To me, the series premiere of ABC’s new, Tim Allen-led sitcom Last Man Standing seemed simply annoying, what with its low-brow and overly testosterone-fueled humor. Macho jokes about what it means to be a man? Simply not my cup of tea, I thought. I was going to turn it off a few minutes in, but I kept watching half-heartedly until the show’s lead character Mike — played by Allen — uttered a “joke” somewhere near the end of the first half hour. And that’s when I lost it.
Let me set up the “joke” for you: During a conversation about his grandson’s daycare, Mike Baxter (Allen) laments that his daughter’s choice of schools is “hippie-hippie rainbow.” Fine, sure, it’s a stupid comment, but it gets worse. Mike’s daughter Kristin (Alexandra Krosney) explains to her dad that the teacher at this school “teaches sensitivity and tolerance.” Then comes Allen’s seemingly homophobic bomb: “I just don’t think your kid should go to that school,” his character Mike says, filled with disdain. “You know how that ends up: Boyd dancing on a float.”
I’ll reiterate the offensive part: “You know how that ends up: Boyd dancing on a float,” said with total disgust, as if a boy dancing on a parade float is an unacceptable, bad thing. My response: Huh? How is a boy dancing on a parade float anything but a joyful thing?
It’s hard not to look at this as a blatantly homophobic jab at gay pride parades, a rite of passage for the LGBT community during the summer months, when we celebrate being out and proud and rally for the same civil rights that everyone else has. (It’s true: We’re still second-class citizens in many ways, but this is not the time or place for that discussion.)
And, also, yes, in reference to the specifics from the “joke”: This is also a time when people — boys, girls, and all of those in between — tend to dance on floats in big ol’ gay parades, loaded with feather boas, sequins, and all other types of ridiculous decoration. Fortunately or unfortunately for us, it’s an image you’re likely familiar with. And, what can I say in defense of that? It happens. I’m not here to debate the merits of such activities. I’m here to defend such activities being denigrated by a mainstream comedian. I’m sorry Tim Allen, but the gay community — and our pride parades — are not your punching bag. What would be so wrong if little Boyd grew up, put on a Speedo, and danced on a float in a gay pride parade?
What’s most dangerous about this “joke,” however, is how it might affect younger TV watchers who are currently questioning their sexuality. They hear on a supposed “family” sitcom that dancing on floats is, for some reason, bad, and they could begin to believe that being gay is frowned upon in our society. That line of thinking may only push those young adults further in to the closet. To say that there’s something wrong with dancing on a float suggests, too, that there’s something wrong with the reason — because he or she is gay — that a person would be doing it. And that’s just offensive and irresponsible.
I kept thinking that there was a slim chance here that I’m grossly overreacting, but I polled a few of my gay pals before writing this to check whether I was having a knee-jerk response to something trivial. They said: No. A wise person I know once told me to never apologize for my feelings, and in this case, I feel offended. And a little mad. And, honestly, totally sad that such a “joke” — as harmless as you may have found it — made it into the script of a high-profile show on a major broadcast network with insanely huge reach. Truly, there are a host of other problems with this ABC sitcom — and Tim Allen is very clearly aware of that — but this is the one that’s blatantly damaging and hurtful to the gay community.
When I reached out to ABC for comment on the joke, they pointed out that Allen addressed it at this summer’s Television Critics Association press tour in August. “Are you going to leave that joke in there?” a journalist asked Allen, in front of a room of reporters. “It seems like a gay joke that maybe doesn’t need to be in the pilot.” Allen responded with a rather lengthy answer, but, in short said: “I think it’s a funny joke, and I don’t think the intent wasn’t to offend anybody. So I think the network will probably leave it in there.”
About the content of the joke specifically, Allen continued: “It’s meant to be some guy’s perspective about how his view of softness will go to dancing on a float… We can safely hide behind, ‘What are you talking about? A lot of people dance on floats. Haven’t you seen the Macy’s Parade?’ Now, obviously, if you go to Santa Monica Boulevard, it’s a different kind of float.” (Just for a little perspective, Santa Monica Boulevard is the street that cuts through the heart of Los Angeles’ gay community, West Hollywood, and is the same street that hosts the city’s gay pride parade every year.) “It wasn’t meant to be offensive,” Allen added. “It was meant to be a reflection on this guy’s limited perspective.”
Even considering that explanation from Allen, I know I can’t be alone in how I feel. Who else was offended?
Tanner on Twitter: @EWTanStransky
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