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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

VH1 is too ‘Tool’ for school

Published: November 6, 2009
Section: Arts, Etc.

VH1 has long been the bastion of reality shows that aren’t classy enough for MTV’s high standards, including a neverending series of reality dating shows and the “I Love Money” competitions. But the absurdity of reality programming is probably best captured in the completely ridiculous “Tool Academy 2.”

The basic principle behind the “Tool Academy” series is that girls with terrible boyfriends can bring them on this show to undergo couples’ counseling, with a British-accented counselor (for a legitimacy factor), and compete in challenges designed to rectify faults in their relationships. Most of the boyfriends involved have cheated on their girlfriends multiple times, treat them terribly, and have absolutely no respect for women.

But of course it wouldn’t be reality TV if anyone on the show displayed elements of self-awareness. Each woman on the show gladly points out the faults in everyone else’s relationship while defending her boyfriend’s complete and utter lack of basic human decency. What’s worse is that most of the time after a guy has been kicked off (signature host line: “I’m sorry, but you’re just a tool.”), his girlfriend chooses to continue the relationship after some vague halfhearted promises to change.

Truly the highlight of “Tool Academy” is the fairly non-standard ‘therapeutic’ techniques the show employs. Last season, in order to prove fidelity, contestants had to learn to dance a tango with their girlfriends, as though that would prove them incapable of cheating. This season, the men were put in clothes and makeup to look like old men, so that they could somehow better have a conversation about maturity and the future of their relationships. Most of the competitions are repurposed general reality show competitions like relay races, simply forcing the couple to compete together.

Though it’s almost certainly unintended, “Tool Academy 2” does serve as an excellent critique of gender roles. The men on the show constantly engage in male posturing with other contestants, and assert extreme feelings of ownership and possession over their girlfriends. They tend to be extraordinarily jealous even as they repeatedly cheat. The show’s presentation of these guys as overaggressive, vain, immature idiots is in many ways a critique of this kind of behavior.

Of course, every bit of progress is undone by a counselor who seems to believe in traditional gender roles and women who seem both slightly terrified and a bit flattered by their boyfriends’ possessive behavior. Still , one can’t really expect anything from VH1.

When it comes down to it, “Tool Academy 2” is infuriating, but perfectly mindless entertainment that requires little attention and even less analysis. But it’s also a show you don’t want to watch alone, simply for fear of losing IQ points. Nonetheless, it’s probably one of my favorite ridiculous things to watch, and this week’s season finale is likely to be epic, if last year’s impromptu marriage is any precedent.