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I'm not going to make you watch any videos produced by Brian Johnson, the guy who calls himself the Liver King. His whole deal is not difficult to understand, and if you have ever watched any video of anyone working out, ever, in any context, and then let a social media algorithm carry you along on its current of alluvial sludge, the Liver King's brand of grunt-flexing will not be unfamiliar to you. Nor will the formula with which it's pushed, or the ways in which it's framed. Johnson's shtick has made him rich and famous, but it is scarcely distinguishable from the stream of thousands of other viral-forward bullshit accounts, give or take that it is way grosser and has a more explicitly adversarial valence.

Johnson rocketed to new popularity over the past year by going on the dumb-guy podcast circuit and making increasingly outlandish videos of him pretending to pull a big truck with his teeth, and eating many phyla's worth of testicles, and trying and mostly succeeding to look like a leatherette, operator version of Machoke. Again, this is not new, but Johnson's angle is that he's living as An Ancient Man, unlocking primal knowledge and power by eating a bunch of raw (preferably organ) meat and living as his ancestors did. He is guided by nine "ancestral tenets": sleep, eat, move, shield (?), connect, cold, sun, fight, and bond. People who know more about him than I do say he sometimes adds a 10th—fun. The appeal of all this is that you, a young man on your phone, might also self-actualize and attain the eons-old alpha male lifestyle by eating room-temp springbok nuts, tapping into your primal self, and, most importantly, purchasing the Liver King's proprietary line of supplements and brain powders.

Having read all that, would you be surprised to learn that this guy is extremely lying about the source of his pneumatic physique? Johnson has defended his nattyness on a bunch of the aforementioned dumb-guy podcasts, joking, "I’ll be honest, I take PEDs: I prioritize, execute and dominate every fucking morning."

He apparently also takes the other kind too. Another bodybuilder YouTube guy only known as Derek, who is apparently quite adept at sussing out whether or not big fellas are "natty" or not, dropped an hour-long video earlier this week showing proof that Johnson was gobbling a hilarious amount of steroids to stay looking as botryoidal as possible. The specifics are fantastic: Johnson emailed an unidentified bodybuilding coach while he was in the process of crafting the Liver King persona asking for an HGH connection, with the explicit intent of becoming huge in order to make money by becoming an influencer. He also emailed Derek asking for a consultation and some help acquiring HGH, which is like asking your pulmonologist to score you some cigarettes.

It is, in and of itself, not really that significant of a revelation that a guy who looks like that did not achieve his transcendent bulbousness through the sheer power of uncooked offal. He isn't competing against anyone, and though some chunk of the bodybuilding world is reportedly pretty mad at him, Johnson's job is not to train anyone or out-lift anyone. It is, instead, to turn his body into a content-worthy object so he can cut videos with Hasbulla, hang out with UFC morons, and make a lot of money. If you can't tell this is a work, I don't know, maybe Defector should start selling supplements too.

I do think it is worth dwelling briefly on the paleo-revanchism of the man who built a wildly successful career as an Instagram dum-dum by hawking, essentially, a child's idea of how ancient humans lived as a short of bio-cheat code for men. There's obviously a serious amount of hypocrisy to a guy riding around in private jets and making his living shooting videos on his cell phone telling you that you need to live like someone from 10,000 B.C. in order to achieve true alpha mindset. It also takes a good deal of cognitive dissonance to take seriously the notion 1) that modernity has made men soft and 2) that the only way to reclaim that lost chad aura is by buying this guy's pills while 3) also knowing that the entire persona was cooked up in a lab by professionals as the cover for what is at heart a multi-level marketing scheme.

So why did the fake caveman shtick work so well? I'd posit the appeal of returning to "tradition" (or at least, a deeply stupid revisionist understanding of the concept) only works to the extent that the con artist pushing it can sell a sucker on the shortcomings of modernity. That part is much simpler. People are lonely. All of humanity faces oncoming ecological collapse. The post-war promise of endless growth and a thoughtlessly comfortable American life has been dead for decades, and now scans mostly as a taunt. More than that, the vibes are off—nothing really seems to connect as it's supposed to, nothing works like it used to, and the only concerted response to any of this has been an avalanche of scams. It's not great.

If you are an impressionable young man struggling in the face of outrageous fortune, it is a pretty simple job for a liver salesman to offer you a way through by connecting the dots between what sucks about that fortune and, say, the deleterious effects of feminism (which is never defined). To be An Ancient Man offers a quick fix precisely because it offers a (cosmetic) escape from everything that is failing all around us every day. Better yet, it doesn't require anyone else. It offers another path entirely—humans lived this way for millennia, the Ancient Man says, until we forgot our essence by eating salad and caring about other people, but we all have latent primal powers in us waiting to be unlocked. It's a fashy short-circuiting of the loop, an inherently predatory, solipsistic vision of the world that resonates because it comes with a convenient solution, to loneliness, body dysphoria, all of it. All that's required of anyone who wants to take it up is willpower, and of course, 156 American dollars for the King stack.

That solution doesn't have to be legitimate, of course. It doesn't even really have to be convincing, because this negative logic of persecution is self-perpetuating. What's distinct about the Liver King's approach is how extreme it is, from its neolithic yearning to its yak spleen diet. I guess a much simpler piece of advice would be not to base your mental or physical health routines on advice from people screaming at you through your phone. But maybe I only have that take because I have yet to enhance my brain's natural essences with kinkajou gallbladder.

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