Today in Post-Race History: The Essential Tyler Perry
Right so, according to my Facebook page and Twitter account, Tyler Perry and Oprah (aka Madea and Miss Sophia) tried to get all Watch the Throne on us and collabo on some crappy TV shows. Essentially, Tyler created a couple of shows for his BFF’s fledgling network, a bunch of people watched them and concluded that not only do they suck, but the The Haves and the Have Nots and Love Thy Neighbor are the televisual equivalent of the hair relaxer: Bad for black women. So bad, in fact, that there’s a petition about getting Tyler Perry off OWN, as if all that other stuff on the network is, like, awesome. But whatever.
Anyway, the shows set viewing records for OWN, which basically means that the shows won’t be canceled. And neither will the subsequent internet responses that will follow. I’m curious about this impulse to return to the Tyler Perry critique. if you will, and the sempiternal cycle that has officially worn me low. He continually produces the same, misogynistic, poorly conceived drivel, and we use his movie and television premieres to echo the myriad reasons why he’s “problematic.” I wonder why this is how some of us choose to channel our intellectual energy.
Should instances of misogyny, etc. be called out and (hopefully) squashed? Absolutely. The thing is, though, I could probably write (yet another) polemic against Tyler Perry without watching thirty seconds of his latest effort at movie- and television-making. Why? Because just like Drake ‘n’em have no new friends, TP has no new themes. So, if we can rail against Tyler Perry–should we choose–without actually watching Tyler Perry, why then do we choose to ingest his work?
At this point, I don’t know how convinced I am that some of us watch Perry so that we can have an informed criticism of him. In fact, I’m wondering if what’s also occurring is some kind of racialized catharsis. Perhaps some black viewers watch these stereotypes and subsequently critique them as a kind of purging, an attempt to eliminate what we may fear is a kind of impulse in ourselves, or to convince ourselves that we are not, in life, some version of a caricature that populates a Tyler Perry movie.
I can’t be sure. What I do know, though, is that Perry’s record-setting is not the mere work of his staunchest supporters. Rather, his “success” is partly buttressed by those who implicitly support his movies as part of the process of dressing him down. But I’m not convinced that an informed and specific critique is the sole impulse for the TP watching. As his mentor, Oprah, has proven, there is much money to be made by tapping into and meeting the race-based expectations of the American people. And I’m starting to believe that TP’s function for his detractors is not merely being a very easy target, but perhaps also a kind of masochistic vehicle through which to purge and subsequently attempt to distance ourselves from. And until those ratings numbers take a noticeable hit, TP might not be able to leave the game alone. After all, our engagement and response to him show that we clearly need him–in far more ways than we’re ready to admit. Just a thought.