Friday, April 5, 2019

Don't Be a Tool

Insomnia will have you wide awake at 2am eating Thai spring rolls while scrolling through your Twitter timeline. Then, because you are annoyed by some of what you've read, you post a few of the offending articles to your Facebook page. And because it is your custom to add commentary, you prepare to go in on a particularly odious statement made by the guy from high school whose only claim to fame was that he wore clip-on bow-ties and argyle sweater vests.

But it's late, so you decide on a simpler insult--you call him a tool. Then you get inspired to find just the right GIF or image to post to illustrate your point, and that leads you to an old TV sitcom that you only watched in syndication. A show that you used to think of as harmless until recently...

This will not be a scholarly deconstruction of Home Improvement. But to the extent that this show has become my pop culture avatar for the backlash certain men are championing against political correctness, women in positions of power, and #metoo, let's analyze.

Since I didn't watch this show while it aired, my best guess is that the pilot offered a character backstory on Tim Taylor that more or less informed us that he was a local high school/college all-American from a small Michigan town who hosted a show about tools on cable access. I know that the basis for the show was Tim Allen's stand up routine at the time, and that he currently stars in another sitcom, Last Man Standing, that I don't watch. However, I have seen snippets and know that from the title, some of the jokes, and based on the drama about it getting cancelled and then moving to a new network, LMS ain't my cup of Busy Black Woman tea.

It isn't an accident that certain shows tend to find audiences during certain cultural moments. The fancy word for that is zeitgeist, and while I wouldn't bestow that honor on Tim Taylor, he certainly deserves an honorable mention. That title belongs to Archie Bunker, whose spirit Allen has managed to channel into a slightly less disgruntled everyman. His sitcom and movie alter egos (including Buzz Lightyear) have been those of suburban Dads trying to navigate changing times. He's a bit sexist in an endearing don't-drop-the-bikinis-from-the-Miss-America-pageant kind of way; not intentionally racist or homophobic (just not PC); and is definitely a season ticket holder for one of the hometown sports teams. He is not entirely a caveman relic of a bygone era, but his subliminal nods and winks reassure his tribe that he feels their pain.

Enter Tucker Carlson. Alex P. Keaton all grown up and still angry that his parents were hippies.

Whereas Tim Allen is an actor reciting lines once a week, Carlson is reading lines from a teleprompter every night. You probably couldn't have a beer with either one of them in real life, but from that old Barcalounger in your suburban man cave or from that neighborhood bar you frequent to avoid going home to your nagging wife, drinks are on the house. Tucker Carlson Tonight is political Tool Time.

What is his problem? You would think that a guy who is barely 50 and born in San Francisco wouldn't seem so aggrieved, but then you read his Wikipedia bio and it becomes clear that he really is Alex P. Keaton...but with issues. Instead of getting therapy, he uses his TV show to bash his younger sister Jennifer's politics and to beat up on his old friend Skippy (in the form of Chris Hayes). He's not a lovable curmudgeon like Fred Sanford (Sanford and Son), Al Bundy (Married with Children), Martin Crane (Frasier), Dr. John Becker (Becker), or Pops (Blackish). He's just a smug asshole...

Who is so afraid of a new world order that he cannot control or stop, so his best weapon is to whine about the good ole days. Even Archie Bunker had to accept change...those were the days.

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