Pop Culture, Theory & Essay

My Tyler Perry Problem (Hint: It Has Nothing To Do With Tyler Perry)

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One of the great paradoxes in life is the fact that the more cable channels you have, the less there seems to be to actually watch on TV. I experienced this a few months back while at my parents, simultaneously amazed by the 700+ channels they have and flabbergasted by the fact that there was literally nothing attractive to watch.

Dejected and still possessing a few hours I needed to kill, I finally decided on Daddy’s Little Girls—the Tyler Perry vehicle starring Idris Elba, Gabrielle Union, and a dozen or so ONs (“Other N*ggas”) with their own Wiki pages. I’d seen bits and pieces of it before, but never had the opportunity to watch it from the beginning to the end.

Now, before I continue, I have to disclose something. You know those self-righteous, uber-Bougie Black people who don’t “hate” Tyler Perry, but kind of sort of think he’s the bane of Black filmmaking? The type that would write a 2000 word long blog post decrying his work, and might shake his head and sigh loudly if his name happened to be brought up in a positive manner while he was at brunch with friends? Well, I am one of those people.

Actually, that’s a bit misleading. I was one of those people until Daddy’s Little Girls showed me exactly why I was one of those people.

The movie itself was unremarkable and ultimately forgettable. This is not an insult, though. Most movies are unremarkable and forgettable. I kinda chuckled at a couple scenes and cringed at some others. On that scale, there is literally no difference between Daddy’s Little Girls and hundreds of other movies I’ve watched during lazy weekends.

I then thought about every other Tyler Perry movie I’ve seen. All (in my opinion) vacillated between “eh” and “eh, this sucks.” These feelings are far from ringing endorsements, but I didn’t hate any of his movies, either.

(Now, I have to say that I haven’t seen Temptation, a movie that may actually be the worst reviewed movie ever. I mean, there have been bad movies before, shitty, awful, cinematic train wrecks, but how many were so bad that people thought they were f*cking dangerous?)

Again, though, this particular form of ambivalence isn’t new for me. I have the same feelings towards dozens of different actors, movies, producers, and directors. That’s just human nature. You’re going to like some things and dislike some other things, but most things are going to fall somewhere in the middle. But I haven’t written articles and blogs about all of those people. I have about Tyler Perry, and the amount of effort I’ve put into thinking about him—someone who falls in the low end of my middle—just doesn’t equal how I actually feel about his work.

It then dawned on me: My “dislike” of Tyler Perry had nothing to do with his work and everything to do with the fact that there aren’t really any alternatives. Yes, you have your Spike Lees and your Ava DuVernays and whoever else you want to mention, but no other Black filmmaker is as prolific and popular. Basically, if he was just another popular Black filmmaker in a sea of popular Black filmmakers, I wouldn’t have thought so badly of him. I probably wouldn’t have thought much about him at all. I was allowing his lack of competition—and how he was received by other people—to not just influence but determine how I felt about him.

I suspect I’m not alone in feeling this way. Not just about Tyler Perry, but other movies, songs, artists, and even people. Basically, the principle—how we think a product should be received in relation to its competition—has a tendency to matter more than our feelings about the product itself.

Even looking back in my own history, I went through the same mental gymnastics a decade ago when formulating an opinion about 50 Cent. I hated what 50 “represented” (Don’t ask me to define that), hated that he was the undisputed king of hip-hop for a three or four year span, hated the fact that he ruined Ja Rule’s career and then turned around and made the exact same type of songs he clowned Ja Rule for, and hated that no one seemed to care about any of that. But…I liked his music (and disliked Ja Rule’s music). What Up Gangsta? is still one of my favorite rap songs.

Just as with Tyler Perry, my feelings about 50 had more to do with his prominence than the actual art he was producing. I actually thought he was “good,” but because he was so popular, too many people thought he was “great,” and this changed my “good” to “bad.”

Although the tone of this piece so far may suggest otherwise, I don’t necessarily think this is a bad thing. We don’t live in vacuums, and sometimes the principle does matter more than the product. At the same time, its unfair to project your own hangups on how art should be on a person who clearly isn’t interested in creating the type of art you think they need to create, and this is exactly what I’d been doing with Tyler Perry. As I stated earlier, if he was merely the 3rd or 13th most popular and prolific Black filmmaker, I wouldn’t have given him any extra (or negative) thought, and it’s not his fault that no one is currently there to counterbalance him.

I’m glad I got over that, though. Now, when done watching Daddy’s Little Girls or Why Did I Get Married again I can finally do what I should have been doing the entire time: Forget about it.

—Damon Young (aka “The Champ”)

***We ended last week with a bit of roll call. Continuing that theme, I’m going to go down the list and name each of the VSB-ers I met at our 5th anniversary party Saturday. I might forget a name or two, but since my blood-alcohol content level was probably 16 times the legal limit, it’s not my fault.

Wild Cougar (Who engaged me in the deepest drunk conversation about Bougie Black People and Tyler Perry that anyone has ever had)

Tx10inch (Who I refused to introduce to others by his VSB handle. Not secure enough in my masculinity to refer to another man as “10 Inch.” According to me, his name was just “Texas.”)

Soula Powa (Who ended up doing the exact same thing with me he did the first time I met him—at our #threedeez book party two years ago—watching and debating basketball)

CNotes (Whose hair makes me feel like a White woman. Ok. That didn’t come out right. Lemme try again. According to many Black women, White women love to touch their hair. I felt the same way)

Shay D Lady (Who, considering how drunk she was, may not actually be alive right now. 11:14am edit: Shay D Lady has informed me that she is, in fact, alive. Since she’s alive, I have to say that she definitely wins the award for “VSS Most Likely To, By The End Of The Night, Either Have You Saying ‘That Was The Best Night Ever’ or ‘How The Hell Did I End Up In Prison?’…Or Both”)

Cheekie (Percolate deez)

The Sunk (Who gave me beard envy)

Aly (Who doesn’t think I’m very funny. To her credit, I’m not)

Yoles (Who made me see why she seems to be everyone’s favorite VSS)

Keisha Brown (Who I was pleasantly surprised to see again. Didn’t realize she was coming in)

Medium Meech (Who, along with Texas, seemed to make it a personal duty to grind for at least three songs with every VSS. They were definitely the hardest working men at Liv that night, pun intended)

Mad Scientist (Who I think I saw but didn’t get a chance to speak to)

Esa (Who had on some very nice pants)

Sweet Ga Brown (Who helped create a Champ sandwich with Wild Cougar)

Kema (Who was cheery as a motherf*cker)

Again, I was in a Smirnoff-induced haze, so some names will come to me as the day goes on and my memory continues to come back. So, if we met and your name is not here right now, there’s at least a 17% chance that it will be when you hit refresh***

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Damon Young

Damon Young is the editor-in-chief of VSB. He is also a contributing editor for EBONY.com. He resides in Pittsburgh, and he really likes pancakes.

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