bodybuilders and mostly now post videos of themselves eating fast food like Popeye’s, Wendy’s, and Krispy Kreme around their now-hometown of Las Vegas. They don’t seem to post many workouts these days, though they remain buff, and they certainly posture often. Size—for intimidation—is a big part of their brand.
Then there’s conservative comedy, in the sense that JP Sears is a comedian.
As with Sears, the Hodgetwins’ brand of comedy relies on punching down, not nuance or storytelling—or being based in reality in any meaningful way. Like Sears, they’ll take a subject, make fun of it, then sometimes moralize about why they’re right on a topic. And as with JP, the Hodge twins focus on one subject often: masculinity.
Well, their version of it.
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And so on Christmas Eve, when most people were with their family and celebrating downtime with friends, the Hodgetwins retweeted another trolling account, neither linking to the SciAm article. If they did, people would have the opportunity to actually read it and decide if their commentary is on point. Of course it’s not, and they know their audience won’t actually read the article, so none of that matters.
Comments in the feed focused on SciAm as a publication. As a former subscriber, I agree with some criticism. SciAm will sacrifice credible science reporting for clickbait. Recent homepage features include “6 fascinating things we learned about pet dogs and cats in 2022” and “Kindness can have unexpectedly positive consequences”—the sort of milquetoast sciencey talk that make eyes roll.
Yet I also understand that science publications face challenges. Most people aren’t opening up their browser to JAMA articles. Clickbait drives people to websites where credible scientific information lives. So I don’t fault the magazine for it.
Of course, in the case of the Hodgetwins, science isn’t the point—it’s punching down at everyone who, in this case, believes obesity might just be a complex subject, as we discussed on our recent episode with Aubrey Gordon.
What the article actually states
First off, the SciAm piece in question is a policy article, not a study recap. The distinction is important. Op-eds are not news stories in traditional media, but of course, Twitter is not a media environment where distinctions matter. With caricatures like JP Sears, the Hodgetwins, and Elon Musk, especially with his trolling disdain for Anthony Fauci and vaccines, everything becomes opinion, and science is whatever they want to agree with.
The SciAm article was written by Dr. Sabrina Strings, who is currently serving as a Chancellor’s Fellow & Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of California, Irvine. She’s also a yogi and author of a number of journal articles, as well as 2019’s Fearing the Black Body: The Racial Origins of Fat Phobia. Her article features the subtitle, “Prescribing weight loss to Black women ignores barriers to their health,” which is actually the focus of the article, which, briefly, states:
Black women face health challenges more than other groups in America, especially when it comes to chronic cardiovascular, inflammatory and metabolic risk factors
Due to the horrible measurement known as BMI, 4 out of 5 Black women in America are considered overweight or obese
BMI (and American health care in general) is geared toward white bodies, and so when Black women visit doctors, the default weight loss heuristic is automatically applied to them even if it doesn’t consider their individual bodies, or the genetic specificities that their culture produces
Black people, and specifically Black women, face numerous environmental problems that many others aren’t subject to, which adds to poor health outcomes
A holistic conversation that considers racism, sexism, and weightism is needed to improve health conditions, especially with Black women
In summation, Strings writes:
Simply blaming Black women’s health conditions on “obesity” ignores these critically important sociohistorical factors. It also leads to a prescription long since proved to be ineffective: weight loss. Despite relentless pressure from the public health establishment, a private weight-loss industry estimated at about $70 billion annually in the U.S., and alarmingly high levels of body dissatisfaction, most individuals who attempt to lose weight are unable to maintain the loss over the long term and do not achieve improved health. This weight-focused paradigm fails to produce thinner or healthier bodies but succeeds in fostering weight stigma.
None of this is controversial; all of it is backed with decades of data. While I don’t love the title of the SciAm article, it’s clear that the Hodgetwins are just trolling. They know punching down sells, and they’re willing to sell you pretty much anything. Their website is layer upon layer of shitty swag. Right now you can win a truck, a contest that you enter by—surprise!—buying their cheap merch, which includes shirts and hats featuring 1776, anti-immigrant “DeSantis Air,” second amendment rights (obviously), and “you’re a sheep for taking a vaccine” slogans. Beard oils, sunglasses, truck decals, trucker hats—whatever they can shill, they will.
In their own words
The Hodgetwins’ feeds are tough to take if you’re not into punching down or spreading misinformation. For example, they clipped a video of a trans man who says he’s a full-time student and who supports himself by working 25 hours a week at Starbucks. First they punch down, then moralize about being a man.
Again, the employee starts by saying he’s a full-time student, not just someone working a job. Having personally worked many years in a number of horrible service jobs, I can confirm that constant schedule changes with minimal notice is really hard to deal with. The worker above was calling for Starbucks to unionize and for other workers to call for better working conditions. All that is lost when the Hodgetwins inject their male fragility into the moment and keep the attention on them.
Sadly, the above clip is almost tame compared the following brand of “comedy.”
Listening to the Hodgetwins’ male fragility got me thinking about the broader nature of competition. There are two layers of competition going on in these social media spaces that offer further insights into male fragility.
Competition & the fragile male
First, there’s competition for attention. That’s often why being outlandish wins on social media. As mentioned, SciAm competes with JAMA, sometimes by reporting on the latter’s studies, but often by aiming at a pop culture audience. While the Hodgetwins aren’t particularly talented at anything, they know how to manipulate media and capture attention, so they’re figured out how to compete in online spaces.
The second aspect is worth more consideration. While this isn’t a gendered topic, sports are traditionally the domain of men. Of course, women have long competed. The reality is that men offered little to no room for women in sports and put the focus on themselves, which is how I’m defining traditional in this context. Competition is treated by men as a masculine quality, and a good number of men pay outsized attention to sports.
So while overall sports are not gendered, they’re certainly class-based. As journalist Franklin Foer writes in How Soccer Explains the World: An Unlikely Theory of Globalization, part of the fanaticism around soccer has to do with working-class men trying to reclaim their masculinity through cheering on their local teams, sometimes to the point of violence. Sports tribalism offers a sense of identity that they’ve lost through globalization. And so the chants, which at times talk about murdering opponents, and often dehumanizes their challengers, provides these men with an opportunity to reassert their masculinity, which is exactly what I hear when listening to the Hodgetwins.
This is all similar to the concept of the alpha male: if you need to say you’re one, you’re certainly not, and that’s before we even pick apart the definition of what an alpha male is or if one even exists.
But there’s a crucial difference. It has been argued that sports (and with globalization, competitions like the Olympics and the World Cup) provide an opportunity to compete void of the death and violence usually associated with war. Sports let the competitive spirit flourish—and competition is not only healthy, but necessary for a mentally and emotionally stable society.
Here’s the distinction: as we just saw in the World Cup, there’s a clear winner, and there’s a clear runner-up, which means that even though France made it to the finals, they’re still considered losers. The World Cup finals match kicks off another cycle that will play out in four years, during which time France, along with every other team in the world, has the chance to improve themselves enough to be declared the eventual winner, while Argentina has to do everything possible to hold onto power.
Put another way: there are clear rules and boundaries that result in a winner and a whole lot of other teams that want to be the winner. And if you’ve ever played sports, you’ll know that people—in this case men—who can’t take losing usually act like spoiled children, aka “sore losers.” Which is exactly what I hear when listening to the Hodgetwins. Society has evolved in a way that isn’t agreeable to them, and so they’ll attempt to reassert their dominance from the comfort of their podcast studio.
Sure, the twins can wax poetic about what it means to be a man while the only competition they face is an algorithm. And since they know how to game the algorithm, they’ll seem to emerge victorious, while in reality the game they’re playing doesn’t have clear winners. Sadly, though, there are losers, namely the people who will continue to be persecuted because dudes like this want to sell you cheap swag with cheap jokes: public health officials, doctors and researchers, Black women, and trans youth trying to put themselves through college while asking for fair labor practices.
For countless generations, humans have devised ways to compete with boundaries, to tamp down some of that ancestral violence that men like the Hodgetwins seem so intent on reviving. Only their version of it doesn’t involve actual training for anything. That we reward such behavior with our attention is at least partially indicative of an inability to partake in fair sportsmanship—or to even care that it exists. But I suppose when you’re willing to make sacrificial lambs of others to try to make yourself look like a lion, you’re willing to do anything to hide the fact that you're just a rat.
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