ABC Balances Fall Programming By Insulting Everyone


When NBC announced that it had picked up The Playboy Club pilot, the decision was controversial, to say the least. Former undercover Bunny Gloria Steinem called for a boycott, and an NBC affiliate in Salt Lake opted not to air the new program. Empowering, it will not be. The network has received considerable flack from family-values conservatives and feminist liberals for its gross glorification of hypersexuality and hypersexism. So while NBC takes all the flack, another network, with its own block of disgustingly sexist programming, has managed to slip below the radar.

Somehow, ABC is getting away with Last Man Standing, Man Up, and Work It, three programs designed to make men feel inadequate/victimized and women feel like bitches. (And, occasionally, sex objects.)  According to programming executives, adding these three shows has been part of an attempt to appeal to the male crowd, since 65% of their current viewers are female. But perhaps they have taken it too far. This trifecta seems designed to highlight everything that is wrong with a world in which men sometimes let women get control. The concept is sexist in all directions; it implies that a female power structure is damaging to masculinity, and that traditional masculinity is the only way to be a man.

Last Man Standing is about a suburban dad's battle to retain his masculinity in his world that is not just populated but slowly becoming dominated by women. In Man Up, three guys who are somewhat nontraditional in their masculinity decide to conform to male stereotypes. And Work It is midseason replacement about how two men have to dress up as women to combat that pesky glass ceiling associated with being a male in the workplace.

Perhaps, in the end, the lessons of these programs will be "women are not so bad after all" and "stay true to yourself." But the premises on which they are based are faulty and insulting. Last Man Standing insinuates that a man who surrounds himself with women should be threatened; as if he can't go to a football game or play PS3 with your daughter. In this premise, women don't want to hang and do "guy" stuff, right? Any attempt Tim Allen's character would make to get touch with his feminine side is only meeting half-way. It implies that that's what a man would have to do to connect with a woman, because women can't be anything but feminine.

Work It, meanwhile, is built on the already dubious and debated mancession; it strays father from fact by assuming that because proportionally more men lost their jobs than women, it must be impossible for a man to get a job. Two buddies dress in drag because apparently women are only getting the good jobs. Its insulting to every woman struggling to make it up the corporate ladder.

But its not only the women whose lives and livelihoods are being grossly misrepresented. In Man Up,  smart, sensitive, successful family man Will decides that his life is inadequate because he does not live up to the manliness that his father and grandfather did. He and his two friends decide to transforms their lives and personalities by conforming to stereotype. It's like She's All That for dudes, teaching us the important lesson that stereotypes are everything, and what's on the inside only matters when what's on the outside is also good.

And don't think that ABC is only objectifying the men. It's also been hyping glossy dramas Pan Am and Charlie's Angels, two shows that masquerade under the pretense of being female empowerment stories, but, with their heavy emphasis on glamour and sensuality, will be sure to achieve just the opposite.

ABC is attempting to appeal to a larger and more balanced audience, to return to the former glory days of Lost, Grey's, and Desperate Housewives. And in doing so, it has designed a block of programming that will indiscriminately remind each viewer of his or her shortcomings. Both men and women will be stereotyped, mocked and viciously insulted. So in that way, their balance has been achieved.

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