I don’t know how many of you have seen that show ‘Tool Academy’ on VH1, but I analyzed the 1st season for a paper. If you want the original academic work, hit me up.
Hegemonic Masculinity in VH1’s Tool Academy
You’re Just a Tool, Tool Academy
So … the dudebro. His whole entire identity is about doing whatever he can to not be a lady. To prove that he isn’t, the dudebro is only allowed to do things like spend money, compete with other dudebros, only show emotion when he’s pissed, and to treat the ladies like they’re his bitches. While competing for hella money, VH1’s Tool Academy is based on the premise that girlfriends bring their dudebros – the tools – to a place where they can unlearn their toolhood and be better boyfriends. To get the dudebros to actually want to do this, Tool Academy gives them some therapy, pairs them up in competition with their GFs, dangles a $100,000 cash prize in front of them, AND threatens to kick them out of the house. In terms of de-tooling the tools, some of these strategies work, but most just reinforce dudebro behavior.
The $100,000 Cash Prize
Although this cash prize situation is supposed to motivate the fellas to become non-douchetools, it usually results in tool-like behavior. For example, when they open up the series, the host Jordan announces that the dudes have been enrolled in an academy so they can become better boyrfriends and men.
And how do the tools react? Complete silence. I’m talking crickets.
Then he says that if they do well, they’ll be rewarded with a $100,000 cash prize.
Every person, down to the very last tool goes crazy and starts cheering.
So basically, because things like ‘being a good boyfriend’ and ‘being responsible’ aren’t considered manly, these dudebros don’t react. But because as a dudebro it’s cool to be stoked about money, it’s okay to cheer and get excited when they hear about all the money they can win.
Now, aside from having to define oneself in opposition to the ladies, the dudebro is actually secretly insecure that other dudebros won’t find him masculine enough. The dudebro constantly has to prove his manhood over and over by trying to dominate all the other dudes he’s around. The $100,000 cash prize makes these displays a constant throughout the show.
Shawn (aka Loud Mouth Tool) provides the best examples of this type behavior. He knows that M.E.G.A. is his biggest competition and so is constantly physically attacking him and provoking him in the tool academy dorms. He even admits that he’s going to pick at the flaws in everyone’s relationships until he wins. Instead of figuring out why the hell he’s so insecure about losing, he just tries to bring everyone else down, which, as explained above is classic dudebro behavior.
Trina, the therapist who has the final say in who wins or loses, initially punishes the dudebro for this kind of toolish behavior by putting perpetrators of violence and provocations in the bottom two during elimination rounds.
However, she ultimately rewards two of the biggest tools in the house, Shawn and Matsuflex, (even though they’re always acting like d-bags) because they eventually make it to the final 3.
This cash prize, then, only makes the tools bust out dudebro behavior, rather than encouraging them to push that shit aside.
The Small Competitions With The Ladies
So in Therapy, the tools are taught lessons on how to be good boyfriends. In the small competitions, the tools have to work together with their girlfriend to show that they’ve really learned the lesson. Even though it’s a competition – which is a usually manly thing – winning the competition often means embracing actions that are usually associated with being feminine. To win, the tool needs to man-up and embrace his feminine side. Failure to do so results in punishment.
For example, in a communication competition where the tools’ had to read directions on building a bed to their girlfriends, Tommy (aka slacker tool) gets frustrated and instead of being patient and chatting it out (stuff only girls do, duh), he throws an armchair and kicks a cooler. Because he decided to act like a dudebro instead of manning up and communicating, Trina puts him in the bottom two during the elimination round.
On the flip side of this, being able to let go of one’s inner dudebro often resulted both in rewards and wining competitions. In one competition where tools and their ladies, while attached to each other, raced to see who could paint a fence first, two tools tried two different strategies. Matsuflex literally dragged his lady around, physically dominating her, and didn’t listen to her ideas. Josh (aka Tiny Tool), employs a strategy where he and his lady work together, and he even uses some of her ideas to complete the task. Tiny Tool, by being man enough to treat his lady like an equal, wins the small competition AND ends up being the first “graduate” of the Tool Academy. Matsuflex’s inability to shed his inner dudebro led to losing not only the fence painting competition, but also the greater competition.
Pairing the fellas up with their girlfriends in competitions actually challenge the tools to see that there are advantages in the dropping the dudebro act.
The Therapy Sessions
Up until this point, we’ve talked about how Tool Academy motivates the men to change in the masculine arena of competition. Therapy, however, is a space where the men have to change in a feminine battlefield. It’s here where the tools in the academy really drop all of their dudebro posturing. Not only do they stop being dicks to one another, but they admit their insecurities, they share their feelings and they even cry (no shit, son). It’s by waging an emotional war on a feminine battlefield that the audience is shown that even though the tools act like d-bags, they have really strong emotions just like ladies. When they drop their dudebro pretences, Trina rewards them for their strength.
Therapy, then becomes a space where the tool mentality seems as though it may actually change. In an interview with Rob (aka Power Tool), we come to find that dropping the dudebro ethic is actually valuable in helping the tools to change their mind about constantly performing their gender like dudebros. During one of the therapy sessions, Rob breaks down and cries. He later admits in his interview that even though he’s never cried in front of people like that, it made him feel less crazy and less alone. Through admitting this, Rob shows that #1, dudes totally cry, and #2 when dudes cry and talk and work shit out, they may not look like dudebros, but it makes them feel better.
Therapy is perhaps, of all the strategies used by tool academy, the most effective in helping the tools shake off the need to dudebro it up.
The Elimination Round
So, each week, a Tool is expelled from Tool Academy when Trina decides that he just isn’t man enough to be a good man. When he’s expelled, he’s got one chance to try to get his girlfriend to leave with him instead of without him.
One, and only one, dude upon getting expelled drops his dudebro pretense to try to convince his girl to stay with him. Almost every other dude expelled from the academy reverts back to defending himself by putting up a tough alpha male front. Shawn and Celebrity’s expulsions are really good examples of this.
When Shawn is tossed out of the Academy, he responds by puffing up his chest and going back to the dudebro need to constantly prove how masculine he is. As he’s leaving one of the other tools talks a little shit, and instead of being the bigger man, Shawn runs back into the house, threatens the offending tool, and THEN claims that he’s going go so postal on the dude that the producers are going to need the National Guard to hold him back. Needing to prove that he is a bigger man through anger and a puffed up display are all classic dudebro moves.
Celebrity (aka Party Tool) starts booty poppin’ and asking the other tools’ girlfriends for phone numbers. Not only does Celebrity revert to the dudebro behavior where he tries to make women his bitches, but because he is also one of the (few) black men on the show, he also falls into a stereotype of black dudebro-ness based on being important only through things like performance and being super sexual.
The elimination round, because it takes the tools power away, creates a defensive tool whose only ability to fight back is by reverting back to dudebro behavior.
When the tools are dismissed, Jordan, the host says “I’m sorry, you’re just a tool.”
On the basis of effectively changing dudebros into good dudes, this author has to say “I’m sorry Tool Academy, you’re just a tool.” (I.e. this shit doesn’t work).
The reason why Tool Academy doesn’t work (aside from the fact that it’s reality TV and that they boozed those tools up constantly) is because adding competition for money and fear of elimination makes everything the tools do in therapy and small competitions a part of a strategy to win, rather than to really be better boyfriends.
If VH1’s Tool Academy really wants to start turning dudebros into good dudes, they’ll need to get rid of the cash prize AND get rid of the eliminations.