Many years ago while hanging out with some extended family back home, I saw my first Tyler Perry play. It was a bootleg version of I Can Do Bad All By Myself. My family couldn’t stop telling me how funny it was going to be. So full of anticipation, I was smiling even before they pushed play. My smile soon faded, replaced by confusion. Why wasn’t I getting it? What was I missing? Everyone else was laughing, why not me? Soon I started fake-smiling just out of a desire to fit in. When it was over, and folks asked if I liked it, I lied.
Well, over ten years later, I’ve stopped smiling, and I’ve stopped lying. I’m still not a fan of Tyler Perry’s plays, but my disdain for his newest show stems from far more than its stale humor. This latest venture, For Better or Worse (FBOW), is definitely for the worst.
Here's the good: Never a dull moment in the show.
Here's the not-so-good: Every moment of the show that's not dull.
Tasha Smith’s stock character that she brings to Every. Single. Film. can only be taken in very small doses. So thirty minutes (or a full hour for the show’s premiere back-to-back episodes!!) pushes one beyond the breaking point. Her volume and her tone are all the way turned up. (No Soulja Boy.) If I knew an Angela in real life, I wouldn’t spend more than 15 minutes in her presence, so that’s reason alone why I won’t be inviting her back next week.
Tyler Perry is shrewd. He knows what works. Right now, the shows with black casts that attract millions of viewers are reality TV shows. These shows pretty much guarantee at least one episode per season of foul-mouthed, weave-snatching black women "whoopin some a$$," and every other episode where they are threatening to do so. From Bad Girls Club, to Basketball Wives (choose your city), to RHOA, the story remains the same: Black women, regardless of socio-economic or educational background, will fight like animals in a heartbeat. So what do these well-to-do women on Perry's FBOW do when they have a disagreement? What else?! By incorporating this disgusting behavior into the framework of a family sitcom, by fictionalizing it, Tyler Perry has created a trope and made it an acceptable part of the formula when fashioning shows around black women. “Angela” joins Sapphire and Mammy as the latest demeaning stock character of black women depicted on television. Congrats, Tyler!
Despite my clear disdain for the show, I’ve seen several positive comments about it, but none that have managed to sway me from my own, decidedly negative, opinion. One person even found a way to speak favorably about the fighting scene: “They may have fought, but at least they made up and were nice to each other afterward.” What? Have our expectations sunk so low? No, no, no! We should not accept as normal behavior that black mothers and wives fight when they disagree. WWCHD (What Would Claire Huxtable Do)? We should not accept that fighting is so common for us that it can be easily resolved and quickly moved past by the participants, like dogs fighting over a soon-to-be-forgotten bone. I actually have more of a problem with the fact that it was NOT a big deal to the characters involved!!!
Why should we care? What’s the real harm? Well, let’s define trope: "A trope is a common pattern in a story or a recognizable attribute in a character that conveys information to the audience. A trope becomes a cliche when it’s overused. Sadly...tropes often perpetuate offensive stereotypes." (Source: http://www.feministfrequency.com/2011/04/tropes-vs-women-2-women-in-refrigerators/). Thus, even if there are some women who routinely turn to assault and battery for problem resolution, there are simply not enough non-fighting black women on TV to balance out the “information to the audience” that shows like FBOW convey. In addition, I fear that viewers are so accustomed to seeing the angry, violent black woman, that when a show comes along with non-aggressive, regular black folks, we label it as boring and lame and even unrealistic! (See Reed Between the Lines.) I worry that we are living in an age where shows like the Cosby Show or A Different World would be canceled mid-season were they to debut now. Perry should be ashamed of himself, and we should be ashamed for encouraging him.