Tim Allen’s new sitcom Last Man Standing premiered on ABC Tuesday night, drawing jeers from sensible audience members and critics alike. Several took offense to one joke in particular. Mike (Allen) is complaining about the sensitivity training at the school his kids attend. “I just don’t think your kid should go to that school,” he says. “You know how that ends up—Boyd dancing on a float.”
Entertainment Weekly’s Tanner Stransky wrote a post on why the joke is offensive. And he’s right—it’s pretty awful. But the real problem is the series’ larger concern with masculinity, and a growing trend in returning to so-called traditional gender roles. You can see it in the title Last Man Standing. Don’t they mean Last “Real” Man Standing?
In many ways, this is nothing new: sitcoms frequently fall back on misogynistic and homophobic humor for easy laughs. And all of the gay jokes are based on effeminacy—the idea that there’s nothing worse than acting like a woman. But this is 2011, and it’s no longer inherently amusing to mock someone’s limp wrist. Why do shows like Two And a Half Men, Last Man Standing, and the upcoming Man Up! still exist?
My theory is that “real men” (AKA “assholes”) are more threatened than ever by what they perceive to be a move toward political correctness, gender and sexual equality, and the terrifying gay agenda. Series like Modern Family and Happy Endings—also on ABC—offer relatable gay characters. Not to mention female characters who frequently upstage and generally prove more competent than their husbands. It feels like Last Man Standing is the old-school sitcom alternative: after you’re done learning about tolerance, you can sit back, scratch your balls, and laugh at the inferiority of femininity.
Suck it up, dudes. For macho men, you sure do a lot of whining. While series with “Man” in the title may not excuse their characters’ prejudices, they continue to assert that misogyny and homophobia are hilarious. It’s not Last Man Standing’s lame gay joke that’s offensive: it’s everything the show stands for. We continue to perpetuate the image of the man’s man who just wants to raise a family away from what Last Man Standing’s Mike calls a “hippie-hippie rainbow.”
I’m not saying every sitcom has to be as feel-good as The Cosby Show, or that a series about men is inherently anti-women. (See TNT’s gone-too-soon Men of a Certain Age.) But we need to hold our shows to a higher standard of humor—joke about gender relations and human sexuality all you want, just don’t take cheap shots that reinforce your prejudice. There are far worse things than growing up to dance on a float: namely, growing up to be a douchebag who doesn’t respect difference.