Artillery Row

The curious case of Andrew Tate

A very 21st century troll

The culture wars can generate some of the most truly bizarre characters that live among us. The latest of these is Andrew Tate, a kind of right-wing troll, who until recently lurked mainly on the edges of the podcast world, before becoming something of an internet hit for his various transgressions. He has recently been interviewed by Piers Morgan on Piers Morgan Uncensored, who challenged him on some of his outlandish views.

Tate is a former kickboxing champion, a chess player and a one-time Big Brother contestant — until he was kicked off the show after a video went viral of him hitting a woman with a belt (both the woman and Tate later explained it was consensual foreplay). His latest incarnation sees him presenting himself as a culture warrior and self-proclaimed wealth guru, running a series of online courses in wealth creation called Hustler’s University (widely suspected not to be all that he claims).

Tate is a narcissist before misogynist or conspiracy theorist

Tate’s brand is a fusion of 50 Cent and Jordan Peterson (although with none of the nuance of the latter). He’s buff, he smokes cigars and he conducts interviews in designer sunglasses, whilst also polemicising at length on his pet topics, which include the feminisation of men, sexual politics, gender roles and the Covid-19 lockdowns. Widely branded as a misogynist, in August he was banned from YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, TikTok and Twitter for his various obscenities. Before the bans, he rose to infamy, with 13 billion views on TikTok. Teachers at UK schools were warning of his “dangerous” influence on young boys, many of whom were apparently aping his abrasive style.

Like me, many readers likely have a knee-jerk scepticism towards labels like “misogynist” and “sexist”. In this case, it probably does actually apply — although I’d call him more of a male chauvinist. In a tweet from 2017, he stated, “if you put yourself in a position to be raped, you bear some responsibility”. A further browse through Tate’s interviews shows him expressing some fairly regressive attitudes towards gender roles. He has said, for example, that men should have some authority over their female partners (he unsuccessfully attempted to clarify this on Piers Morgan’s show, in saying that if men are responsible in some way for their partners’ safety, they therefore need to have authority over them). In another interview, he says that women are happier staying at home than having careers: “‘Oh, I have thoughts, and opinions, and a job’, shut the f*** up, stay home, have kids, make coffee”.

In keeping with the anti-mainstream brand, he also dabbles in conspiracy thinking. Speaking about the Covid-19 lockdowns on another podcast, he says “I don’t want to talk too much about who ‘they’ are, because I’m trying to stay alive, and I’d never kill myself”. His musings often mix these peculiar ideas with more reasonable ones, such as the need for men to process negative emotions in a healthy way, giving him a veil of credibility.

Tate is far more fascinating as a case study in human psychology and internet culture than as a source of wisdom. It is fairly obvious he is a narcissist before he is a misogynist or conspiracy theorist. His outbursts are more an indication of a craving for attention than a strong belief in anything, as is his cartoonish mob boss look. Since internet algorithms elevate the performatively outrageous as well as the performatively outraged, it is never difficult for such people to find the means to get the attention they crave.

Of course, labels such as “sexist” and “misogynist” are blunt tools at this point — having been overused and misapplied for years, they leave people with no adequate language to describe those who deserve the labels. However fitting such terms may be in this case, it is always easier to point towards the unpleasantness of any newly popular reactionary than to give any thought to why indeed they have become popular. 

For every radical feminist, there is a reactionary troll

In this case, Tate offers a model of masculinity which many find preferable to the alternatives. In the post #MeToo age of sexual politics, masculinity is routinely pathologized, the phrase “toxic masculinity” being one of the principal tools for doing this. I wrote recently in these pages about how the American Psychological Association, the world’s leading authority in psychology, published guidance in 2019 which described “traditional male traitssuch as “stoicism, competitiveness, and aggression” as “toxic”. That same year saw Gillette, a company branded explicitly on ideas of masculinity, release a commercial featuring a guilt-inducing montage of male sexual predators and terrified women. The message of these campaigns is that men are the problem; that as a group, they bear responsibility for the transgressions of a few unpleasant, powerful men; and that, as Benedict Cumberbatch said explicitly last year, “we need to fix the behaviour of men”. Not sexual predators, or men with inappropriate tendencies, but broadly “men”.

Those who have attempted to balance out this toxic dogma have paid considerable professional and reputational costs. Will Knowland, a teacher at Eton, was fired from his post last year, after refusing to take down a video of a lecture in which he wanted to express “a different point of view to the current radical feminist orthodoxy, which insists that there’s something fundamentally toxic about masculinity”. There are of course, others who are outspoken on this topic who are too big to cancel, such as Piers Morgan, Jordan Peterson or Douglas Murray. For the most part, cases such as Knowland’s deter people who might otherwise think of making similar noises on these issues.

All this means a troll like Andrew Tate can steal the show. It is perfectly predictable that in an age where any and all masculinity is pathologised, some boys and young men will find Tate’s brand of male chauvinism alluring. It’s an unpleasant antidote to these dogmas; but given the choice between this, and the other models of a neutered, feminised manhood so dominant in the mainstream, many will choose the former. Which makes one wonder how the swinging pendulum can come back into the centre.

There is a centre, represented by those aforementioned uncancellables and their various contemporaries. But it’s a fragile one. For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction; for every radical feminist, there is a reactionary troll. As long as the former are around, expect the latter to be, too, however many social media platforms ban them.

Enjoying The Critic online? It's even better in print

Try five issues of Britain’s newest magazine for £10

Critic magazine cover