New Year’s Resolutions are pointless. I get that. Nevertheless, I resolved to lay down some of the criticism I had of Tyler Perry and the entire counter-intellectual culture of stereotypical entertainment at the expense of black people. And in many respects, I even found that being critical of certain stereotypical humor was a moot point, given its often large following from other people of color. The commitment to this particular resolution was put to the test when Spike Lee opened the floodgates:
Then, I heard Perry’s rebuttal:
Lest I become accused of being the proverbial crab in the bucket, I’ll withhold from the echoing Lee’s scathing insults of coonery. At the same time, Perry is delusional if he thinks the “bait” used to inject discussions about God, faith, etc. is effective. I can almost bet people generally don’t leave a Tyler Perry joint with an accomplished sense of family, community, and whatever virtues he claims to invoke. I liken it to burying a vitamin tablet in the center of a double cheeseburger and calling it healthy.
But that was the old me. The new me is trying to look at things from another vantage point.
In that respect, I willingly acquiesce to the idea that Tyler Perry’s work – despite its appearance and execution – probably has a pretty admirable purpose in mind. Much like Lee’s work, Perry’s stuff attempts to present a certain real element of black life, while giving Black America an appreciation of self. Like Lee, I think in some deep way Perry wants black people to love themselves through their disappointments and through their triumphs. Similarly, Perry – like Lee – is a brotha trying to make a mark for himself in an industry where we are grossly underrepresented. So far be it for me to begrudge his hustle.
But also like Spike Lee, Tyler Perry is forced to deal with a clearcut dichotomy: there are audiences who LOVE his work and there are audiences who HATE it. But in examining this conflict even closer, you quickly realize that it is not at all exclusive to particular black artists or to particular expression of black artistry. Instead, this conflict can be found in virutally any art form. The only show to date which has been able to successfully accomodate both audiences using the same material is HBO’s “The Wire.” Lovers of art and cimena can appreciate the thematic nature of the show. Meanwhile, people simply looking to be entertained can find just as much indulgence. But it should be noted that as far as media goes, The Wire is an anomaly whose abilities to accommodate virtually any audience have not been replicated by any thing else.
I think we have to face facts: despite most efforts, it is not likely that we will ever see a full reconciliation between the two camps. Certain human attributes of ours dictate how we respond to one another’s tastes and ensure that we will probably never fully agree on perspectives. People hoping for less stereotypical depictions in cinema will never be able to sit through “Medea Goes to Jail.” In that same vein, people looking for a cheap laugh without being required to examine the sociological implications of what they’re viewing will probably be turned off by “Do the Right Thing.”
Truthfully, there is no quick fix to this growing schism. This conflict represents (to me, at least) the idea that black entertainment is merely a creation of the audience who consciously decides to view it. As Tyler Perry pointed out, people quick to question his entertainment methods should talk to his fan base; a base witnessing increased growth by the day.
As much as it stands against everything I preach from my tower, I concede to the idea that not every piece of black entertainment has to include an educational component. Not everything has to be produced solely to advance the race. I also think it’s important to consider that people like Tyler Perry never launch a project specifically with the exploitation of black people in mind; just like I’m sure Spike Lee’s analytical and ‘thinking man’s’ approach was never intended to deliberatly bore non-scholarly types out of their minds. I have always maintained that as a culture, black people do not monolithically subscribe to the same tastes, values, or thinking. To expect us to become a monolith where entertainment is involved is a direct insult to those beliefs. As long as we are committed to diversity – even within our own cultural ranks – black representation in media must be allowed to have variety.
Accepting Flavor Flav, on the other hand, will NEVER be acceptable…no matter how open minded I strive to be.