Science | August 21, 2020 12:57 pm

Why Did These Maverick Orthodontists Become Beloved by Incels?

The work of John and Mike Mew collided with toxic online communities

Teeth and history converge in strange ways.
DeuxPlusQuatre/Creative Commons

Is there anything that can’t be politicized by some of the worst people on the internet? This year has already brought the news that Hawaiian shirts have picked up some unpleasant political connotations as of late. What horrors might be next, you may wonder. How about…orthodontics?

Writing at The New York Times, William Brennan tells the story of father-son orthodontists John and Mike Mew. The elder Mew is a believer in a theory dubbed “orthotropics,” which he’s touted for the last 50 years. What does it entail, you may ask?

[Mew] sees crooked teeth as a symptom of a sweeping, unrecognized health crisis. Changes in our lifestyle and environment since the 18th century, Mew contends, are inducing our jaws to grow small and recessed.

This, in turn, means that modern people are less attractive than their counterparts from several centuries ago, a theory that numerous incels have embraced wholeheartedly.

Brennan’s article notes that the Mews’ theories have placed them on the fringes of their industry — John’s license was revoked in 2017. The Mews’ method for strengthening jaws is one that they encourage for children, and for which John seems to have used his own children as research subjects.

Mike, meanwhile, has used YouTube to become a well-known figure in certain circles, and has acquired an international clientele along the way. Some of that stems from his appearance at the 2012 edition of the 21 Convention, an event whose speakers included “pickup artists, Navy SEALs, fitness influencers and men’s rights advocates.” That, plus one of Mike’s videos going viral in the incel community, has led a number of incels to explore orthotropics for themselves.

What might have once been grounds for debate for dentists and historians has instead become a cultural flashpoint. It’s a strange moment in time, for all the wrong reasons.

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