Thursday, October 1, 2009

Tyler racist?

It is pretty apparent that this week’s readings recognize that media texts are mostly created and influenced by an “elite” upper class which is responsible for controlling the rest of society by instilling certain values and beliefs. This basic concept of ideology, stemming from a Marxist influence, is supported by hegemony, which, according to Mimi White, “explain[s] the complex ways in which the dominant class maintains its control over society” (167). Stuart Hall, author of “The Whites of Their Eyes: Racist Ideologies and the Media” claims that the concept of ideology is more complex than just the “ruling class” vs. society. “…neither a unifiedly conspirational media nor indeed a unified racist “ruling class” exist in anything like that simple way” (20). When criticizing certain works of media according to racial ideologies, it is usually the case that the influence in question is the result of the dominant race.

Tyler Perry, one of the most successful African-American playwrights, movie producers, and actors in the United States, is known for creating material that focuses on African-Americans. He has a reputation of being widely popular among all races, but the fact that he, an African-American, produces content including a majority of African American characters, is somewhat uncommon. Because Tyler Perry is so popular and his movies are so successful, he has, in a way, become a very influential factor in molding prominent African-American ideologies.

It is very difficult to say as to whether Tyler Perry is indeed breaking common racial ideologies or simply fueling them. For instance, in many of his films, African American characters are portrayed as middle to upper class citizens holding successful careers as doctors and lawyers. This goes against one common ideology that most African-Americans are poor and hold blue collar jobs, or no job at all. However, it can also be argued that Tyler Perry’s works fuel dominant ideologies concerning African Americans through the use of his most popular character, Madea, who is an old, tough woman that fits the “Big Mama’s House” stereotype. Stuart Hall describes this “familiar slave figure” as “dependable, loving in a simple, childlike way-the devoted “Mammy” with the rolling eyes” (21). There are many other elements of Tyler Perry’s works that contribute to these stereotypes, such as the use of Ebonics and the majority of the plots taking place in the “deep South”. In his article, Hall argues that there are different types of racial ideologies, including the aforementioned “familiar slave figure” and the “clown, or entertainer”.

I believe that Tyler Perry’s movies and plays represent many different ideological elements; some adhering to dominant ideologies, while other elements trying to change or transcend other dominant ideologies. It is also interesting to note that most African-Americans either love Tyler Perry, or absolutely detest him. Over the summer, I remember reading an article featured in Entertainment Weekly that talked about the possibility of Tyler Perry being a racist. In the article, they had asked several popular African American actors to weigh in on the issue, but they all declined, which is also very interesting. Here is a short clip from one of his most popular films, “Diary of a Mad Black Woman”. While it may not be enough to effectively analyze his material, it serves as a decent example of what Tyler Perry’s material is like.

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