Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Droning Madea

While the first two or three lessons Madea taught me in her uninhibited commentaries did make me chuckle a bit, I can’t remember laughing once for the rest of the book. While there are a number of humor models working in the book, they all contribute to a shock value model that governs most instances of so-called humor throughout. The thing is, after you shock someone three times, the next one isn’t so shocking. Suddenly the shock isn’t a surprise anymore, its expected. Then it becomes annoying. Frankly by the end of the book my favorite lessons were those that were straightforward and were more or less lacking in their absurdity. The most effective and sincere pieces were those that were told directly. “Madea’s Last Word,” the final chapter, actually did sound quite wise and was probably my favorite part of the book. I didn’t laugh because there wasn’t anything meant to be funny in it, but it was warm, real, and simply made the reader feel good.
Another aspect of the book that I found grating was the repetition of the same ideas and themes over and over again. How many times can someone declare her love for fried foods and Vaseline, detest exercise, and talk about her days as a stripper before it just becomes boring? In the same way that the shock value humor died out quickly, the same old themes just ceased to be in any way interesting. The only thing about Madea that kept me listening was that I had to write about her in this blog. The stories were completely dried out, and the tone didn’t change much from page 1 to page 250.
While I obviously didn’t enjoy this book very much, the one thing that I will grant is that it was a pretty ambitious project. It is hard to give advice at all, let alone 250 pages of it, without sounding too preachy and “holier-than-thou”. Through the use of self-deprecating humor throughout, Madea is at least a likable character, if not terribly interesting or dynamic. Moreover, Perry decided to use a voice from not only a different gender, but a different generation as well. While the attempt was admirable, I don’t think that it was sustained or convincing throughout. Just to give an example, I could not possibly envision Madea actually saying the things that she said about the gynecologist. As I was reading, I was painfully aware that a man had written this part of the novel and it just felt off.
While Madea fails as a work of humor, I felt that it was an admirable social critique of blacks and whites, and men and women, at many points throughout. However I felt that this aspect of Madea’s advice could easily be overshadowed by the boredom she induces with her droning tone and stagnant humor.
I wonder whether Perry made a good choice in adopting Madea’s voice. I don’t really agree with Perry that women can say a lot of things that men can’t. Additionally, I think that the black community is lacking strong male father figures even more than it lacks wise grandmothers at this point in history. The fact that Perry’s own father abused him is indicative of this problem. Perry shows his own wisdom in the advice that he has Madea give, and I think it would be much more effective if he didn’t transpose his lessons into a different person’s mouth. If there is a dearth of strong male figures, how does masquerading as a woman in any way help this predicament? While I understand the attempt to draw people in with humor and then teach them a lesson, as Perry describes in the epilogue, I think Madea fails to accomplish this end.
While Madea fails to educate effectively through humor, the concept is sound if done effectively. Again, everything is about execution. I have had numerous teachers throughout my school career who were able to engage the class through the use of humor and really get the best out of their students. My junior year Government teacher in high school had what I can only describe as a divine gift for catching students dozing off or losing focus in class, often pinpointing the individuals in a way that was so funny that the other students couldn’t help but laugh. While the daydreaming student was temporarily embarrassed, the other students all got the same treatment, so there was no malice intended.
This same teacher also kept masks of various presidents, from Nixon to Clinton to Reagan in class, and students were invited to wear them every day. When a masked student raised his hand to answer a question, the teacher would call out the name of the president instead, or refer to him as a representative of the Bull Moose party or the Whigs, etc.
The difference between Madea and this class first seems to be the length, and second, the teacher was a dynamic guy who constantly made new jokes. Madea made the same jokes over and over and over again, and she eventually became a pretty static character, completely killing any interest I had in the book.

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