Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Madea and Masks

            From the outset of his book, Tyler Perry emphasizes that he and Madea are two different people. Madea, herself even makes this clear in her introduction, saying that she “received no help at all from Mr. Tyler Perry in writing this book. He had absolutely nothing to do with it. These are not his opinions” (XIV). Before readers even begin reading the actual text to follow, this idea is drilled into their mind that the opinions and statements to follow come from Madea, not Tyler Perry at all… even if his name is the one on the cover in big blue letters.
            This separation between the two individuals is made even clearer through the way in which they refer to each other. In the introduction, Madea writes about knowing Perry and his family when he was a child. Perry talks about Madea, too, as knowing her dearly, although, as he explains in the foreword, they hold “extremely different” ideas on life (IX). It is evident that Perry is the one writing and that Madea is a character he developed, but with all of this emphasis on the separate opinions and stances of the two, it seems that he may have created Madea as a mask he can where in order to speak the truth without confidence.
            I am not saying that there is anything wrong with this mask, because we all do it. Madea writes later that “Everybody’s got denial going on. Nobody wants to hear the truth, especially when you’re in your own world” (67). This seems to me to be a likely reason why Perry says all the things he does through the mask of Madea. She can get away with her blunt observations and opinions, because of her character, whereas Perry, himself, may not. So by hammering so hard on the idea that he and Madea are separate entities, Tyler Perry creates a sort of insurance on himself and his writing so as not to face all of the wrath of those in denial, not wanting to hear such brutal honesty.
            Humor itself becomes a kind of mask in a lot of instances where criticism is prevalent. By covering up the honesty of our statements with the mask of a joke, we remove ourselves from any possible negative reaction because “it was just a joke” or we “were only kidding.” We create these insurances and safety nets for ourselves constantly and not always consciously, taking the responsibility we might have for our actions or statements, and diffusing it by covering up with an alternate point of view or persona.
            I have seen this happen a lot recently at my service-learning site. In the theatre class I work with, the teacher often has issues with getting the students to come outside of their shells when acting in front of the class and when they feel most uncomfortable, they tend to make jokes about their situation or laugh. As adolescent individuals, these high school students are highly self-conscious and do not want to be responsible for their actions, especially if those actions may be criticized or come off as ridiculous (which often times theatre does).
            The class has been working with masks for the past couple weeks and have really come into their own as they use them. It is easy to tell by watching and talking to them that the mask, which was first foreign and weird, has become a safety net for them to act behind. This way, they don’t need to be recognized as themselves and any sense of self-consciousness is lost. All of the students are quite evidently more comfortable acting in front of their classmates with these masks on. So today when they were cast in small scenes that they’ll be working on for the next month or so, the first comment I heard was “Can I wear a mask?” to which I asked why and the girl responded, “Well that way people don’t have to know it’s me and I can just act.”

            People don’t like to be held responsible for themselves, especially in instances when they may be criticized in one way or another (and even more so if this criticism may come from their peers). In her chapter on hip-hop, Madea asserts, “If you’re a musician, you have a certain amount of power as an artist and you have to be responsible for what you’re putting out there” (97-98). I would say that this can be expanded to any artist or really anyone who creates for a public audience. Tyler Perry seems to be acutely aware of this fact and this could likely be why “Madea” is the one who puts all this information out there and not him. I’m not trying to criticize him for doing this at all, because I, and I’m sure almost anyone, can understand the immense weight that this responsibility can create and any way to diffuse it is more than welcome from an artist’s perspective.

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