Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Questionable Jokes

Tyler Perry’s humor in Don’t Make a Black Woman Take Off Her Earrings is bold, to say the least. No topic is off limits once Perry takes on the persona of Madea, covering subjects ranging from adultery to child abuse and depression. Every issue is addressed with the intent to convey what is “honest and true,” with little regard for “political correctness” (8). The result is a caricature of black femininity that places an emphasis on irreverence and violence, delivered by a heterosexual male. This is the first disruption we’ve seen to the David-Goliath joke structure this semester, and it begs the question: Does putting on a dress allow Perry the liberty to throw stones at women?

Perry goes through great lengths to separate himself as speaker from the character of Madea in the mind of the reader. He writes not only a foreword to explain her character, referring to her repeatedly as “my friend,” but proceeds to have Madea introduce herself by saying: “I want to clear up one very important matter … Tyler Perry has nothing to do with Madea. We are two very separated individuals” (14). Once this distance has been established, Perry holds nothing back, freely giving sex and dating advice as if an invisibility cloak now masks the fact that he is a man. He hits readers with “the truth,” such as: “If you want the dog to keep getting the Frisbee, don’t throw it too much … Close your legs” (29). Madea’s flirting advice includes instructions to not wear too much perfume and to make sure one’s skirt is short but not a “ho-skirt” (33, 31).  

While is true that Madea also touts a certain brand of sexual empowerment for women, Perry does more to reinforce harmful gender norms than he does anything positive. Perry has repeatedly stated the comedic genius of Madea, commenting: “I can slap Madea on something and talk about God, love, faith, forgiveness, family, any of those” (60 Minutes). However, it my personal opinion that jokes about sagging breasts on aging women are simply never funny when delivered by a man, even one who has stuffed his chest to fill out a dress. Perry possesses a tremendous amount of wealth and power and his joking on women of low-socioeconomic standing is more cruel than it is humorous.

The archetype of the Angry Black Woman continues to be portrayed in countless television programs and throughout the media. One can think back to a young Chris Rock’s no-nonsense mother on Everybody Hates Chris, or to countless representations of violent African-American women on reality television programs, including but not limited to Real Housewives of Atlanta, Love and Hip-Hop, and Bad Girls Club. This is a trope essentially defined by Perry’s characterization of Madea in Don’t Make a Black Woman Take Off Her Earrings. Perry defines Madea not as a lone, outrageous character but as a representation of a woman “on every corner in every neighborhood” during his youth (7). Thus, while he may describe Madea with affection, the entire book is a selfish effort, serving only to improve Perry’s personal wealth and fame while perpetuating norms harmful to black women and society as a whole. 

No comments:

Post a Comment