During a YouTube binge, I discovered something. Al from Home Improvement is the man I should have been. I should have taken his lessons on board, instead of laughing at him.
Does everyone know what time it is?
A revisionist history of my toxic male icon…time.
Let me start over. Two mornings ago I found myself deep in the dank chasms of YouTube, freely tumbling deeper into recesses of ’90s nostalgia. Eventually my momentum was ceased by the Binford branded floor of ’90s sitcom Home Improvement, the vehicle (or should I say, “the hot rod” ough ough ough ough) where noted Detroit hypermale Tim “The Toolman” Taylor made his way through family life, aided by superchargers, aggression and episodal chin-checks from a sagely figure who didn’t have a face.
During this nostalgia trip, I discovered something rather galling, and it circles around Home Improvement’s Al Borland. Everyone remembers Al, the bearded, braid-shirted, bumbling, Binford second banana to Tim. It’s the “how” I remembered him, though, that was quite different. I laughed at his exploits, because they were funny. The crowd laughed, so I did too. But, looking back with adult eyes, it’s not funny at all. In fact, the whole thing is fairly tragic, but also fairly heartening in the pursuit of subjective progress.
Al Borland is immediately identifiable as the archetype of the modern man. The man we should all aspire to be: kind, open with his feelings, completely uninterested in the hypermasculinity of his surrounds (in Al’s case, the show); great, right?
However, in the Tool Time universe, he’s treated as…for want of a better term, the loser. The dude that misses out.
Now I realise Home Improvement is a satire on masculinity failing to adapt to the progressiveness of the 1990s, hence why Tim is a spectacularly clueless fuckup whose solutions to problems that don’t require masculinity is yet more masculinity – e.g., adding a supercharger to his lawnmower (ough ough ough ough). I’m also aware that diving back into old movies and television to criticise through modern eyes is a mistake on par with the mistakes such films and television shows have made (Hello, Mr Yunioshi). But, Ms Golightly, I must protest. Not because of the lessons they taught – i.e., the social currency obtainable in boosting your stereo to window-smashing levels of alpha-deafness – but because of the lessons I missed the first time around.
The issue is the years between 11 and 31. A lot of the finer points (like most of the female audience of Tool Time actually loving Al, or Al not settling for any partner just because) went way over my head. The kid who watched it religiously didn’t understand the subtlety, nor the subtextual points of the characters. Looking back now, it’s making a very smart social commentary, but back then, the equation was reduced down to the simplest of binary: Al is weird, laugh at Al. Is it normal for a man to hug another man? Nah. Better opt for a Tim route of punching someone on the arm and looking for the exit, because they’re laughing at Al, not Tim.
Looking back through my teenage years, it’s hard to figure what effect Home Improvement had in forming me. Lacking a tangible father figure, you cobble together snippets of information and people to fill in the blanks of the map you’re left with. I can absolutely say that for the most part of my teens, and twenties, discussing feelings openly with my male friends was definitely a no-no. If I felt threatened by the obvious skills of another, I’d publicly neg them and I also coveted doing things the illogical, supercharged way, because, fuck it, it’s faster. All traits I share with Mr Tim “The Toolman” Taylor.
Now, I don’t blame him or any fictional character for my own character flaws, but if I had my time over I’d cast my juvenile eyes to one Albert “Al” E. Borland, and one day, stand up to those masculine alphas (especially those feelings within myself) and say, “…I don’t think so, Tim.”