Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The Truth in Humor

I think the thing about Madea that is endlessly interesting is her ability to reach audiences by discussing universal truths with a very specific and obviously outlandish lens. I would refer to Tyler Perry’s introduction that we need to “separate her from some of the totally ridiculous things she sometimes has to say” (xi). I think however, that her way of dispensing advice is more effective because of the out-of-left field delivery. Many of the messages within the book have been said before and may have been largely overlooked because it can become clich├ęd or because it becomes preachy and overwrought.

But Madea is certainly a distinct voice and it does not feel preachy when she makes everyone a target including herself. I think that is the great benefit of humor, we want to listen because we want to laugh and yet in the meantime we are more receptive to taking in the big life lessons and the serious undertones of the piece. Humor can often be the best medium to expound the truth and Madea is proving just how funny truth and wisdom can be.

I have been able to see some of the ideas she discusses acted out in the real world through my work at Mother Seton Academy. One of the concepts, called code-switching by linguists and that is alluded to by Madea is the change from informal to formal speech patterns adopted by people in different settings. I see this often and much as students transition from boisterous conversations in the hallway to the professional speech they assume in the classroom.

Out in the hallway they are laughing, whistling, singing, and acting like kids. One student saw me coming in with my purple sweater and black skirt and told me that I looked like a Raven’s fan. And yet their whole demeanor changes in the classroom. A lot of this has to do with the successful classroom management by the teacher and yet it also reflects the advice Madea provides that learning to speak properly will allow you to be a social chameleon of sorts. You can gracefully and seamlessly switch your speech from talking informally to your friends in the hallway and then transition to the “King’s English” in the classroom.

Apart from the grains of truth that can be extracted from her more humorous passages, Madea does take a moment to step outside of her typical tone and style in the last section of the piece, “Madea’s Last Word”. I found the metaphor of the tree to be both accessible and beautiful in its own right. And the fact that the entirety of the novel had been humorous in tone up until these last few pages, made the serious content matter in this final piece to be all the more striking and profound. Humor can make light of hard-hitting material, but when a character steps back from their humorous persona it only further highlights the message that they are trying to get across.

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