Thursday, July 8, 2010 Guest Post - Tyler Perry vs The Boondocks.

[Editor's Note: I've already gone in on the decline of The Boondocks, but our friend The Uppity Negro has his own gripes with another recent episode. Show our guest some love you-know-where.]

On June 20th, Aaron McGruder the writer and producer of the Cartoon Network show The Boondocks aired an episode entitled “Pause” that attempted to critique black American culture and how we deal with sexuality, masculinity within a religious context. Given our various contexts, this show spoke to certain segments of our community in different ways than others. For me, it was an attempt to deal with those three aspects in a 22 minute satirical cartoon.

McGruder chose to pick the real life personhood of Tyler Perry and his famous character Madea as a catalyst to have this conversation. The person was named Winston Jerome who dressed as a matronly, yet over-the-top woman who was named Ma Dukes. The plot was that Robert Freeman, the grandfather of Huey and Riley was to audition for a role in the upcoming Winston Jerome gospel play entitled “Ma Dukes Gets a Man.” Robert auditions for the role and ultimately gets the part, but is forced to essentially join this overly sexualized religious acting cult headed by Winston Jerome.

Through some backstory, we realize that Winston Jerome has assumed this persona of writing religious plays for women and that he must get the good looking men to attract the women—all of this told to him by a white Jesus. Throughout the story we see that Winston Jerome is always surrounded by these shirtless, well-defined muscular men always standing in row and silent. The fellow actors that do speak are shown as mindless drones who have left their families to follow Winston Jerome and are more concerned about going to get themselves some Kool-Aid. We see this one interaction of a young woman who says “I used to give up the ass for me, but now I give up the ass for Jesus” and we’re left wondering where is McGruder going with this.

Midway the show, Jerome plays on his relationship with Jesus declaring that a script change must be done, one that required Robert Freeman to kiss Ma Dukes, but of course Robert is aware that it’s still Winston Jerome. While in Jerome’s office, attempting to convince Robert that this is the will of Jesus, he drops another great one-liner that “Jesus wants us to be actors first, and heterosexuals second.” And promises Robert that there will be “Beyonce’s and Alicia Keyses” waiting for him after he kisses Ma Dukes on the stage—essentially promising him women for committing a homosexual act.

The show ends with Winston Jerome dropping the whole act—along with his pants—asking Robert to have sex with him point blank. What resulted was a wildly funny episode chocked full of one-liners and even a reach-out to Rocky Horror Picture Show singing “It’s Okay to Crossdress for God” which if not for my Twitter timeline was something totally lost on me. And ultimately, McGruder dropped this veritable bombshell on its viewers and left us to pick up the pieces.

What I got from this show was that primarily in this last season, that McGruder was a bit more intentional about cultural criticism within the context of the black community. This was the third episode in this season alone that dealt with a relatively recent and prominent issue within the collective recollection of the black community. The other being the satire of real life Latarian Milton as Lamilton Taeshawn in “Smokin’ With Cigarettes” episode and the “A Date with the Booty Bandit” which satirized real life Fleece Johnson from MSNBC’s “Lockdown” and the much talked about show “To Catch a Predator.” This, for me, shows a marked improvement on the previous seasons, except the highly controversial “The Hunger Strike” episode which borderlined slander against BET and Debra Lee, but nonetheless on target as far as it’s analysis of the company and its apparent programming intent.

This episode to me showed that McGruder was finally aware of the power of influencing the consciousness of his viewers, and that finally we were having real discussions about his episodes and not just general barbershop banter about “Ohh, they be saying nigga on TV. Man, dat ish be funny as hell!” and moving on with your day. But now, we’re truly trying to find symbolism in what we watched on TV.

From the beginning we see the ridiculousness of the whole “pause” and “no homo” in day to day usage. Which is a direct point toward how do we truly image black male sexuality and black male masculinity. Are we so afraid that black gay males, because of their sexual identity to do not measure up to what we define as “masculine” or even “male” that identified heterosexuals must now put and addendum to their statements lest they be considered “suspect” of being gay.

The black male image was pushed again by the stark silence of the muscular and shiny-chested black males that constantly surrounded Winston Jerome. I thought it was interesting because yet again, the idea that black males are left silent and mere placeholders in a context was just startling to me. Or did it enforce the stereotype of the dumb jock—the one that everyone was after because they looked good, but was ultimately dumb as a box of rocks; that they’re only good for eye candy purposes, but serve no function past that.

The ultimate disturbing image of the black male for me was that it was not imaged in the Jesus figure—Jesus was lily white. Which for me was of course a throwback to Uncle Ruckus when he was a preacher at the end of season one and his now famous “Praise white Jesus” mantra, and a general critique that much of black Christian religious life is so white-washed that we’re unaware of it. So much so that in the series premier that Huey radically declares that Jesus was a black man and that Ronald Reagan was the devil.

And that provides a perfect segue into how this entire discourse was overarched with a Judeo-Christian religious discourse. Most who follow me on Twitter know just how I approach sexuality and religion: head on. By in large what McGruder did was taboo by many religious hot-heads because he attempted to talk about sexuality and religion. If anyone who watched this only viewed this episode through a homoerotic or homophobic lens, limiting the conversation to sexuality, then I think you’ve missed some prevalent issues the episode was attempting to bring to the forefront.

Yes, those issue of homosexuality where at play, but they were at play in the context of religious settings. Frankly, I think it was interesting and a bit personal that McGruder went after the personhood of Tyler Perry in this instance, but as someone who is a church musician and has been in a black church setting all of my life, the level of closeted and secretly homosexual relationships that take place in the midst of the church are astounding. The number of times I’ve gotten asked for phone numbers after a service, or going to a musical and seeing a choir where there is not ONE straight male in the tenor sections gives one reason to “pause” and ask some questions. This is not just a problem with those that engage in homosexual activtities, but also for the deacons, pastors and associate ministers who indeed pray on other women of the church—it’s an issue of sexuality and how do we deal with it.

Naturally, this episode doesn’t offer us any solutions to how do we deal with the problem, but allowing us space to talk about it does begin to move us in the direction of dealing with the problem. The comedic and satirical genius that McGruder displayed in the comic strips shines brilliantly in this one episode. And episode so incendiary that TBS execs buried it mid-season rather being the season premier as McGruder had planned.

This episode should not act as a mirror to simply reflect what we are and we have become in the black community, but rather as a mirror to correct that which is unhealthy in who we are and what we have become in the community. If we stand idly on the sidelines of a debate or fail to engage in true critical dialogue, then we are no better than those that are out there intent on seeing our destruction as a black people.

Question: What in this Boondocks episode did you notice was something that was reflective of the black community that in turn needs to be corrected? Did you think the episode was over the top or not enough?

Peep more from the Uppity Negro at Uppity Negro Network or follow him @theuppitynegro.

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