Don’t Stand Too Close to a Naked Man by Tim Allen
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This is my second time reading this book.
I first read this book in middle school because I really liked Home Improvement. Kind of reminds me of the joke Eddie Murphy tells in Delirious when he sees a young kid in the audience. “You thought I’d be up here at Buckwheat saying ‘o-tay’ and all that”. I read above my age, but it didn’t mean I was ready to understand everything in the book, particularly the more adult stuff like married life or being a parent. It did leave an impression on me because I was able to completely remember the first chapter.
One thing I didn’t appreciate when I read this as a kid is how the book combines Tim Allen the performer with Tim Allen the human. (Although his next book – I’m Not Really Here – does a much better job of that) He mentions overtly that he’s a big reader. Could be a joke based on his persona on Home Improvement and his on-stage persona. But based on the things he keeps mentioning – you see it’s true while also not invalidating his performance persona. Of course, knowing that many comedians’ books are ghost-written, I do wonder how much is Tim with someone helping him wrangle it vs someone writing in his voice. Since it’s auto-biographical, I imagine he’s got a higher level of input than average.
Overall, reading this book in 2020 was trippy. There are some things that were ahead of their time like when he called out “The War on Drugs” for the silliness that it is. (At least in execution it’s very clumsy and doesn’t seem to have policies that actually lead to its goals) In other ways this is a 90s-ass book. As John Scalzi recently mentioned in a blog post about his newspaper work from the 90s, there was a definite “Men are From Mars, Women are From Venus” thing going on in the 90s that leads to a kind of sexism that isn’t quite as accepted nowadays. Of course, there is a point in the book where Tim Allen points out that the humor in the book is just humor and not meant to be taken seriously – he knows he’s goofing on women, he doesn’t actually think it’s true. But it was also the basis of his 1980s/1990s persona. (And the man/woman thing was so prevalant that it gets a mention in an early Futurama episode featuring the Omecron Persei aliens who want to watch an episode of Ally McBeal – Single Female Lawyer in the show) It’s also got a bit of that 1990s gay panic (if that’s the right word) where it’s not homophobia, it’s more of a “hey, I’m not gay because I’m showing my soft side” type of thing beause the ideaof ‘metrosexual’ hadn’t quite hit the scene yet.
Overall, the book comes off as kind of timeless and kind of dated. Timeless in that no matter how enlightened we get as a culture, I think there will always be some differences between men and women that can be mined for humor. Dated in the WAY that it’s expressed in the book can be 2020s-sexist as well as dated in the fact that he uses the phrase “color TV” as if there’s any other kind. And his upbringing is becoming less of the norm as more kids stay indoors to play video games or have more supervised outdoor time. It’s kind of like Little Women, which I’m currently reading for the first time, in that way. For something like the last 100 years children have had roughly the same upbringing beause even when there was TV, it used to cut out at night when my mom was a kid. Our kids (or depending how old you are – grandkids) have a completely different life in which outdoors is the most boring part of their lives. Even my kids, who have spent at least 2 hours outside every day during quarantine and make up all kinds of games out there, can’t wait to have Animal Crossing time. Meanwhile, when I was a kid, video games were so hard that you’d eventually give up in frustration and go play with toys or play outside. So I think that aspect of the book may be slowly fading away (unless the next generation swings back in the other direction).
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