Wednesday, March 10, 2010

DON'T Have Parties Really Means DO

We noted in class that the among the many humor models that Tyler Perry uses in Madea’s book, one used frequently is the Incongruity Model. It seems to me that much of the time the advice given is exactly the opposite of what is said. I particularly noticed this in Madea’s chapter on etiquette. I laughed at the ridiculousness in her sections on parties and being a good host, but at the same time I found myself taking some real advice away from it amid the exhortations to serve Cap’n Crunch and mayonnaise sandwiches and to avoid destructive parties altogether. Combining Madea’s silly stories with my own experiences of family parties, I interpreted her advice to avoid parties to mean that one should learn to live a little.

My mom’s side of the family is a large, loud, Ukrainian and Polish bunch. Our last Christmas party in particular included ten aunts and uncles, fourteen cousins, and five dogs, all at my house. We like to compare our parties to those of the Griswold family from National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation since most of our parties turn out to be, for lack of a better word, insane. This Christmas party in particular came to mind during Madea’s sections on parties since it seemed as if she were warning against exactly the kind of get-togethers my family throws. Our oven broke the morning of the party, so every few hours throughout the party, a group of adults would run down the street to check the ham that was cooking at our neighbors house. The large pot of pierogis burned, and some time was spent trying to keep this fact from my aunt who had put time into making them. A stuffed squirrel ended up in the Christmas tree, a kitchen chair split in two, one of the dogs relieved itself on the couch, someone put a bunch of bouncy balls under my brother’s bed sheets, and one of my aunts and two of my cousins ended up spending the night. Food was everywhere, and it took a good portion of the next day to clean up. It was also one of the most laughter-filled, enjoyable Christmas parties I’d been to, and the problems were the most amusing part.

Madea gives a few recipes of things to be sure guests do not stay long. There are her “watercress croissants” (169), her smelly fish head, and her cat urine spray for drapes. She says she wants to make guests comfortable, “but not so comfortable that you want to stay” (166). She doesn’t have parties because “people will come and tear up all your stuff” (171). With our family parties, it is not intentional, but things do get damaged. And yet we still have get-togethers all the time, and everyone still always has a great time. It is the insanity that our family can bond over. Knowing this, I read Madea’s advice with a grain of salt. When she says to be very careful with parties, I take it to mean the opposite. To me, it seemed that by describing the ridiculous number of precautions Madea takes in her parties, Tyler Perry challenges us to see the absurdity of some of these precautions and to live a little more freely. The chair that broke at my house was old and was in need of replacing anyway, the dog urine was cleaned up well, and everything else was just something to laugh about at family gatherings to come. To be afraid that every little thing might go wrong is to miss out on the fun. Plastic covers on the furniture seems a little too drastically rigid to me, don’t you think? Although it might be useful next time the dogs come over.

In the previous chapter, “Don’t Ask Dr. Madea,” there is a section entitled, “Good Times.” It is here that Madea almost says the opposite of what she says in her section on parties. She encourages the reader to take it slow and enjoy every blessing he or she is given. “When things are going good, sit there, enjoy the moment, and take it all in” (141). Even though the oven broke and the pierogis burned, my family laughed because we were all together, everyone was healthy, and there was more to smile about than worry. In the next section, “The Best Medicine,” Madea says, “Just stop for a minute. Stop getting worked up and just start laughing at some of this stuff” (144). And that’s exactly what my family does. We laugh. Madea evokes our laughter by describing her ridiculous, clearly fictional, adventures. Her encouragement is that we can do the same with our own adventures. She enjoys running from the police and murdering husbands with sweet potato pie. I enjoy watching our family parties become what anyone else may call a disaster. After all, what is not funny about a squirrel in a tree?

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