Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Self-Conscious Entertainment

            Tyler Perry’s Don’t Make a Black Woman Take Off Her Earrings: Madea’s Uninhibited Commentaries on Love and Life contains a surprising amount of social commentary. I was expecting an account of slapstick antics, and, while these aggressive and purposefully humorous anecdotes are certainly present throughout the book, there were other sly moments of social awareness. The opening section of the book contained a kind of self-conscious goal statement when it proclaimed that, “I hope this book will . . . help people understand that you have to feel good about yourselves” (17). It does actually contain some empowering comments about self-worth and such, especially for women and girls, but this fact may be skewed by the fact that Perry is a man writing a “memoir” as a woman, which is really just for entertainment.
Perry covered many issues from teen pregnancy to racial issues to Republican presidents. He also wrote about the women’s issues, mentioned above, which was interesting, as his narrator is a woman, but he himself is obviously not. Discussing all of these issues in the purportedly humorous format was an interesting choice. It seems that Perry is using humor as a platform to advocate certain views. An article, or some other medium, about teen pregnancy would be much less likely to reach the same readership. At the end of the day, though, it’s pretty obvious that he is out to entertain and sell books. Some of his advice is empowering, such as when he tells women to look more closely at their ideas of self-worth. Some is outrageous, like when Madea tells readers that she has been married eight times and that all of her husbands died mysterious deaths after boring her and then eating her sweet potato pie. Even though he slips various social commentaries in among his anecdotes, whether or not Perry seriously expects his writings to contribute to social change is debatable.
            This book reminded me of the genre of the modern stand up comic. Both often share a kind of in-your-face vulgarity, and an emphasis on shock value. The laughs come from the unexpected and the absurd. Both types of humor usually seem to be purposeful entertainment with not much room for another agenda. Stand up comics often take on other personas in their acts, just as Perry has done with Madea. Madea, as a character, can say more offensive things than Perry might be able to get away with, especially about women’s issues. The authority to laugh at is changed by using another persona. Both comics and Perry also recount anecdotes that did not necessarily happen to them. They perhaps exaggerate or emphasize a detail that they included to be self-consciously funny. Obviously, Madea’s life experiences are somewhat different from Tyler Perry’s, even though some of the stories might contain a grain of truth.
            Overall, the Madea series is self-conscious entertainment, yet in a different way than other works that we have read. It gets the easy laughs, like the ones you might get from killing eight husbands with sweet potato pie. While it mentions teen pregnancy and cycles of poverty and racial issues, these, interestingly enough, are only a platform to Perry’s idea of the humorous. The humor is not necessarily a gateway to exposure for these topics, as it was in Tales of the Tikongs or Candide. Perry’s goal is to entertain and his parade of books and movies speaks to his success in reaching that goal.

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