America's Lost Antidote to Political Correctness
One year ago this month on Jimmy Kimmel Live, conservative comedian and Trump-supporter Tim Allen warned: "You gotta be real careful around here [in Hollywood]. You get beat up if you don't believe what everybody else believes."
Two months later, ABC abruptly pulled the plug on Allen's hit conservative-leaning family comedy Last Man Standing (2011-2017), citing "business and scheduling" conflicts. Fans didn't buy it and immediately took to social media to boycott the network. What made this particular cancelation so insulting was the fact that at the time it happened, LMS was the second highest rated show for its time slot, with 8.1 million viewers.
The series was a rare gem from Hollywood that featured a likable and outspoken conservative central character named Mike Baxter (Tim Allen), a marketing director for Outdoor Man stores who was into classic cars, hunting, and collecting firearms. His temperament was constantly being tested due to his wife's job forcing him to be more hands-on at home, where he had to help navigate the hectic lives of their three daughters: a working single mom, a self-centered socialite, and an overtly athletic "tomboy" who also excelled in ROTC.
What I found refreshing about Last Man Standing was how it artfully challenged the political correctness that flourishes in the leftist bastions of academia, media, and Hollywood. Today, ideas perceived to threaten any P.C. message are increasingly met with accusations of bigotry and hatred, as well as intimidation and violence intended to shut down competing speech. It's like the old totalitarian regimes of the twentieth century that demanded complete conformity of thought, or else.
This political correctness is culturally corrosive and gains strength when we choose to remain silent rather than express potentially unpopular opinions that risk social fallout. Incredibly, LMS was able to disrupt this with the character of Mike Baxter, whose conservative voice made fun of liberalism in its various manifestations.
One of the sitcom's most popular episodes, "Precious Snowflake," shined a spotlight on the anti-free speech "safe space" mentality found on college campuses. In the show, Mike agrees to give a speech at his daughter Mandy's business school graduation. There's just one catch: his speech must be checked against the school's official list of "micro-aggressions." What are those? "It's the latest liberal attack at free speech," Mike quips.
When Mike reads his speech to Mandy, she flags nearly every phrase as a micro-aggression. For example, it's against school policy to address an audience as "Ladies and Gentlemen" because "it excludes those who don't identify as either." Mike is also forbidden to say "America is the land of opportunity," because that would be "implying that everyone has the same opportunities." Nor can he suggest that "if you live here and work hard, you can succeed," because it "hurts the feelings of those who work hard and don't succeed."
Eventually, Mandy defends her dad's right to tell his personal success story. In doing so, she exposes the school's anti-free speech policies intended to protect students' feelings at the expense of shutting down critical thinking and civil debate. Meanwhile, Vanessa surrenders to the inevitable reality that her daughter will face social fallout for merely speaking her mind. As for Mike, he finds the whole campus safe space thing as amusing as ever.
For conservative-leaning audiences, Last Man Standing didn't seem like a bunch of television elites exclusively pushing pretentious liberal social messaging. Although Mike's conservative voice was often mitigated by others who didn't agree with him, everyone seemed to share a basic standard of morality and civility that transcended differences. For six seasons, the show was America's antidote to political correctness in that it offered viewers a fresh look into aspects of American culture that the left has long suppressed on and off screen.
Was Last Man Standing too much for liberal Hollywood to take? Consider that ABC officially canned LMS shortly before green-lighting a one-year revival of a more progressive Roseanne. This presents a problem. How does ABC plan to woo back LMS viewers, a conservative-leaning, working-class demographic that came out in droves to support President Trump and his new jobs growth agenda? This is the very audience who is still boycotting the network for canceling LMS.
Unsurprisingly, in January, Roseanne Barr, also a Trump-supporter, announced that her television character would be pro-Trump, thus creating political tensions within the Conner family. The news prompted LMS fans to launch an online petition asking ABC to reinstate their beloved show. After all, it was "Mike Baxter," not "Roseanne Conner," who was first to come out of the conservative closet as a Trump-supporter.
Could the new Roseanne be a clever attempt by executives to subtly pull audiences to the left in a way they could never get away with on LMS? We'll find out beginning March 27.
As for a Last Man Standing revival, Tim Allen had a message for fans:
The support from all the fans to bring back 'Last Man Standing' is truly overwhelming to me and so appreciated. I, along with the talented writers, wonderful crew and terrific actors, would definitely entertain the idea of bringing the show back as there is so much gas left in the tank, more to be said, and laughs to be had.
With this, I thought it would be fun to ask LMS fans: What would you like to see in a Last Man Standing revival? Some 300 hopeful viewers promptly responded on Facebook! Here's a little unedited taste of what they had to say:
Dan H.: Laraby coming over too Trump because of what he has done for minorities!
Tim B.: It would be funny to have VP Pence tweet re: one of Mike's blogs and have Ed get all bent about whether its PC or not.
Kim M.: I would like to see Eve go into the service, Kyle and Mandy having a baby, and Kristin and Ryan having another kid.
David F.: I think Mike would be able to give the everyman support for pro-American policies as well as honest chagrin at President Trump's more juvenile comments.
Gina H.: Maybe a little more romance between Mike and Vanessa…And when it does come time to end, I want closure.
As for me, an anthropologist who escaped the grips of leftist academia, I would like to see LMS take on "cultural appropriation" – a wave of hardcore P.C. that has swept across college campuses and into K-12 schools, ruining many traditions. Given the wildly popular "Precious Snowflake" episode, any show exposing the hypocrisy of cultural appropriation – for example, during a Baxter Halloween event – would surely be talked about for years to come.
Perhaps, one day, Last Man Standing will return to television. However, I think Tim Allen said it best: "There is nothing more dangerous right now than a funny, likable conservative character." The entertainment landscape has been consumed by a culture of intolerance and radical groupthink, a concern voiced by Allen during his interview with Jimmy Kimmel.
I hate to be a skunk at the LMS fan picnic, but Hollywood's contempt for conservative American values is nothing new. The cancelation of LMS is just another reason so many Americans have tuned out Hollywood, and I suspect there will not be a new antidote any time soon.
Kimberly Bloom Jackson is a cultural and media anthropologist and author of White Identity Crisis: Inside Hollywood's Destructive Racial Politics and What It Means for America (Summer 2018). She can be found at SnoopingAnthropologist.com.