VH1′s Tool Academy

Okay, so the point of this show is that the dudes are totally awful and the girlfriends are martyrs, horribly injured by the “tools” they’re dating. This relationship guru (with a British accent* a la Nanny 911 — but I think she’s a real therapist because she wears a lot of yellow and MY therapist wore a lot of yellow. Perhaps they go to the same shop?) gives the tools various tasks meant to teach them how to be better boyfriends. What gets me is that some of their behavior is actually emotional abuse — not just tool-ish behavior. By not naming this as such, it creates the idea that these kinds of controlling, frightening behaviors are individual, specific instances, instead of components of a pattern of behavior, where the goal is emotional and physical control over your partner’s actions.

The marriage mandate is strong with this show, up to and including the idea that the purpose of a long-term relationship is to eventually have kids. The overall goal is to rehabilitate each tool so that they can stay with their “fed-up” girlfriends. A heavy emphasis is placed on monogamy (where monogamy and mutual respect are interchangeable) and on gender divides. The viewer narratively identifies with the injured (craving monogamy and middle class acceptability) girlfriend and voyeuristically resents the male tool (the grotesque on the display, who is inappropriately sexual, non-monogamous, and lacks class mobility). A lot of this is about resisting nature — I’ve only seen this show on Hulu, but each segment there is bookended by one of those “Outsmart Mother Nature” tampon commercials, as though part of being an ideal female is constantly, constantly resisting the natural both in terms of the messiness of femininity and the rambunctiousness of the masculine.

BEST MOMENT (GIRLFRIENDS): When Kathleen the really pretty stripper (I covet her glasses like whoa) tells her jerk of a boyfriend that he will not be coming home with her because she needs to work on herself first. LOVE!!! But unfortunately, there’s NO MONOLOGUES or any in-show explanation for WTF that refers to, EVEN THOUGH that’s a super important epiphany!! Gah. More of that? This would have been a phenom show.

BEST MOMENT (TOOLS): About halfway through the season, when the tools start hugging ish out. I love it! Is that non-toolish behavior though, in the context of the show? They hug on Entourage and those guys are jerks — that’s the dang-gone point of the show. Considering that part of the show’s point is to convert jerks into real men, I suspect that no, they’re not supposed to hug each other… just their girls. Heterosexual men are only supposed to be vulnerable/gentle with “their” women. In fact, a lot of this show is about being a man — they even have the tools pick beets in overalls for a couple of hours, because real man are capable of an honest day’s work.

WORST MOMENT (GIRLFRIENDS): The constant insistence that it’s the man’s job to show his girl a good time.

WORST MOMENT (TOOLS): The constant possessiveness and territoriality over the women in their lives.

What’s making shows like this so popular? Part of me suspects that this is an extension of the whole fetishization of marriage going on… but what do you think? There’s some weird stuff with class/gender going on, but it’s so many layers of fail that all I can is twitch.


*Why must the British teach Americans how to act?


  1. says

    Hmmm…haven’t seen it, but is there any indication as to why these “tools” are WORTH working with and rehabilitating?

    Should it really be the point of a relationship to fix your broken partner? Or should you (ideally) be with someone who is actually decent to you in the first place?
    I think that’s kind of a no-brainer, personally.

    • Maria says

      You’d think so, but I’ve been noticing more and more that the media treats a break up like giving up, and judges both parties really harshly for it.

      • says

        Yes! We judge relationships strictly by how long they last. No matter how horrible it may be, a 50-year marriage filled with misery is more “successful” than a three-week fling that introduced you to a whole new way of looking at life, then burnt itself out, but left you a better person for having experienced it. We congratulate the 50-year couple and chastise the fling.

        • The Other Patrick says

          Yes, because those traditional marriages had some incentive to work it out, they couldn’t just get a divorce on ebay.

          Or something to that effect.

  2. says

    What gets me is that some of their behavior is actually emotional abuse — not just tool-ish behavior.

    This is really disturbing for several reasons. Mainly because there’s a hard, clear line between being a jackass (inconsiderate of others) and being an abuser (considering others to be objects). We are all jackasses at least once in a while. Most people never engage in direct abuse of another person. You just can’t lump those two modes of being together.

    Gah, there’s more, but I’m just sort of goggling at this too much to continue.

    Should it really be the point of a relationship to fix your broken partner? Or should you (ideally) be with someone who is actually decent to you in the first place?

    Exactly. People can be ignorant, or burdened with bad relationship skills from their parents, etc. It’s great to give someone a chance to learn new tricks, BUT s/he needs to meet some sort of minimum standard before you can assume s/he gives enough of a shit about you to want to learn anything new, and being “decent” is a pretty good way to look at that minimum standard.

    • Maria V. says

      That’s just the thing! There’s no explanation given initially for why it’s worthwhile to “fix” these guys. At the end of each show, Trina (the therapist) goes through why she’s eliminating the one who’s leaving, but there’s nothing about why they’re worth fixing in the first place.

      Part of me suspects it has to do with the “goodness” of the girlfriend — I was actually surprised that none of the guys mentioned their girlfriends having cheated on them or being in some way inadequate and thus deserving of ill treatment. They must’ve done some really fancy editing, because with guys like that, that is normally the first step.

  3. Anemone says

    How old are these people? Are they even old enough to settle down? Some of these problems disappear when people are actually ready for a serious relationship. (And then sometimes people need someone to sit on them to get their attention and get them to behave better.)

    Perhaps we could have a relationship show that looks at whether there’s any point in going any further in the relationship to begin with. This show sounds like it treats relationships like broken machines – buy it off the shelf, then take it in for repairs if it’s not working right. But in real life, relationships are organic – plant a seed and see what it grows into.

    *Why must the British teach Americans how to act?

    Because they have better accents? Posh British accents cause people to genuflect where I live. I had a coworker with brown skin and the most impeccable Coventry accent, and every time he got on the phone, people on the other end bowed before him. It was ridiculously unfair, and quite funny. (But then again probably a good thing in person.)

    • Maria V. says

      Your comment about buying off the shelf then getting it fixed is so spot on. I kept being like, Okay. TShaw (one of the tools) just said What’shername? isn’t the kind of girl he normally dates. MAYBE THAT’S WHY IT’S NOT WORKING!!!

  4. says

    Also, we have a tendency in this culture to assume all relationship problems are the result of someone being lazy and not working hard enough to “make it work.” That concept actually keeps a lot of people in emotionally abusive situations because they assume if they just keep trying, it’ll get better. Not a surprise the show seems to be following this line of thinking instead of advising people on how to realize when you are the ONLY one in the relationship who’s trying, and it always takes two.

  5. says

    When I think of a tool, I think of someone who’s so useless as a friend that they’re only useful for things — like they’re the friend you don’t like, but who always knows where the party is.

  6. SunlessNick says

    Out of interest, why do we use the term “tool” for people who are jerks?

    Etymologically, “tool” is a slang term for penis (equivalent to “box” for vagina) – so it’s a synonym for calling them dicks.

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