Monday, June 21, 2010

"The Boondocks" Hits The Pause Button On Tyler Perry

By Scott Tre

The blind, unquestioned devotion that Tyler Perry receives from certain portions of the black community got severely lampooned on last nights episode of The Boondocks.  Entitled "Pause", the episode pulls no punches, addressing both the obvious and not so obvious undertones and contradictions that surround the Tyler Perry phenomenon.  Aaron Mcgruder and company take aim not only at Perry himself, but his creative output and his fanbase as well.  The end result is perhaps the most scathing indictment imaginable.  The Boondocks has effectively trumped any number of cultural critics and editorialists who have attempted to put things in perspective.  The ideas presented may not be "accurate" but they cut to heart of the matter in a very bold way. 

"Pause" centers around the wildly popular Winston Jerome.  Winston is a cross dressing actor/playright/filmmaker who specializes in "chitlin circuit" plays with soap opera plots and christian messages.  His claim to fame is a female character named Ma Dukes, which is played by Winston in Drag.  Grandpa Freeman is a huge fan of the works of Winston jerome and answers a casting call for his latest production.  The casting call is actually a thinly veiled recruitment drive for Winstons cult like theater company, the homoerotic atmosphere of which is in direct contradiction with the Christian beliefs that Jerome claims to be his inspiration.  Huey and Riley attempt to rescue their grandfather become he becomes part of the fold.

The Parallels with the Tyler Perry phenomenon are obvious and intentional.  There is no mistake as to who Winston Jerome is a stand in for.  "Pause" leaves no stone unturned.  The title itself is a reference to the overused phrase that is meant to be a disclaimer for any statement that could be considered in any way gay.  The seeming obviousness of Perry's true sexual orientation is also tackled, as is the inherent contradiction of cross dressing male who purports to be a messenger for Christ.  The blind devotion of Perry's audience is a constant running joke.  They consider his works to be positive because they contain no profanity or racial epithets, yet the lurid subject matter is excused.  The questionable quality of his scripts also takes a blow.  His empire and message are written off as a way for him to indulge his homosexuality without being scrutinized.

How the viewer feels about this will depend on what side of the divide he or she falls.  The Tyler Perry phenomenon has long been a lightning rod issue within and without the African American community.  There are those who not only question Perry's sexuality, but the actual quality of his work and sincerity of his "message".  They are often written off as haters or house negroes by the faithful.  Likewise, Tyler Perry supporters are often written off as mindless religious fanatics who will forsake artistic quality in exchange for a "message" they can relate to.  This is the first time such discourse has been framed in coherent way.  The observations and conclusions reached in "Pause" might not exactly be "fair", but they warrant discussion.  Tyler Perry has emerged as the preeminent black film maker of his day and the validity and significance of his career should be evaluated.

That being said, "Pause" probably would have been more thought provoking had it focused more on what the popularity of Tyler Perry says about the taste and mindset of his audience.  The episode often opts for the easier route of jokes centered on homosexuality and cross dressing.  A lot of this is admittedly hilarious, but it also feels a bit obvious and easy.  That speaks to a flaw that has long been an Achilles heel for the series.  In this case, it is apparent but nowhere near crippling.  It has to be said that those who are not fans of Tyler Perry will probably get much more out of this episode than those who are.  Thoughtful Tyler Perry fans will probably be able to see the humor even if they don't agree with the admonishment.

Truly valuable parody and satire rarely play it safe.  If really want to provoke thought and inspire laughter you have to hit where it hurts.  The Boondocks seems to get that, even though it is not always able to make good on that premise.  "Pause" is funny and times even hilarious.  It has moments of true inspiration even though it sort of devolves into a game of the dozens played at Tyler Perry's expense.  It is very telling about the state of black entertainment that the most thoughtful discourse about this subject has taken place in the form of a half hour cartoon.  Folks on both sides of the divide are perhaps to close to the subject to truly evaluate it.  Like Huey himself, The Boondocks seems to view from the outside looking in.  What does that say about Mcgruder himself?  Does he see himself as being a part of the world he portrays, or merely a commentator?