Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Madea's Absurdity

            Tyler Perry’s overblown caricature of an aging southern black woman, has somehow been the subject of multiple movies, plays, and even a book which spent time as a #1 New York Times bestseller. The mere mention of the name Tyler Perry conjures images of his cross-dressed alter ego, a character that he, for some reason, portrays himself. Perry’s first book was written from the perspective of Madea, though it would not make sense for him to do anything else, given the huge success that this character has given him. The book, Don’t Make a Black Woman Take Off her Earrings: Madea’s Uninhibited Commentaries on Love and Life, is written entirely from the perspective of Madea, so much so that the name of Perry’s creation would be more apt to be on the front cover of this book than his is. The entire book is written, as the title implies, as Madea’s commentary on basically everything imaginable, with her offering advice to readers throughout the entirety of the book as well. By using Madea, Perry can offer commentary on his own culture as an African American, but also gives him the ability to make the commentary from the perspective of a woman from another generation, allowing him to comment more on his own generation as well as the following. While Madea is clearly an overblown persona, Perry does still make commentaries on society and the culture of the times that do have some truth hidden behind the sheer ridiculousness. This book was written back in 2006, and while a lot of things have changed, and quite drastically, in part because of the financial collapse in 2008-2009. Back in 2006, however, teenage pregnancy was a much more prominent issue than it is today, and Perry’s commentary, while brief as most of his “chapters” are, is rather poignant. Writing as Madea Perry says “Back in my day, it was simple, you respected your elders and everybody … most of all you respected yourself, especially at that age, you had to act like a lady” (Perry, 86). While this discussion quickly devolves into her commentary on the names of children that Madea has begun to have a problem with, there is a part, however small, that may have been intended as some sort of serious social commentary.

In a way, similar to Hau’ofa, Perry uses this fictional, and clearly absurd character of his, to, at times, offer some sort of social commentary veiled by the fictional setting. Blatantly coming out and criticizing his own culture likely would not have been appreciated, and likely would have faced some serious backlash. If those same criticisms were voiced by a fictional character, known for being overblown and outrageous, and were followed by Perry’s attempt at a joke, then they are bound to be much more accepted then they would be otherwise. While he is, in a way, making a social commentary, Perry does so in a way that limits his audience a bit. The intended audience is clearly people from, or incredibly familiar with African American culture, so much so that Madea even calls out non-African American readers at multiple times throughout. After discussing the way in which she murders her husbands in a very thinly veiled manner, Madea states that “if you don’t understand something I’m saying here and you’re not black, you will have to ask somebody who is” (Perry, 48). Something similar again happens back in the commentary on teenage pregnancy where Madea says “These children, especially the ones that I see, pardon me, if you’re not black and you’re reading this, I’m talking about the people I see in my neighborhood” (Perry, 86) it’s as if readers are missing something right off the bat if they aren’t black, and while I’m sure it does add some comedic effect, it also make the entire book seem as if it is one gigantic inside joke that non-African American readers are missing out on.  

No comments:

Post a Comment