Before I sat down to write a review of ABC’s latest sitcom “Man Up” this morning, I clicked over on Twitter and discovered that a 28-year-old gay bartender in the UK was tied up to a lamp post and burned to death last night. Police believe he was targeted because he was gay. Obviously, there’s no real causal connection between “Man Up” and this man’s unfortunate and grisly death an ocean away, but I do find it unfortunate that television in 2011 is still trying to propagate this idea of what it means to be a “man.” ABC is a network that’s put forward three of the best gay characters on TV (Cam and Mitchell on “Modern Family” and Max on “Happy Endings”) and yet, on the very night before those shows air, the network now features a comedy block — which includes “Last Man Standing” and “Man Up” — that celebrates, encourages, and embraces stereotypical hetero-normative behavior.
Obviously, I’m not suggesting that the fuckers responsible for the vile slaying of Stuart Walker are big fans of ABC sitcoms, but these are heartland shows, folks. “Last Man Standing” gets big ratings in middle America, and while it’s not explicit in these sitcoms, this “be a fucking man” message is exactly what leads assholes in Montana and Arkansas to engage in the kind of homophobic behavior possibly responsible for hate crimes. It’s apparently how some sick fucks demonstrate their manhood. And while that’s my definition of cowardice and hate, some of the backwards men who watch these shows, grunt, scratch their balls, and crush beer cans on their foreheads see homosexuality as unmanly. What these shows do — and specifically Tim Allen’s fey mockery of unmanly men in a show like “Last Man Standing” — is encourage those beliefs through the use of lame, populist punchlines.
Manliness was a big theme on the site last week. Joanna posted a list of 8 Great Actors Who Personify Manliness (one of whom is actually gay), and the one thing I can say with certainty about all eight of these guys is that they never had to prove their manliness. They don’t go around belittling stereotypically unmanly behavior or launch into tirades about what it means to be a man. They just are, motherfuckers. You don’t see Javier Bardem or George Clooney engage in a “Who’s the man?! I’m the man!” exchange or ask each other for ideas about what to get their 13-year-old son for his birthday that says, “I’m a man.”
“Man Up” is exactly that kind of show, the kind where the guy who writes in a diary is told to stick his journals up his uterus, and where men carry knives and grow beards to demonstrate manliness. Of course, the running joke in “Man Up” is that these men are not really men because they use body wash and drink non-diary creamer, but that line of humor is just as damaging as the converse.
The other post last week was my list of the 5 TV Characters That Prove You Don’t Have to Be “Manly” to Be an Awesome Man, which includes five of my favorite television characters, each amazing in part because they don’t fit into that manly stereotype. The irony about “Man Up” is that the three men here — played by Mather Zickel, Dan Fogler, and Christopher Moynihan — are closer to Brad Williams and Marshall Erikson than they are to a Tim Allen character, but instead of embracing their divergence from the stereotype, it’s a source of distress. The women on this show — Teri Polo, Amanda Detmer — quietly control the relationships, and we’re supposed to laugh because ceding control to your woman, i.e., recognizing a gender balance, is hilariously humiliating. A real man would grab a woman by her hair, put her in her place, and fuck her against a rock. Obviously.
It’s boring. It’s archaic. And honestly, it’s insulting to be told that if you treat your spouse like a real person, you’re somehow less of a man. A real man doesn’t have to prove himself by demeaning a woman, and I’ve never fucking met a real man that felt he had to prove himself by killing another human being because of his sexuality. That logic is confounding, and “Man Up” is a lousy show for fostering exactly the kind of cultural environment that might lead to the very type of crime responsible for an innocent man’s death.