Wednesday, January 19, 2011

#519. Home Improvement

This show was set in Detroit?
 When attempting to ascertain the ultimate Pre-Obama America television show of the past thirty years, a number of contenders leap to the front immediately.

The saccharine Full House was a show set in San Francisco that implanted a highly positive image of that Stuff White People Like (SWPL) city in the viewers mind, who would be blissfully unaware of what life was actually like on the bay.

In actuality, virtually every sitcom that has aired on ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox in the past 30 years could be considered blissfully unaware of the sweeping societal changes that are transpiring in the real world.

Sure some shows have an agenda, but most exist in a vacuum as if the United States had never undergone such massive demographic changes. Pressure groups have long bemoaned the lack of diversity on network television and in sitcoms, but drastic demographic changes must be pushed slowly so the populace will hardly notice (see Modern Family and Glee). With the cancellation of M.A.N.T.I.S, Black people faced a traumatic setback in the goal of landing another The Cosby Show style hit, a blow they have yet to recover from fully.

This study, Prime Time Now 2001-2002, is a diversity study that documents the gross absence of Black people in sitcoms. It's now 2011 and the latest network television shows continue to be bathed in a sea of whiteness, an occasionally life boat thrown out to Black actors to ensure such studies won't be commissioned again.

One television show in the past 30 years can be labeled as the ultimate Pre-Obama America sitcom and it was set in the outskirts of The Motor City, ostensibly in an alternate reality where Black people rarely interact with white people (of course, this is considered the real world).

That show? Home Improvement. Tim Allen's show about a bumbling tool-man, loving husband and father to three sons is set in a lily-white Detroit suburb and rarely does the harsh reality of life in that  Black-run city interfere with his families existence.

A show that also ran on ABC, The Drew Carey Show, was set in Cleveland and many people found the whitewashing of that majority Black city unsettling. Stuff Black People Don't Like can locate no articles that point out the lack of Black characters in the strange universe Home Improvement was set in, perhaps because anyone from the real Detroit greatly desired living in that fictional world.

Consider the uproar a new ABC show entitled Detroit 1-8-7 is causing, casting that crumbling city in a more realistic, gritty role it serves on a daily basis:
Growing up near Detroit in the '70s and '80s, I was jealous of other cities that had their own TV shows. New York City, L.A., Boston, Chicago — even Milwaukee had both Happy Days and Laverne and Shirley. (Milwaukee!) Eventually, Detroit got a few sitcoms (Martin, Home Improvement), but no series ever really explored the dramatic possibilities of this sprawling Rust Belt city.
Cut to the first scene of Detroit 1-8-7, which makes its debut on ABC Sept. 21. A policewoman shows us the homicide-division whiteboard, too small to accommodate the growing list of murders. "We may be the last assembly line left in Detroit," she says. Later, a homicide cop is searching for a spent bullet on a roadside and finds it — after sorting through a slew of other bullets.
It's not exactly a tourism brochure. Some locals say Hollywood is giving the city a Gucci-shod kick while it's down: 24% unemployment, a hobbled auto industry and now this? ABC didn't help matters by shooting the pilot in Atlanta or by making a promo that erroneously gave Detroit the highest murder rate in the U.S. (It comes in fourth.) City councilman Kwame Kenyatta sponsored a resolution asking ABC to change the show's title, which he says equates the city with murder. (187 is police code and slang for homicide.) The resolution failed. But the question remains: Does a show set in a troubled city have a responsibility beyond the ratings?
The only 1-8-7 in Home Improvement was the running gag of Tim Taylor (played by Tim Allen) constantly hurting himself on the show he hosted within show, Tool Time. It's hard to conjure up a more family-friendly show then Home Improvement, with jokes mature enough to fool young people watching but entertain parents at the same time.

Still aired in syndication today, the show holds up remarkably well as opposed to other 1990s (and even 2000-era) comedies.

Watching the show and growing up with the Taylor family (Home Improvement was one of the few shows that maintained a high level of continuity and would constantly allude to prior episodes in other seasons) one was tragically unaware of the dire situation unfolding in the real-world of Detroit.

A brief synoposis of the show:

The series centered on the Taylor family, which consists of father Tim (Tim Allen), his spouse Jill (Patricia Richardson) and their three children: the oldest, Brad (Zachery Ty Bryan), the middle child Randy (Jonathan Taylor Thomas) and youngest, Mark (Taran Noah Smith). The Taylors live in suburban Detroit, Michigan and have a neighbor named Wilson (Earl Hindman) who is often the go-to guy for solving Tim and Jill's problems.

Tim is a stereotypical American male, who loves power tools, cars and sports (especially the local Detroit teams). He is a former salesman for the fictional Binford Tool company, and is very much a cocky, accident-prone know-it-all. Witty but flippant, Tim jokes around a lot, even at inopportune times. Family life was boisterous, with the two oldest children, Brad and Randy, tormenting the much younger, Mark, while continually testing and pestering each other. This rough by-play happened especially throughout the first four seasons, and was revisited occasionally until Jonathan Taylor Thomas left at the beginning of the eighth season.

Brad, popular and athletic, was often the moving factor, who engaged before thinking, a tendency which regularly landed him in trouble. Randy, a year younger, was the comedian of the pack; known for his quick-thinking, wisecracks, and smart mouth. He had more common sense than Brad but was not immune to trouble. Mark was somewhat of a mama's boy, though later in the series (in the seventh season) he grew into a teenage outcast who dressed in black clothing (a goth). Meanwhile, Brad became interested in cars like his father and took up soccer. Randy joined the school drama club, and later the school newspaper; in the eighth season, he left for Costa Rica.
A ratings titan, Home Improvement showed us a world inhabited by the Taylor family (Tim, Jill, Brad, Randy and Mark), Tim's affable assistant on Tool Time Al Borland, the vivacious Heidi and the lovable, erudite neighbor Wilson Wilson Jr.

It was a show that was a testament to Robert Putnam's study on how diversity breeds distrust in a community, for the world of Home Improvement seemed to be a thriving, tightly nit group of white Americans that would congregate at the local hardware to swap stories of life, family, cars and the dreams, aspirations and hopes for the future.

Putnam's study shows a much different for the real United States:
IT HAS BECOME increasingly popular to speak of racial and ethnic diversity as a civic strength. From multicultural festivals to pronouncements from political leaders, the message is the same: our differences make us stronger.
But a massive new study, based on detailed interviews of nearly 30,000 people across America, has concluded just the opposite. Harvard political scientist Robert Putnam -- famous for "Bowling Alone," his 2000 book on declining civic engagement -- has found that the greater the diversity in a community, the fewer people vote and the less they volunteer, the less they give to charity and work on community projects. In the most diverse communities, neighbors trust one another about half as much as they do in the most homogenous settings. The study, the largest ever on civic engagement in America, found that virtually all measures of civic health are lower in more diverse settings.

"The extent of the effect is shocking," says Scott Page, a University of Michigan political scientist.
Home Improvement is the ultimate sitcom that glorifies Pre-Obama America, and though it was made in the 1990s, the show reminds of all that was once good in this nation. Sadly the show completely excuses any mention of Black Detroit from polite conversation, a city that recently sent out 60,000 incorrect tax bills. Detroit, a city that may have to close half of its schools (only 50 percent graduate anyways, so some would say they are already closed) after initially closing 40 schools earlier in 2010.

The world of Home Improvement is a thriving one, a white one and a peaceful one. Detroit 1-8-7 seems light years away from the world the Taylor's inhabit, though it should be right around the corner from their fictional home in the Detroit suburbs.

We have talked about Detroit before here at SBPDL, though we have never brought up the sore subject of the happy fictional Taylor clan and Home Improvement.

Stuff Black People Don't Like includes Home Improvement, a sitcom that shows normal suburban life in a whitopia. Juxtaposed with the reality of Detroit, a city destroyed not by regulation, unions, socialism or natural disaster, but by white flight and a majority Black-run government, Home Improvement shows us all what Pre-Obama America was really like.


Hirsch said...

I seem to remember a few blacks scattered throughout the cast of "Home Improvement," in peripheral roles, in a ratio close to that you see in "Roseanne." When Dan Connor bellied up to the bar or played poker, there were usually one or two blacks in his circle, in addition to that one white guy with the ZZ Top beard.

But then again, maybe Tim Allen was a better fit for the motor city than some people might think. He did get caught trafficking cocaine in the 70s and spent some time in prison.

White Guy said...

What a great show that was ...

Desiree said...

I was a little too young for Home Improvement, but I know most of my friends when I was a young girl, both black and white, thought Zachary Ty Brian was the shit. I always thought he was fug; I much preferred Matt Lawrence.

As a kid, I opted for realism in my white family-oriented sitcoms. Like The Torkelsons, which featured a single white mother living in Oklahoma, and Brotherly Love, which had the Lawrence brothers living motherless in Philadelphia. Or the dysfunctional All In The Family at late night, with the funny-as-hell white bigot, Archie.

See, you obviously have no concept of the fact most black people are middle class. All of my black friends throughout high school, be they whitebread or urban, had fathers in the household and connected families. I'm several tic marks above middle class but I was raised by a single college-educated mother and our family's connectedness was always lax at best.

What I'm saying is, Home Improvement-esque black families exist. It's not a white thing. The Cosbys are just as real as Good Times. And Roseanne is probably realer than Home Improvement for whites. Two-parent household, but definitely trashy with filthy homes...

I mean, there was a reason 'Blue Collar TV' was in for several years, Larry the Cable Guy getting so much fanfare that they made a movie about him. He represents the Ev'ry(white)man, as I'm sure many of the SBPDL readers can confirm.

Don said...

From Desiree:

"And Roseanne is probably realer than Home Improvement for whites. Two parent household, but defitnitely trashy with fithy homes."

You just can'nt help yourself can you?, you smug little twit. My mother was a waitress & my dad was a bus driver & our house was IMMACULATE!. My grandma?, a stay at home mom & ditto!. My Aunt & My cousins?. She was a cleark & her husband laid tile floors, again they kept their house as "neat as a pin"....In fact EVERY white family I knew growing up kept their homes beautifully!.

You see our people have a modicum of pride...Not the false bravado of some barely coherent half-simian spouting inane diatribes, but pride were it REALLY counts. In our families, our homes our cities & our countries....On the other hand, wherever there are blacks ABSOLUTE filth & squalor follow!.

Anonymous said...

Crap show (Home Improvement), if you are looking for a uniquely white show black people don't like, go no further than Frasier (far more humorous than HI ever was)......

Anonymous said...

"See, you obviously have no concept of the fact most black people are middle class."

Like a broken record....repeat...repeat...repeat...

Anonymous said...

Maybe Warner Bros can put together a Black Home Improvement. Oh wait, that won't work because black men abandon their baby mama long before child birth.

Anonymous said...

SBDL, FYI something you put on the site in the last few days sets off my Malware antivirus, an attempt is made to harm my comp, etc....Thanks for your hard work also..

Anonymous said...

Here's an absolute gem that I just had to share . . .


Anonymous said...

Desiree said ... "See, you obviously have no concept of the fact most black people are middle class."

Is that whitey's fault too?


Anonymous said...

Middle class is a value system.

Ghetto is a value system.

You can have no money and still be "middle class", whites do this easily.

You can have lots of money and still be "ghetto" and that describes most blacks.

Blacks are not able to fully grasp the idea of middle class because they do not have the value system or skills required to support this way of life. The End.

Anonymous said...

I thought you were going to talk about actual home repair. Funny.

Blacks in my neighborhood patch up their houses with mud and spit. They live in them until they fall down and then they move out.

You will see old newspapers, superman bed sheets, old towels, and shredded mini blinds in the windows for curtains. You will find old toilets, broken plumbing, boards and debris in the yards. You will see blue tarps covering leaking roofs, crumbling chimneys, thick clear plastic stapled to windows in winter, falling gutters, moldy, mismatched, and dented siding, and add-on additions made from cinder blocks and plywood. Much like what you see in the Haiti footage. You will see leisurely blacks sitting all over the crumbling porches on a warm summer day. Pure squalor.

I often wish that blacks possessed the white aesthetic vision. Our inner-cities and neighborhoods would be more habitable.

So, back to the discussion of blacks and architecture and civic responsibility, and the many brilliant accomplishments of whites in these fields. We build it, they wreck it.

Percy Kittens Reloaded said...

On a slight side note...THE HUFFINGTON POST is doing some home improvement of it's own by adding a "black" section to its website.

NEW YORK — The Huffington Post and BET co-founder Sheila Johnson are launching a HuffPost section devoted to African-Americans.

The section, "HuffPost GlobalBlack," is expected to debut in early March. The Huffington Post is set to make an official announcement about the new platform Thursday.

"Our goal is to cover more stories of importance to the black community," says Arianna Huffington, the co-founder and editor-in-chief of the New York-based Huffington Post.

"We have the supreme irony of having the first African-American president, which is such a historic event and a milestone, while at the same time, conditions for African-Americans are deteriorating, in terms of unemployment, in terms of high school graduation, in terms of the number of African-American males in prisons," Huffington says.

GlobalBlack is the 27th section for the Huffington Post, but its first racially based one. It plans to soon launch a Latino section.

A February 2010 survey by Edison Research and Arbitron found that about 25 percent of all Twitter users are black, roughly double the percentage of blacks in the U.S. population. About 11 percent of all U.S. Facebook users are black, the social-networking site reports.

A greater percentage of whites than blacks and Latinos have broadband access at home, but laptop ownership is now about even for all these groups.

"In all of this digital space, the African-American voice is really falling off the radar screen," says Johnson, who sold the Washington D.C.-based Black Entertainment Television to Viacom in 2000. "We're on other radar screens, with other digital sites, which is wonderful. But I really wanted to bring the real news, the storytelling — to really bring back the voice of the black community on some relevant news and views."

"We're going to be able to fill that void," Johnson adds.


My question is: how is adding a black section to THE HUFFING-ON-SOMETHING POST going to help lower the number of black men in prison, black students graduating, or the unemployment? Is there, perhaps, a correlation between black students dropping out of high school and college to the extraordinary high unemployment rate?

And does anyone else but me see the supreme irony of having the first black president ("a historic event and a milestone") and creating an entire section of a news website strictly for black people? I mean, why not just create an entire section at the back of a bus for black people...or an entirely separate section of a restaurant for black people?

How can you even begin to fight "racism" and "bigotry" and "prejudice" when you are having to create an entirely different section of news stories for black people because the major headlines of the day are apparently too boring or complicated for them to follow?

Arianna Huffington's noble but misguided attempt to pander and placate a minority class by giving them something to call their own only reinforces my long-held belief that liberals (in this case Disingenuous Greek Liberals)are truly the ones who are most racist and bigoted. By continuing to lower the bar and pander to the 'soft bigotry of lowered expectations' for black people, she ensures her place in history as a woman who inadvertently keep the very people down she claimed to be trying to pull up.

Anonymous said...

Great post SBPDL. I was wondering when you'd do a post about this show. And kudos to the poster who mentioned Frasier. I am an avid Frasier watcher and the only character of color that I can think of off the top of my head is Cam Winston, a genteel, white collar negro who lives in the unit above Frasier. He only appears in a few episodes.

"As a kid, I opted for realism in my white family-oriented sitcoms." Desiree, for white families living in 1990s suburbia, this show WAS real.

I wonder how a reunion show would look these days: Tim's laid off because the company outsourced operations to the Pacific Rim, Jill's putting her psychology degree to use counseling victims of violent crime, Brad's a soccer coach at a high school struggling to get by and get out of debt, Randy's died in a car wreck, and Mark's a closeted homosexual in his third year of grad school.

-Ulick Varange

Stuff Black People Don't Like said...


Already saw that article. Quite hysterical that yet another news Web site must placate the unplacatable.


Fraser is one of my favorite shows and will be discussed here. It highlights one of the ultimate Stuff White People Like cities, Seattle, and the elitist snobs Fraser and Niles at their hilarious best.

Black people don't like the show because it is imperative a person scored more than 710 on their SAT verbal to get even one of the jokes.

Anonymous said...

@ anon 7:17 Damn straight Middle class is a state of mind. A bottle of Margaux cru bourgeois only costs the same as one and a half KFC family buckets.

The underclass should at least waste their welfare cheques with some style.

Anonymous said...

Dezzie: If you think "every white man" is represented by "Larry the cable guy", then your chubby head is wedged even further up your ass then previously presumed. See you're here for your neurotic game of bait the whitey and receive your ass whippin' from massa. It's a sickness, get therapy.

Anonymous said...

Great post, but here is reality. Whites are not interested in watching any show that has been "blackified". In fantasy-land, the DETROIT 187 squad is led by a black lesbian, who looks as if she would be more at home on "V"....a show about invading space aliens.

Anonymous said...

"My question is: how is adding a black section to THE HUFFING-ON-SOMETHING POST going to help lower the number of black men in prison,..."

It won't. It will only serve to further inflate the sky-high black ego and self-esteem. It is another distraction, another attempt to polish the big brown turd.

It also makes white people feel more charitable and helpful to the poor dumb minorities. A token gesture.

Just ask black guy about token gestures, he is an expert on the subject.

Anonymous said...

What's all this noise about how there supposedly aren't enough minorities on television?

Don't these people ever watch COPS?

Anonymous said...

Watch any news channel and you will almost always see at least one black, many times two. This would lead an outside observer to conclude that the US is about 40% black. Racial blackmail to be sure. The majority of commercials have managed to squeeze in a token black or three even in the most unlikely situations. For example a group of whites playing a boardgame and there will be a smiling and good natured black among them, chilling wit YT.

Anonymous said...

Well, they'll always have "First 48".

Anonymous said...

and 12 percent of the population get to decide what?