Theory of Change Podcast With Matthew Sheffield
Male popular culture is obsolete, and many men are suffering because of it

Male popular culture is obsolete, and many men are suffering because of it

Men’s support group leader Brandon Bradford says many men are feeling lonely because society never taught them sustainable mental health
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One of the biggest social changes since the 1960s has been the empowerment of women to make personal choices, to control who they date, whether they’re married, and when or if they have children.

While society and popular culture aimed at women seem to have embraced many of these changes, the unfortunate reality is that popular culture aimed at men has not kept pace. Instead of encouraging adaptation and teaching new social and professional skills, cultural influencers who aim for the male media market have mostly been offering the same old advice—which simply doesn’t work in a world in which divorce is common and dating apps have made things easier but also more complicated.

Male friendship has also declined. A 2021 study from the Survey Center on American Life found that 15 of male respondents said they had no close friends. Obviously the COVID-19 pandemic played an important role in this, but there are other factors as well, such as pop culture that encourages men to avoid new friendships or discussing their feelings. As a result, many men have not been able to resolve these struggles. So-called “deaths of despair,” such as drug or alcohol overdoses and deliberate suicides are much higher among men than women.

Further compounding the negative situation has been the proliferation of “men’s rights” activists and other far-right political actors such as the “incel” movement who have been radicalizing millions of young men to blame others for their problems, instead of learning from mistakes or improving their outlook.

Is there a crisis of masculinity in America? In this episode, we’re featuring Brandon Bradford, he’s a political consultant who also serves as a men’s support group leader in his spare time.


MATTHEW SHEFFIELD: We’re happy to have you here today. Thanks for being here, Brandon.

BRANDON BRADFORD: Thanks for having me.

SHEFFIELD: All right. Well, so, before we get to into the topic here, just tell us a little bit about some of these men’s support groups that you’re involved with and then we’ll get into it.

BRADFORD: For the vast majority of them, I [00:04:00] think on the smaller side, there’s six or seven of us. On the larger side, there’s 35 to 40.

We always have two or three new guys in. And then two or three new guys, they either move out of the area just because it’s the Bay Area and people are constantly moving. We focus a lot on current insecurities, stability, lifestyle stability, trying to build some community, and kind of adjust the focus away from blaming women for why people have this chronic loneliness about them.

SHEFFIELD: Mm-hmm. Well, so, and yeah, you mentioned loneliness, is that a common thing that people are concerned about that you’ve spoken with?

BRADFORD: I think that’s the consistent underlying factor is loneliness. It’s loneliness and insecurity, and blaming a thousand other things for it.

There’s, you’ll see a lot in like men’s rights activist groups of a presumed ownership of their, they’re deserving of women’s bodies, they’re deserving of sex, they’re deserving, and they’re not getting it because of X, Y, Z. Generally, women, women, feminism are something of the sort. And it’s, you know, readjusting that narrative about how they treat women, how they treat men, how they look at themselves.

Very often these are just projected insecurities that they don’t like themselves, and so they don’t understand why anyone else would like themselves and looking to tear down folks.

SHEFFIELD: Mm-hmm. So I mean, would you say that boys are not really equipped to develop new friendships compared to women?

BRADFORD: I think unfortunately, the idea of the, the stoic man doing things on his own, off on his own, not being able to build a community, has built a generation of men who didn’t build, and didn’t develop, and didn’t prioritize the social skills to, to build a community of people he can talk to.

And we’re unfortunately, our, our father’s, fathers uh, put a lot of that burden on the women in their lives. Luckily, I think this newish generation is way better. The, the kids are all right and put a lot of [00:06:00] focus on both male friends and mental health and taking care of each other and building that community.

But there’s this, I think, This gap of men that are between, I would say 29 to 60, who are just, were in that hard generation of just dumb ways, traditional ways to look at both men and society who are unequipped. And then just looking for an outlet.

SHEFFIELD: Yeah. Well I think some of that, you know, there were structures that were, their societal structures that were there for them, that they kind of just sort of assumed would always be there or just took for granted.

So for a lot of people, the way that they met friends and other people was through churches or was through veterans organizations like the VFW or things like that.

But of course for people after them, like, those are not really things that are relevant to them. Yeah. Because either they’re not religious or, and certainly not serving, having served in a foreign war.

BRADFORD: Yeah. There, there’s a lot of there’s so much value in shared communal space in the compounding effects it has in a positive society.

Same way how, you know, one of the best parts about New York’s train system is that everyone has to ride it. And you end up interacting with a little bit of everyone. And if you’re not from there, that may be something scary. But if you’re from there, it’s New York’s lifeblood.

Similarly, communal spaces offer support systems that we need. Church groups are great for that. School fraternities. It’s one of the reasons why going to college is important for a lot of people, because it allows you to add to a community and a larger group of people that you are probably never, you would never meet without that type of big social influx.

And similarly, the military did that for a lot of people. That’s why, that’s why a lot of cops hang out together. You just need some type of fraternity or group of friends that, that forces that communal space on a regularity for you. One reason’s, Jiujitsu is so popular, outside of the feel of it and the constant push through and struggle, is that it allows [00:08:00] groups of people to just hang out. A lot of guys didn’t have a lot of other guys to hang out with and they were just doing that on a regular basis and using it and the dopamine that comes from doing it.

And so I think you’re right in terms of, I think those communal structures were different because our jobs were different, and our lifestyles were different and all that’s adjusted, and men need to adjust, too.

SHEFFIELD: Yeah. And in terms of that adjustment, I mean, one of the other big cultural pressures on men, I think, that is really harmful to that adjustment process is that the idea of close male friendship is often framed in homophobic terms and like–

BRADFORD: Oh all the time.

SHEFFIELD: Just as for instance, the Lord of the Rings movies where they had the two main hobbit characters, Frodo and Sam, so much of the commentary about that relationship was, oh, they’re gay for each other and–


SHEFFIELD: Like, they were not gay by any stretch of the imagination. They were just close friends. Yeah.

BRADFORD: Yeah. Well, a hundred percent. And like, I, I, luckily I’ve got older brothers, and surrogate older brothers, and have grown up with groups of male friends, and I’ve got several good groups of male friends if I ever needed anything.

But I know quite a few guys who have maybe one male friend, who have zero friends that are women. So it’s not surprising. And they don’t interact in any type of space, like no space in their lives and their routines is going to naturally change that. They’d have to go out of their way, and it’s already a couple of humps in their comfort zone.

And so, like, expecting people to naturally dive out of it is, I think, unrealistic. But we can set better standards for how we as a society frame our interactions and the things we push, I think, will be more important.

SHEFFIELD: Yeah. Well, I mean, no, in the groups that, that you’ve been in, like how common have people express that idea that, oh, talking about your feelings with other men is gay. How much have [00:10:00] you seen that?

BRADFORD: There’s always I mean, if you’re already at that group, you’ve made a step , but there’s always some underlying homophobia around some of the just being emotional. Or if it’s not homophobia, it’s just framing, communicating in certain ways, it’s automatically feminine.

And they haven’t gotten through those humps themselves. And so they’re both denigrating themselves, and denigrating the people around them. They can’t talk about it even though they feel it, and they shit on themselves all the time constantly for feeling some way. And they can’t, they can’t get to the point where they accept it with themselves, nevertheless communicate with us.

And it’s breaking down those barriers of like, Hey, how do you feel in this situation? Not, how are you reacting? Not, not that you’re angry about the situation. Like what are you angry about? Why are you reacting this way? Why can’t you communicate to someone. Before you’re flipping your top off you know, three months down the road.

Why is it why is it such a big hump for you to be vulnerable? And a lot of it focuses around just they, they’ve already filtered those feelings, those types of interactions as feminine, and they’re not feminine. And, and that is that. And so it’s, it’s just really, really old antiquated views of the world and frameworks that they’re filtering the world through that are harming them.

And that’s one of the biggest things that we communicate, is that these structures aren’t, yeah, they’re bad for society in general, but they’re also bad for men that we’re not creating both emotionally vulnerable is important, but also just like there’s no solid foundation to build anything from.

Yeah. And they can, they end up not being fluid at all for any type of big change in their lives or any type of type of new person or new growth. These guys, a lot of the times, especially around loneliness and loneliness with women, I’m like, you’re not ready to date anybody, FYI. You’re, you’re chronically lonely, but you’re sitting a lot of times hoping a woman will come life to help you fix all the things that you’re ignoring when you need to work on that on yourself and then try to build a partnership. [00:12:00]

SHEFFIELD: Yeah. Well, and I guess the, the idea that they, you know, a, a lot of women have come to accept the idea that they don’t necessarily need a man. Straight women have accepted that. Whereas straight men also should accept that as well. That, you know, you need to have yourself to be able to support yourself emotionally.


SHEFFIELD: And not just not outsource that to someone else. Because I mean, there have been some studies out there that have shown that in a lot married couple relationships that the wife is basically responsible for managing the outside the family relationships. And the men just sort of out you know, offload it onto them.


SHEFFIELD: And as a result, they derive less satisfaction from that. Because again, if you’re hanging out with just your wife’s friends, that’s not as satisfying because they’re not your friends. You–


SHEFFIELD: –meet them and you don’t have as much in common with them because you,

BRADFORD: And you probably don’t confide in them.

Like when you’re struggling with something, when you’re struggling to communicate, when you’re struggling, everything waxes and wanes and maybe you’re just having a couple of bad weeks.

I think you build friends as a group, as a couple, but maybe you need to talk about your wife and your inability to communicate something, or her inability to see you and hear you in the right way. And you’re struggling how to communicate that to her. And it’s good to have a friend’s ear to bounce that off of. I think it’s invaluable.

SHEFFIELD: Yeah. Well, and, and then at the same time, as we’ve kind of touched on, but not in depth here, is that you do have this proliferation of right wing political actors really flooding into this space.

Because if you look at the way that fascist politics works, it’s all about atomized individuals who are resentful of the society that they live in.

BRADFORD: The entire brand is to be affable, approachable, charismatic in their terms, charismatic. I don’t find them charismatic, but regular, everyday guys talking to them, talking about their [00:14:00] problems and then selling them bigotry as the solution for it every time.

They do it for economics, they do it for wealth disparity, they do it for men’s rights and chronic loneliness. It’s women, it’s feminism, it’s whatever they decide “woke” means. This day, it’s woke politics are doing this, this, and this. And that’s why you as a man can’t get all of these things that are making you deeply insecure.

And oddly enough, they never have solutions for that crippling loneliness. They just have more fuel for that hate spiral.

SHEFFIELD: Mm-hmm. Well, and I guess the other thing that they do kind of is, especially people like Jordan Peterson who target a lot of vulnerable men, is that they construct personal heroic narratives to them and say ‘If you can do these things to yourself, then you will by definition win.’ You’ll become worthy is one of their phrases.

BRADFORD: They do a lot of really, really basic life advice that is just good structural things. You should make up your bed. And then they pair it with axioms centered around hate: ‘You should make your bed every day. You should do this every day. You should you should be, you should meditate and breathe a little bit more. And also remember to hate women.’

It’s pairing really, really fundamental, habit-forming things that do make you feel better, that are important. And they’re not saying anything new. They’re just copy pasting pretty much every basic life advice book. And then infusing all of that advice with their very nonsensical takes on culture wars.

None of the arguments are good, but they’re mantra, and they repeat them over and over and over, a thousand different ways. And that’s the point.

SHEFFIELD: Yeah. Well, I mean, the other thing though is that a lot of right wing politics in devolves, sort of, to personal worthiness.

So in other words, if you are poor, it’s because you’re lazy. It’s not because you came from bad circumstances, or you live in a area where you don’t have opportunity, or whatever. It’s because there’s something wrong [00:16:00] with you. And in some cases, there might be things you can do to improve your personal circumstances, and there always is something you can do.

But at the same time, saying that there is no systemic issues that you might be faced with, it creates this delusion, this idea that, and you kind of see this with the incel movement.


SHEFFIELD: Where involuntary celibate men, where they claim that they deserve to date women who they regard as exceptionally attractive, but they themselves are not in any position to be interesting to that type of woman.

BRADFORD: There’s a huge conflation of possibility and probability, and they intertwined with platitudes around independence, which cool, no one’s saying that independence and what they believe is personal responsibility, so that you can work your way from the ground up, that all it takes is one example of someone doing it.

They’re like, ‘Hey, it’s possible. Why don’t you guys do it?’ As opposed saying, it’s very, very improbable for it to be a standard for someone to have to climb up a mountain just to get their basics.

And how that intertwines into incel and a lot of incel logic is: ‘I was born ugly. Society should do something or subsidized surgeries for my face. I’m five six. I’m five seven. No woman’s going to like a guy that’s under six feet.’

Do they interact with women? No. Do they believe women when they tell them otherwise? Absolutely not.

They assume they’ve already gotten women down. The weirdest thing and the most unsurprising thing about interacting with incels, is that they believe they know women better than women know themselves. And they think women are lying when they say that personal is important.

They think women are lying when they care less about height. Just because some women definitely care about height doesn’t mean all women do. And so the interactions, especially with societal structures and what they think is systemic, is that they think they’re just born cursed and no woman is ever going to love them.

And [00:18:00] it’s unsurprising because it’s basically how they feel about themselves. They hate themselves, so they can’t see it why anyone else wouldn’t.

SHEFFIELD: Yeah. And to go back to what you were saying about the idea of possibility and probability, this idea that because it is possible for some people to go from rags to riches or it is possible for some people to have a lot of success in dating, they make their followers feel like that they’re horrible and worthless if they can’t attain that.

But the reality is most people, the vast, vast majority of people are not going to become a billionaire.


SHEFFIELD: The vast, vast majority of people are not going to be dating cover models.


SHEFFIELD: Male or female. That’s just not going to happen. And so, you need to not beat yourself up over that if it doesn’t happen for you.

BRADFORD: Yes. And also it’s, it’s such a wild thing how often that specific type of guy will completely just, certain types of women to them are invisible and they just, they don’t exist to them. They don’t see them as both attractive or non attractive women, because they’ve only got such a very narrow typecast of what they think attractive is.

And it’s painfully ironic that that’s the only thing they see when there are women around them, that a lot of the times they’ve already just written off, because they only like one Barbie doll type girl. And they’re like, well, I’m not Ken, so I’ll never get her. And I’m like, well, there’s a lot wrong with that, but sure.

But it’s often not less about looks and more about lifestyle, and you don’t get along with anything or do anything she does. You’re entirely different worlds together. The bigger problem is that you can’t have a regular conversation about anything interesting. Probably start there.

SHEFFIELD: Not just with a woman, but even with a man. Like, you have an issue with that too. This has nothing to do with women, in fact.

BRADFORD: So a lot of the times, early on there was ‘Hey I wanna work on some things, Brandon.’

I’m like, ‘all right, cool. What do you wanna work on tonight?’

‘How do I seduce women?’

[00:20:00] I’m like, oh, all of them, just like that. They think it’s a bag of tricks, like do this, get this back. And everything is incentive based in terms of if I do these three things, girls will sleep with me.

And it’s weird to watch them break down that again, starting to think of women as full on people instead of just, I guess, reactionary brains attached to vaginas. It’s very, very strange. But a lot of our, a lot of our first general habits are after we’re talking about themselves, is like, we’re going to go out and we’re going to make friends with dudes.

The guys that all girls like generally all guys like too, because they’re affable and they’re not worried about, you know, sleeping with every woman they meet.

So let’s go and see if you can go make, go try and make friends with people that you just meet out and about, instead of just hyper-focusing on one girl most of the time. And then if that girl is not interested in you, spiraling for another six months and saying that you hate women.

SHEFFIELD: Mm-hmm. Yeah. And you have no idea why she might not be interested. Maybe she already is in a relationship or is not even straight.

BRADFORD: Yes. Absolutely.

SHEFFIELD: Yeah. So you guys actually have taken people out to try to get them into a social situations, talk about that a little bit more if you could.

BRADFORD: Yes. I’m very, very adamant about like, Hey you think these are humps? Then show me. Especially with incels, they’ve already built such a very, very narrow view of the world and how people are going to interact with them. They’ll tell you exactly how they believe every interaction’s going to go.

And people are my thing. I’ll go out and make a bunch of friends. I’m that person. I’ll tell stories. I’ll meet extra tables. We’ll, we’ll go eat, drink, and be merry and have a good time. So I’m, I’m like, all right, I’ll go out with you. Let me see it. Let’s walk through it. You know what, you can come out with me. I’ll introduce you to a thousand people, and point me out when people treat you the way you’re telling me they’re treating you. A), because I don’t let people treat my friends that way, but B) if the world is very, very, [00:22:00] that particular, I’d like to know where I’m blind about it.

And, you know, 99.9% of the time, it just doesn’t happen. But they’re just deeply insecure and afraid about it. And I think the one time something did, guy was drunk and he was just a dick back to the guy with me. And I was like, hey, you said something mildly insulting. And you thought it was a joke, he didn’t it was a joke. And he’s not obligated to laugh.

But I’m pretty adamant about talking internally and then just changing your environment. I think that’s really, really important. If you’re going to get out of loneliness spirals, introducing new things to your environment. Because what’s happening currently is not working.

SHEFFIELD: Yeah. Well now you’d mentioned this idea that a lot of guys are just focusing only on trying to have sex.


SHEFFIELD: What do you think about with regard to legalization and prostitution or something like that? Some people see that as a positive way to take some of that pressure off for people. Other people disagree with them.

BRADFORD: I think sex work is work and invaluable and it’s not going away anytime soon. And then it has never has gone away anytime soon. I don’t think it’s a solution for just chronic loneliness, but for for what guys think is the outlet for sex and just being horny and legalizing it and paying for it, I’m all for it.

Do it. I think it’s smart. I think it’s would be a thousand times safer for the women involved. I think it will, it’ll get a lot of people in power, in a lot of trouble. Because legalization means legal tracking of a lot of things. But it’s a smart move for any smart society.

SHEFFIELD: Yeah. It’s funny to me though that you have that segment on the right that is trying to say, oh, there’s all these men who they need redistribution of women. Which is a really awful and horrible idea.

BRADFORD: Yeah. Oh, a wild concept.

SHEFFIELD: But they won’t go to something just as simple as, well, if people want to have sex, why don’t you let them pay for it? Seems pretty simple.

BRADFORD: Because it’s fake morality. When the real issue has always been control. It gives away the [00:24:00] game when they talk about redistribution of why they don’t want legalization, because the same reason guys get really mad at OnlyFans. It takes the power balance and power imbalance away from them and gives women more control and autonomy of how they are in society. And they would like their vestibles controlled and then punished. Legalizing removes the control and they can’t punish.

SHEFFIELD: Yeah. And I think it also, it makes it harder to control men as well in that environment.


SHEFFIELD: And that’s why the right doesn’t really talk about this, because basically what they’re trying to do is force people into marriages of necessity. And you can see that with the abortion stuff, you know, no exceptions for anything, any reason. And it’s basically trying to force people to get married and to stay married who in many cases should not have been married at all to anyone, let alone the person who they ended up with.

And I think a lot of the fiction or the movies or whatever that, that are aimed toward men, movies that show men, ‘oh, you know what, maybe you shouldn’t have gotten married?’ Like, there are plenty of movies about women who walk away from something, but almost nothing for men except for maybe Forgetting Sarah Marshall.

BRADFORD: Our narratives and the stories we tell are, are ingrained with the framework of how we built the society with very, very limited views of both partnership and men’s roles and men’s health involved.

I think healthier men are harder to control and healthier societies are less reactive, and there’s a lot of perverse incentives and making sure that both men are insecure and angry on the right, because you can convince them to vote based on that alone. And you can also get a lot of hate clicks and dollars for it, so people do it as often as possible.

SHEFFIELD: Yeah. Yeah. Well I think that’s certainly true. And I guess one of the other aspects of this sort of predatory industry on men is that you also have, it’s also kind of radicalizing men from racial minority [00:26:00] groups, who wouldn’t have been susceptible to a lot of this right wing messaging because they might be Hispanic and they don’t like the anti-immigrant racism, or they might be Black and they don’t like the whole proslavery or segregation stuff that they might see on the radical Right.

But they see the anti-women stuff and they’re like, ‘Ah, yes. Well, I agree with that.’


SHEFFIELD: And it’s a gateway.

BRADFORD: So unfortunately, misogyny is intersectional. And the Black community has been pretty assertive and communicative about talking about internalized misogyny with Black men, especially in how we treat Black women.

I can’t treat, can’t talk really about a lot about the Hispanic community. I just try to kind of listen and give a thumbs up when I can support, but I know generations of men were trying not to be as emotionally standoffish as our fathers were. I lucked out with the dad that dives in and talks to me anytime I need to, but I think, you know, our family growing up didn’t have that same example that he would like to set.

And so I, I think you’re right in terms of yes, that misogyny allows you to pick off groups of men who are insecure in all the same ways in terms of economic precarity and not knowing where their place is in the world, being lonely and not being the strong, powerful, wealthy, stable man that they’re supposed to be in society.

And you can feed them solutions that are just bigoted reasons for why they’re feeling that way instead of the thousand other reasons that contribute to it.

SHEFFIELD: Yeah. And you’re kind of seeing this movement when you look at the election returns from 2020 versus 2016, Trump, he actually got fewer votes among White men compared to 2016, but he got more among Black men and Hispanic men.


SHEFFIELD: And these are things that Hispanic and Black feminists have been talking about for a long time, you know, that ‘we need some help on this here to people to look at this stuff and talk about it.’

But people ignored them. And it’s starting to have a [00:28:00] real impact, unfortunately.

BRADFORD: Yes. I, I think radicalization happens in, you know, six to 10 year spades. And so things have been moving in certain directions for a long time. We just saw the spikes come up. Trump is a very unique type of personality to a cult of personality that the right’s been looking for for a long time.

And they’re trying to make that happen again with Ron DeSantis, but the more he’s in front of a camera, the worse it goes for them. But they’re, they’re going to find a new, a new cow to worship. And that’s going to be that. But socially I don’t think we are at any way prepared to actually do anything about it.

Not until we change the incentives on our platforms like the radicalization spirals, the holes people go down, the algorithms that feed them more and more of the shit for dollars for ads.

And until we do something about that, it’s going to be really, really hard to to stop.


BRADFORD: Do it locally. It doesn’t stand up to reality. So you get people off the internet and you get them actually interacting with people, women, friends, community. That always works. But it’s still going to be, it’s going to be a rough, I think, four to six years to watch how the numbers sway.

I think the best solution for that is better policy, better policy around community and actually getting more people to vote instead of trying to get the votes of bigots back instead of trying to get the votes of people who agree with us out.

SHEFFIELD: And I guess one of the other factors that’s kind of contributed to some of this political radical radicalization has been religious radicalization of a lot of churches.

That there is this growing resentment among people of all races who have these more fundamentalist Christian viewpoints of just resentment against the rest of society, the majority of people, who don’t share those viewpoints. Who don’t believe the world is 7,000 years old, who believe the obvious fact of human evolution, who don’t think the Bible is literally true.

[00:30:00] There’s just this bubbling resentment among a lot of Christian fundamentalists that they finally realized: ‘Oh, the rest of society thinks these ideas are dumb. And we’re mad at them for that.’

And churches have become more radical and whereas before they might have been helping men become less angry and resentful of the world, now it might, it’s looks like they’re making them worse in a lot of ways.

BRADFORD: I think there, there are luckily a spectrum of great churches, but where you get the conservative vein in a lot of Black men and Black communities, it’s because of the culturally conservative Christian communities that they were raised in.

But you have to remember again especially on the conservative church side of things, especially with the evangelicals. It’s again, about framing and building society in a way that they’re envisioning, and they feel like they’re losing that control. And so they radicalize people to get them out.

And they’re just as susceptible to bullshit on Twitter and online as everyone else is. They just use religion as their backup to say dumb shit. But it’s, it’s the exact same spirals that everyone else has, and they just think they’re above it because they attach God to their name.

SHEFFIELD: Yeah. Well, and I, I guess the other paradox is that because they have been less flexible on doctrine, as their female members are continuing to go to church, but not actually practice the doctrine. So, I mean, in Christianity, divorce, is seen as one of the worst sins you can commit. And, evangelicals are more likely to engage in divorce than non evangelicals.


SHEFFIELD: And so it’s like, it’s creating this kind of weird tension where the women who are having these fundamentalist beliefs are still going to church, but not practicing them. You know, not practicing the idea of obeying your husband or being silent in church or, or, you know, all, all these variety of misogynistic things that the traditional faiths tell them to do, they ignore it.

But the men who also have these same beliefs are looking at it and being like, ‘okay, well what’s the [00:32:00] point of all of this?’

Or they become even more radicalized and then resentful of the women who are in the congregation. So it’s just, it’s just like creating a big mess, it seems like for a lot of people.

BRADFORD: It’s a couple of different things. And I think radicalization does– depending on how it’s done– makes for problems in reactionaries, because the goals a lot of the times and the narratives and the the messaging from the far right is often like they’re coming to take your community, your way of life, your culture away from you.

And so, if you keep telling groups of people that, they’re eventually going to flip the fuck out. A small portion of them are going to flip the fuck out in the worst way possible. And that’s how we get a lot of either shooters or attackers or and then people that just firmly believe that they’re right in flipping over elections or something of the sort, because they think they’re doing the morally correct thing and saving themselves, or saving society on the cultural religious side of it.

I don’t see it going super well long term unless they’re learning to evolve. There will be a hyper focused, hyper right wing, a hyper religious set of society. Intertwining with the rest of society is not conducive to them building a very narrow view on the world, and that’s why they like to segregate themselves.

SHEFFIELD: Mm-hmm. So tell us about some of the other things that you guys have been helping some of the men who go to your group. You mentioned going to taking them out socially to do things. What are some of the other things that you guys work with?

BRADFORD: A lot of the times, building basic foundations for how they take care of themselves as well. I think maintenance is invaluable. You don’t need to be in shape, but you should be healthy enough that you feel good in walking around. And it’s making sure we focus on what they can do.

And not setting foundations that are not realistic for everyone just because they’re able-bodied, but the vast majority of these men are able-bodied and fine, they just don’t think of it. They don’t go to the gym because [00:34:00] they’re not a gym bro. And that’s how they think about it. It’s like, well, okay they don’t walk around because it’s uncomfortable for them and they’re just everything tends to kind of spiral down from there.

They don’t learn new things, because they don’t think they’re smart. You know, it’s a mindset and so, so much of my focus a lot is finding where their current framework and how they’re looking at the world is, and then just chipping away and providing better foundations.

You’d be surprised how many men don’t have a single outfit that they feel good in. Or maybe you wouldn’t be surprised, but don’t have a single outfit that they feel good in, that they feel presentable in and have never gone and put something on.

And while aesthetics aren’t everything, aesthetics aren’t nothing. And if you don’t feel good in something, you don’t feel like you look good in something, you’re not going to walk around with any semblance of confidence about it.

But the same little foundations that far right dudes do to build bullshit, we detach the bullshit and build on those foundations. If it’s making your bed, if it’s reading, if it’s working out, if it’s meditating, if it’s interacting, we try to build, just build better men.

And if they’re insecure in their ability to build a shelf and be a certain type of guy, then, fuck, let’s go learn how to do it. Let’s get your hands on something. Let’s work through problem solving instead of just looking at it and deciding that that’s not for you in the cards.

SHEFFIELD: Mm-hmm. I guess the idea of both accepting yourself but also realizing that you can improve as well. They may seem contradictory, but actually they’re not.

BRADFORD: No. Yeah. There’s an old adage, the difference in different types of shame: toxic shame and healthy shame.

And those two different frameworks change how you interact with the world entirely. And so it’s making sure so much of their narratives to themselves are centered in that type of toxicity.

And that’s the focus around their toxic version of what masculinity is, instead of healthy versions of masculinity that are centered around community, self-worth, and taking care of the people around you, and taking care of yourself, and investing in your time and space, and connections.

SHEFFIELD: Well, and understanding that you [00:36:00] can be assured that your circumstances will never improve if you never try to improve them.


SHEFFIELD: That’s the one thing you can guarantee.


SHEFFIELD: Things will never get better if you do nothing.

BRADFORD: Yep. Yeah. You, and you’re going to be really ashamed that you’re not getting results from the work you didn’t do. And it seems really a, a wild way to approach life.


BRADFORD: But it’s, it’s comfortable, it’s easy. It allows them to have their world, to already have their view of the world. It allows them to keep their walls up as high as possible.

And you can never get hurt if you never go out. There is the thought, but they’re sitting there hurting themselves.

SHEFFIELD: Yeah. Now what about with regard to the whole online dating thing, do you think that dating apps kind of exacerbate some of this? Or do they make it better for some people?

BRADFORD: I think they make it better, but they make it easier for some men to deflect. The presumption is that because they don’t have a certain type of pretty face, no one’s going to swipe on them. So they don’t put any actual effort into building a dating profile.

Yeah, a portion of women are going to swipe left on certain type of aesthetics. So are you with some women as well. You’re going to swipe left on certain type of aesthetics, based on your preferences.

SHEFFIELD: And if a woman would do that, why would you even want to be with her?

BRADFORD: You, you don’t align in values that way. So why is that important to you? Most of the time it’s because they want that aesthetic, that aesthetic of a woman. They just don’t want that woman to care about aesthetics.

It’s contradictory in a bunch of different ways, but they use that, that narrative and that mindset to avoid putting out any effort at all in their dating profiles.

I’m not on any online dating profiles, but when I did, being funny was a big part of it. People were like: ‘I swiped because I laughed at blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.’

And I’m like: ‘Yeah, it’s really, really easy because the bar was so low because men put barely any effort in their dating profiles.


BRADFORD: I think a big common thread between guys who date a lot. They could tell you that it’s not hard. ‘I ask questions, and [00:38:00] I listen, and I pay attention.’ And yeah, maybe we’re not going to get married, but like the first couple of dates weren’t hard to get, just because they’re not used to interacting with women like they’re people.

SHEFFIELD: Yeah. I think you could say that online dating makes it easier for somebody to get that first or second date because a lot of times if you’re going to a bar or something, you have no idea about the people who are there, whether they’re a single, or in relationship, or married. There’s no guarantee who you would meet.

BRADFORD: There’s no– that friction doesn’t happen as often for most people. Most of the time ,I’m big in social, so I could go out and meet people without a dating app, but that’s not everybody. Social anxiety comes through digital social anxiety too.

So, the amount of effort that same guy would put into a bar conversation, which most of the time means not talking to them at all, they’re putting into their online dating. And then they’re surprised they’re not getting any dates.

SHEFFIELD: Hmm. Yeah. Now do you think the that maybe a negative aspect is that it does encourage both everyone on the sites to be more physically focused in terms of appearances?

BRADFORD: I think a little bit, but I think you’re just as visibly focused if you walked and saw someone. I think unfortunately, the biggest downside to online dating is that not everyone communicates through text very well, and not everyone knows how to frame themselves very well in their best visible light.

I know a lot of people who are very attractive people who just aren’t good at taking pictures of themselves, or don’t have a lot of pictures, or don’t know how to communicate who they are fully in a blurb. Or they’re way better offline daters. And that’s fine. And you could put that in your profile: ‘Way better offline dater, not good at communicating through writing. Doing my best.’ Finish it up with a joke and go from there.

But I think that online dating itself doesn’t always lead itself to people communicating themselves in the best way possible. And some places are trying to get over through, like, video dates online and things like that. But do a quick video call and see if there’s some type of [00:40:00] interaction, some type of chemistry in the communications you have.

My biggest advice for general dating is, go on more second dates. Not everyone’s good at first dates, second dates have a lot less pressure. If you get along better on your second date, then move it from there. But you don’t know how that person’s day is, or what happened earlier that day, what type of stressors they were in. Maybe they just weren’t weren’t on an upswing and you guys would meld very, very well, but they wanted to show up.

So I always tell people, go on more second dates. And you’ll find that you either like people a lot more, or you completely validated why you didn’t like them in the first place.

SHEFFIELD: Now, do you think somebody is going to step into the space and say I’m going to have an app or a website that’s only about finding friends, not about finding dates. Does that even exist? I don’t even know.

BRADFORD: Yeah. I think Bumble does BFF and I know quite a few girls and guys who’ve met their friends, moved to a new city, open up Bumble BFF, and it’s literally just for that. And I’ve heard good things about it.

SHEFFIELD: Okay. Well, I guess, maybe I’ll have to try to talk to someone about that experience.

BRADFORD: Yeah, they, they do Bumble BFF and I think they do Bumble Business. I haven’t, I haven’t talked to anyone about that experience, but Bumble BFF, I’ve heard good things about.

SHEFFIELD: All right. So for people who are kind of looking for books or websites or something like that, that might have some material, are there any that you would recommend to for that?

BRADFORD: Oh, a a thousand. It just depends on where they are in life. There are books that I recommend for just points of view, and good recalibration books for me and how I treat people.

The Body Keeps Score. It talks about how trauma affects you long term, and how it sits with your body if you don’t deal with it, and how it can infect your relationships long term, and your ability to develop them, if you don’t deal with trauma that you’ve dealt with in your life. Big fan of the book.

The Prophet, by Kahlil Gibran is one of my favorites, but it’s just a book of poetry.

The Obstacle Is the Way, by Ryan Holladay, just constantly learning to focus about on getting over [00:42:00] humps is a good one.

The Art of Happiness is a doctor’s conversations with the Dai Lama about just kind of focusing and being present.

But yeah, I’ve, I’ve got an unlimited list of recommendations if you need me to send you some. I just can’t think of who and what I give to men. I try to give books that are specific to the person, where they’re at and what they need at the time.

I’ve been working on a blog post about how to learn to learn. For three and a half years, it’s just been sitting in the back of my head.

And that’s similar about just making sure you take care of both your environment, cleanliness in your environment’s, very, very important. Taking care of yourself, taking care of your community, and then broadening those circles and using those, those environments and how to learn better. And so, I’ll have some book recommendations in there too.

SHEFFIELD: Okay. Cool. And I guess last topic is, this is a bit ironic as a topic, but I do feel like that with the rise of a lot of online social and personal commentary, a lot of people have what some people call para social relationships with their favorite YouTubers–

BRADFORD: mm-hmm.

SHEFFIELD: –or their favorite Twitch commentators or whatever. It’s almost like they think of them as their friend.


SHEFFIELD: When in fact these people cannot reciprocate in any way possible to them. And it’s not healthy. I think to regard YouTubers as somebody who’s important in your life.

BRADFORD: Yeah. I think I can agree with that. I think there are multiple problems to that. Parasocial relationships are why representation is so important; maximum lazy example is how Will and Grace, the show, changed public narratives about gay marriage, because they had a parasocial relationship with the actors on the show, because they on their own would never interact with a gay person. At least they don’t think they would and hadn’t humanized the gay men and gay women as just Americans, people trying to live their lives in regular people.

And so, it’s one of the reasons representation is so important because there’s studies that have been shown, I’m pretty sure that the, those parasocial relationships have actually changed people’s minds about things. [00:44:00] The problem with that is, is people also uh, filter their ability to disseminate information away and just take these thought leaders that they consider, or these commentators as now their source for news, for all news all the time.

And now instead of diving into opinions, they get their opinions now from those people and don’t develop their opinions. They get told what their opinions are. And I think that’s damaging.

It is one of my biggest critiques of people will be how irresponsibly they use their platforms. Because I think when you’ve got a couple million people following you and listening to you, I think you should be responsible with that type of power.

And there’s a lot of unfortunately, perverse incentives centered around reactionary media and the attention that it gets you and the money that comes from that.

People also develop parasocial relationships with their own online personalities and they are different person behind the keyboard than who they would be in any other situation.

And that can spiral quite a bit in terms of who they are, who they want to be, and then undercut their actual interactions with people in life. And I think that’s problematic.

You can find a community online for pretty much anything, but if you’re finding a community around hating people and deciding to hate certain groups of people, it can undercut your ability to build friendships and community with people that you probably would normally interact with without those hate group spirals constantly feeding you dopamine.

SHEFFIELD: Yeah. And it can happen in a variety of other ways too. I mean, there’s been research showing about Instagram, how it encourages people to just lie about themselves. Everything on Instagram is fake.

I mean, it’s, that’s such an epidemic now that basically you now have a lot of people are creating fake Instagram accounts. They call them Finsta accounts.


SHEFFIELD: Where they actually tell the truth about themselves, through a fake account. I mean, that’s, that’s what’s really bad about that.

BRADFORD: Oh, yeah. And a lot of people use Finstas just to stalk people. So you can stalk someone else’s Instagram [00:46:00] without being seen or your one account’s blocked or something of the sort.

It’s the same reason people have alt Twitters. I have an alt Twitter that no one will ever find, but it’s, it’s just more for bullshit. But you’ll see some of the more popular accounts just use it to stay, to be honest with some of their more assertive, aggressive, and shitty commentary. But yeah. The Internet’s a wild place.

SHEFFIELD: Yeah. Gotta be careful out there.

BRADFORD: Yeah, I’m, I’m really worried. Deep fakes are going to ruin us pretty bad in the next five to six years. And we’re not prepared for that at all. But —

SHEFFIELD: You’re going to have to, you have to explain what that term is for people who don’t know.

BRADFORD: Oh yeah, my bad. In terms of AI using a category of images to create fake videos of people doing and saying things. And we’ve seen some pretty good ones where it’s like, watch any public figure that has tons and tons and unlimited amount of information and videos out there. A really good AI program can create something that looks for the most part realistic and like that person is saying or doing anything at all, and it’s going to get better and better and better.

And we’re bad with misinformation now already because they’re already prepped and primed to believe anything. You add video to that of just like, you know, Obama says he’s literally coming for your guns tomorrow. And it’s a video of like, ‘this is what we’re doing.’

And I bet you I can get 10% of the far right to believe that shit right now. So it’s just going to be, we know it’s going to be a problem. I don’t know if anyone’s prepared for it, so I’m just kinda shrugging my shoulders and hoping for the best.

SHEFFIELD: Hmm. Definitely is going to be an issue. That old phrase that your parents and grandparents told you, ‘don’t believe everything you see on tv.’ Well, certainly don’t believe that about the internet. Unless it’s this podcast.

BRADFORD: Just this podcast. Agreed.

SHEFFIELD: All right. Well, thanks for being here today, Brandon Bradford.

BRADFORD: Thanks for having me.

SHEFFIELD: You are on Twitter. So your username on Twitter is [00:48:00] BrandonLBradfor. So that’s F-O-R.


I created it a long time ago and didn’t, I was like, well, I’m one letter short, and I think that was in like 2013 and it’s been my handle ever since. Why didn’t I just go Brandon Bradford? No idea.

SHEFFIELD: Well, maybe you couldn’t fit it. They do have some limits on the usernames.

BRADFORD: Oh, yeah. Originally I couldn’t fit it. I could have just cut out my middle initial and didn’t.

SHEFFIELD: Well, such is the internet, right?

All right. So that’s the show for today. I appreciate everybody being here. If you watched on YouTube be sure to click the like and subscribe button so you can get notified about new episodes. And if you want to get the past episodes as well as the transcript of this episode, just go to theoryofchange.show and then that will direct you to the page on flux.community where the Theory of Change podcast is at, and you can get all kinds of videos and audio recordings and transcripts as well.

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Theory of Change Podcast With Matthew Sheffield
Lots of people want to change the world. But how does change happen? Join Matthew Sheffield and his guests as they explore larger trends and intersections in politics, religion, technology, and media.