♣ We Can Do Better All By Ourselves ♣
Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.
— Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
DETROIT — It has been just over a month since I last checked in with you guys in the bloggosphere. For that, I sincerely apologize. But now that I’m back, I’m here to put a foot up the ass of someone who has been dodging it for a long time. That man is Tyler Perry. I know what you’re probably thinking: “But Jay, his movies are so touching and uplifting and they have a really valid, positive message that everyone can relate to.” The problem is, while that may be true, I can never seem to get to the proverbial “knowing is half the battle” moment in any of his televised/motion picture fecal matter because I’m too busy being assailed and bombarded by just about every modern negative black stereotype you can think of, with the ringmaster of this circus loudly prancing around like a taller, lighter, slightly younger version of Flavor Flav wearing your Grandmother’s Dress and a wig instead of a Viking helmet and a clock.
I just turned 30 last month. Turning the clock back 20 years to 1989, I was 10 years old and was growing more and more intrigued by this music called Hip-Hop. You see, back then, Rappers used to have these things called lyrics. Often those lyrics were integrated into Black Cinema much in the same way Curtis Mayfield and Issac Hayes were an integral part to 1970s Blaxploitation. The 1980s and 1990s answer to the over the top classic movies such as Shaft, Superfly, The Mack, Truck Turner, Foxy Brown, etc. came from people like the Hughes Brothers (Menace II Society), John Singleton (Boyz N Tha Hood), and a groundbreaking cat from Brooklyn named Spike Lee. The first Spike Lee movie that I recall seeing was Do The Right Thing. The message in his movies was like good old fashioned blunt-force trauma to the head. It very unabashedly told of the struggle of Blacks in the United States in what was much more modern day language. Spike’s creativity carried over into the legendary film Malcolm X.
Say what you will about some of the subject matter of his films, the messages, the treatment of women, etc., the man is a legitimate ground breaker. So when Spike decided to shoot (Pro Wrestling Lingo Alert!) on Tyler Perry during an interview back in May, you could kind of understand why he may not exactly have been a fan of “Madea”. Quoting Spike’s interview with former BET reporter Ed Gordon:
“We’ve had this discussion back and forth. When John Singleton [made ‘Boyz in the Hood’], people came out to see it. But when he did ‘Rosewood,’ nobody showed up. So a lot of this is on us! You vote with your pocketbook, your wallet. You vote with your time sitting in front of the idiot box, and [Tyler Perry] has a huge audience.
Ok, so for now, it seems like everything is sunny and rosey, until Spike started to be Spike:
“We shouldn’t think that Tyler Perry is going to make the same film that I am going to make, or that John Singleton or my cousin Malcolm Lee [would make]. As African-Americans, we’re not one monolithic group, so there is room for all of that. But at the same time, for me, the imaging is troubling and it harkens back to ‘Amos n’ Andy.’”
Let’s pause the tape right there. The operative line in that quote is that we as blacks are “not one monolithic group”. That is apparently news to many Black people because, for one, 85% of blacks have no idea what “monolithic” means, and secondly, Black people tend to think that we need to be in total lock step with each other. We’re to NEVER publicly disagree about anything or dare criticize our own in public, for fear of what message it sends to the “White Man”. Chuckle all you want, but that’s what has actually been said to me about why Spike Lee had no business cracking Tyler Perry. We continue with the true money shot of this interview:
“…I am a huge basketball fan, and when I watch the games on TNT, I see these two ads for these two shows (Tyler Perry’s “Meet the Browns” and “House of Payne”), and I am scratching my head. We got a black president, and we going back to Mantan Moreland and Sleep ‘n’ Eat?”
That was an epic shot because he managed to pub the NBA on TNT, reference characters from one of the most shameful periods of Black American Cinema, and reference a movie that he previously made about the subject matter. If you couldn’t tell, I’m no fan of Tyler Perry. Not his crappy and overly preachy stage plays. Not his one-dimensional, coonish movies. Not his overly corny, and stereotypical TV shows (I’ve watched all of three minutes of House of Payne before becoming nauseous). His lame response to this whole thing of “Madea” being based on people he grew up with and the sheep who love his movies demanding that Spike do everything from say nothing to congratulate him to “not saying his name” just continues to annoy me.
Like I said earlier, you can sell me the BS that all of his movies have this great and lovely message, but if all I’m drawing from it is that there is some Black Woman invariably done wrong by one black man, Madea jumps in midway through and does her “comedy” Bojangles routine, Another black man (usually of the opposite complexion) rides to her rescue, more Madea nonsense, Game Over, and the women have something to talk about while they get their hair done…then there’s a distinct failure to communicate here. However, in the spirit of full disclosure, I have seen one Tyler Perry movie from beginning to end: Why Did I Get Married? Not coincidentally, it was one of the three Tyler Perry movies that doesn’t feature Madea the Dancing Coon. The movie itself was actually pretty good. It got off a strong message that black couples go through the same issues as all couples, and was startlingly realistic (albeit the acting left something to be desired). The thing is that particular flick got the point across w/out having to bring Madea out waving a pistol and smoking a square. And it didn’t do nearly as well as the others. You see where I’m going.
The reason why Spike Lee was not out of bounds with what he said is simple. In the early 1990s, He drew heat for addressing what the mainstream American public saw as controversial. That would be Race relations…something that we’re still a bunch of pussies about dealing with mind you. Spike’s movies, especially early on, were troublesome. Conversely, Tyler Perry is safe. Tyler Perry’s movies are never going to cause any real mainstream controversy. They really aren’t going to make you think. He refers to Madea as “Bait” to draw in viewers to his “positive message”. And yes, there are many people who can stomach the wacky hi-jinx and hilarity of Madea, so the bait can nab you the fish. But at a certain point, the fish can snatch the bait, and escape off the proverbial hook and swim along to something else and then what are you left with? It’s bad enough that people of all races have preconceived notions about what black life is like. And some sugary sweet, yet horribly mediocre movie with a latent, clandestine message isn’t gonna change what many of those people think of us.
But as Spike said, we as blacks are not one monolithic group of people. Therefore, we don’t all have the same tastes, nor do we always stand in lockstep with each other on everything, in spite of the numerous people thinking that we have to do so to preserve some face of “Unity” and in essence, look good in front of the white man. To that, I call BS and say “F–k Unity”. This isn’t 1836, and we’re no longer on the plantation. I don’t care if “other races” see us bickering and arguing over something philosophical. It’s good to disagree. And once again just because a Black person wrote, starred, directed, created, sang, rapped, or danced in it doesn’t mean I have to admire, support, like, or appreciate it or them. And just because he makes money off of it doesn’t mean I have to show him/her love and respect it. Fox News gets higher ratings on average than CNN. That doesn’t make what they say legit, that just means a lot of hillbillies have cable.
In closing, Tyler Perry is free to make all the movies, TV shows, and stage plays he wants. That’s his right as an American. It’s my right as an American to choose to watch something else, and to have a problem with the characterizations in his films, shows and plays. Stereotyping is prevalent in everything. That’s never gonna change unless we stop being cowards and start staring it dead in the face. The day we start doing that, and stop worrying about what the “white man” will think, is the day we can have two influential people have a disagreement and it ends in some form of civility and doesn’t disintegrate into some juvenile, girly bed of BS where everyone gets called “haters” and “jealous”. As Common once said: “If I Don’t Feel It, Then I Don’t Feel It. Doesn’t Mean That I’m Hatin'”. Spike Lee, Thank you for speaking up for us. Tyler Perry, get your money and all that, but how about you try to fish w/some better “bait” and you would be amazed how many more fish you can catch.
Until Next Time, That’s The Way It Is, Monday October 26, 2009. The 28th day since the Detroit Lions’ last Victory. Take Care, God Bless, Always Dare to Be Different, and G.O.M.A.B. Σ