Thursday, October 24, 2013

Men are Pigs: Tim Allen, Home Improvement, and Benefiting from Gender Stereotypes

            “Men are Pigs…” claimed Tim Allen, who reached the pinnacle of his career as a stand-up comedian while using that title for his show, “…too bad we own everything!” he jokingly finished, followed by eruptions of laughter. Little did he know at the time, he was about to begin a career as a star on one of the most successful comedic television shows of the 1990s. The show is known as Home Improvement, which ran on television from 1991-1999 and has its own Wikipedia page for awards and nominations. Home Improvement focused most of its comedy, especially in the early seasons, on gender-related jokes and story lines. Tim Allen (or Tim Taylor on the show), being one of the executive producers of the show, flourished in his role as a buffoonish, masculine, family man who had an obsession with cars, tools, and simply being a man. The ways gender roles and stereotypes were used on Home Improvement greatly and positively influenced the show’s success as well as bolstered Tim Allen’s career. Tim Allen obviously did not create these gender stereotypes but he ultimately perfected the use of them through his comedic ways by acting like a stereotypical man.

The gender roles within Home Improvement are primarily traditional. Tim Taylor was the breadwinner of the family while his wife, Jill Taylor, was the housewife until she took some classes and pursued a career in the later seasons. Jill was the caregiver of the family while Tim often exhibited a “tough love” approach on their kids. While Tim was primarily interested in sports, cars, and tools, Jill often spent her time reading romantic novels, listening to opera music, and exploring the art of pottery from time to time. Tim spent his time with friends during poker nights, at sporting events, or most commonly, just hanging out at the hardware store. Jill spent time with her friends within the confines of her home, at book reading clubs, or at the opera. Tim and Jill have three kids on the show, all boys, which make the household a male-dominated environment. Even Jill in some episodes exhibits somewhat masculine behavior which is seen as “cool” to Tim and the boys. Likewise, whenever Jill wants to do “motherly” activities with the kids, Tim often ruined her plans by doing “fatherly” activities with them. For example, in the episode “Shooting Three to Make Tutu,” Tim ends up taking Mark, their youngest son, to a court-side basketball game instead of the ballet which irritates Jill. Of course, despite the occasional conflict, it all works out in the end between the Taylors.

The male and female gender roles and stereotypes go on and on. Almost every character on the show was able to add to the comedic chemistry despite most of them falling into the traditional gender stereotype, asides from feminine/emotional Al Borland and oddball Wilson Wilson. The comedic chemistry derived from the jokes and storylines created around these gender roles and stereotypes made the show particularly humor popular. Tim Allen flourished in his role and was able to completely exceed expectations.

The part of Home Improvement that best exemplified gender stereotypes were the “Tool Time” segments. Tim’s career on Home Improvement revolved around his own home improvement television show called “Tool Time” with its own “tool girl” (Pamela Anderson, followed by Debbe Dunning) who typically wore skimpy outfits and were constantly looked at as eye candy. “Tool Time” episodes would comprise of Tim and Al working on home improvement projects. However, Tim would also use the show to often vent about women because, according to him, “Tool Time” wasn't always about home improvement but about male improvement as well. The show was targeted simply for men which was made clear during almost every show. In fact, Tim would sometimes become disgruntled when women would show up at the show or become involved in any way. He claimed that it was a man's show and had a bias towards men when working with the manly art of tools, machinery, etc. The comedic irony involved with “Tool Time” is that Tim always was the cause of some sort of self-inflicted accident which drew the conclusion that he was not always as careful, smart, or as skilled as he thought he was.

Nowadays, Tim Allen stars in another, less successful, television series called Last Man Standing. This show is slightly different than Home Improvement because Tim now has three daughters instead of three sons. Therefore, his viewpoint on raising children completely changes being a man of Tim’s reputation. However, the show's humor feeds off of Tim's pro-masculinity mindset and gender-related jokes.

          Home Improvement represented a hegemonic masculinity that appealed to many viewers across the nation, regardless of gender. Tim Allen’s passion for this genre of comedy was the prime reason he was able to succeed as much as he did. Tim was, and still is, in my opinion, one of the best comedic actors in regards to comedy primarily involving genre stereotypes and the use of traditional gender roles. Most of his professional success has been doing just that. Tim Allen thrives under the circumstances of being able to talk about men, act as a stereotypical man, and compare men to women. Why? Because he is a stereotypical man. Or, at least, he acts like it. Tim Allen has nothing else to prove in his career as a comedic television show star. His movies, however, may have been more entertaining if they had been comedies constructed around stereotypical gender roles similar to the successful Home Improvement.

  1. Hanke, R. (1998). The "mock-macho" situation comedy: Hegemonic masculinity and its reiteration. Western Journal Of Communication62 (1), 74-93.
  2. Jackson, R. Communicating Marginalized Masculinities: Identity Politics in TV, Film, and New Media. Volume 11 of Routledge studies in rhetoric and communication. Routledge, 2013.
  3. Heinemann, I. Inventing the Modern American Family: Family Values and Social Change in 20th Century United States. Campus Verlag, 2012.
  5. Sex Roles: A Journal of Research. (v. 36). (n. 5-6). (p. 409-27). (March 1997).


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