Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Madea, Humor, and Advice

I thought the most interesting part of Perry’s Don’t Make a Black Woman Take Off Her Earrings was Tyler Perry’s ability to give actual good advice while still not straying from his humorous tone. I’ve never seen a Madea movie, but I’ve always been aware of their existence in a sort of vague cosmic way, so before I started the book I knew it was going to be funny—it was essentially the musings of someone’s alter ego. I wasn’t wrong, but I also underestimated how much I’d take from it too. While some elements were purely for comedic value—i.e., poisoning husbands, using Vaseline for literally everything—there were more that weren’t. Stuff like “Whatever you’ve done in the past is done, and don’t be ashamed of it”, or “You know, it comes down to a point where you need to stop looking at your spouse or boyfriend to be your parent and to validate you and give you everything your parents didn’t. You got to go get that stuff for yourself” or “Let me tell you something—every line, every bag, every wrinkle, every pound you put on means you done learned something on this earth. You need to embrace it”. Lying underneath the entire book was the message that you should not only live for yourself, but live true to yourself as well. Pretty sound advice.

Which posed a question: why go about giving advice like this through humor? And furthermore, why is it more effective than the likes of middleschool classroom motivational posters or signs in beach house rentals? Perry himself (or really, Madea herself) describes it at the very end of the book: “But what I figured out what to do is that if you want to reach them—you make them laugh and then you can give them some of that same wisdom”. I think this is extraordinarily true—it’s sort of like a stealth attack of new knowledge. If you’re trying to impart wisdom to someone who is not necessarily responsive to it, being too obvious about it might unsettle them or turn them off of listening to you. When you use humor, though, it’s subtle. And not only that, it sticks with you better. It’s the same idea as making up ridiculous songs to remember something for a test or laughing out loud in the middle of a lecture because you thought of a joke your friend told you the night before. Good humor makes an impression; it sticks with you. So sound advice told through good humor likewise sticks with you, because you remember it for the humorous factor. Additionally, there’s the fact that the humor presents the advice in such a way that it is subjective. You don’t have to follow it all if you don’t want to, and you don’t even have to take it at face value, but its presentation in a humorous way means you get to decide these things for yourself. The alternative—blatant advice giving—does not leave room for much personal interpretation. And, ultimately, this is how the humor Don’t Make A Black Woman Take Off Her Earrings manages to work: it’s absurd at times and very funny, but it’s also very wise and very truthful. 

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