by Yvette Carnell
I’ve been a defender of Tyler Perry since his early years but alas, I’ve reached a brook I cannot cross. Tyler Perry’s “For Better or Worse” is a show that I just cannot, in good Negro conscience, defend. Part of the reason I continued defending Perry’s early work was because I noticed an elitist bent to the criticism leveled at Perry. You can’t very well call “Madea’s Family Reunion” coonin’ and buffoonin’ without calling your auntie, mother, and grandmother – all of whom got a good cackle from the flick – coons and buffoons. Furthermore, I tend to shy away from name-calling, especially where my elders are concerned. I’ll leave such juvenile antics to Spike Lee and his cliquish following.
So in the beginning, I liked Tyler Perry for the same reason that everyone else liked Tyler Perry – Madea. Madea’s down home and grandmotherly common sense approach to struggle and strife was a breath of fresh air. The bold chalk line she drew to delineate wrong from right was appreciable in an increasingly obscure and irresponsible black culture.
But Perry’s FBOW is an affront Madea’s virtue. The very things we enjoy about Madea, her sincerity and aboveboardness, are noticeably absent from FBOW. All the characters are nauseatingly materialistic and painfully flat. For instance, in the episode I was unfortunate enough to have seen, two “professional” women brawled on the floor telenovela style, all over how one woman’s ex-man is now the other woman’s new man. Now if Perry’s intent is to pan off these boobs as upstanding examples of 21st century blackness, then I shudder at the thought of Perry’s rendering of hoodrats.
But the bigger issue here is that by writing these cartoonish characters, Perry further engenders in African American culture an obsession with fetishizing luxury for its own sake; a brand of depravity that has blown a gaping hole in our moral identity. The black people in Perry’s FBOW are obsessed with creature comforts; big homes, Bentleys, chefs, and high grade Indian weaves.
Compare that with the shining example of modern black affluence on the small screen; The Cosby Show. On the show, both Cliff and Clair earned hefty salaries, but their affluence was just the backdrop for beautifully written storylines. Posh African art, swanky paintings, and other uptown motifs were in full display on the set of The Cosby Show, but they were extensions of characters who had a true appreciation for the culture that gave birth to African and African American art and history. The difference: The Cosbys were achievers, not paper chasers. They were real, not plastic representations of authenticity.
For example, although Cliff struggled with his waistline, and to avoid his beloved hoagies, he remained reasonably fit thanks to much pushing and prodding from Clair. And we identified with Cliff and Clair’s battle of wills in his quest for hoagie moderation. We didn’t ogle at Cliff’s abs and chest as he exited the shower, as I assume we’re expected to do when FBOW’s Marcus hops out the shower wet and glistening, because the Cosbys weren’t about that. They were about the deeper quest of working toward goals and navigating obstacles.
And although Clair yanked Cliff’s chain when necessary, I never heard her tell him to “go to hell.” Why? Because the Huxtable relationship was symbolic of an authentic and healthy marriage. And verbal abuse isn’t an element of such nurturing relationships.
What is obvious is that Tyler Perry has lost his way. And in that sense, he’s emblematic of the broader African American community. Chasing things we don’t need for reasons we don’t understand.
For people with a purpose, the spoils of achievment – Bentleys, luxury homes, and jewelry – are just an afterthought. For people without a purpose, the toys are the endgame. It’s time for Tyler Perry to reassess his purpose.