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Diary of a Confused White Man: Who the Hell is Tyler Perry?

You know how every Twilight Zone episode is either directly or indirectly about a guy who feels like he's going crazy because he wakes up one day and the whole world is different, but he's still like the only one who realizes it and feels totally insane and left out as a result? That's how I feel whenever a new Tyler Perry movie comes out.

Tyler Perry's latest movie, Tyler Perry's Madea Goes to Jail, opens tonight. The movie centers around a no-nonsense elderly black woman, Madea (played by Tyler Perry), who goes to prison, for some reason, and I assume something wacky happens when she gets there that inevitably ends in the empowerment of young black women everywhere. It is Perry's third feature film that focuses on Madea and it will, in all likelihood, make a whole lot of money.

Do you know what I said back in February of 2005 when I saw previews for this new movie, Tyler Perry's Diary of a Mad Black Woman?

"Who the hell is Tyler Perry?" And, you know what? I still have no idea. I mean, I know who he is on a literal level- he's the writer/director/star of all those Tyler Perry movies. But at the time, Tyler Perry hadn't made all those Tyler Perry movies, so he was still just regular old Tyler Perry. So why does he take the possessive route by calling his movie Tyler Perry's Diary of a Mad, Black Woman, as if we were all supposed to know who he was already, even though that was his first movie?

Sure, at the time, he had some successful plays under his belt, but so does Martin McDonagh. and you've never heard of him. You know why? Because he didn't try to bill his first movie as Martin McDonagh's In Bruges. Martin Scorsese can put his name in front of a movie. Quentin Tarantino can do that. More importantly, they can do that now, after they've already spent years establishing their identity so we, as an audience, will know what to expect when we see their names. But Tyler Perry? In 2005, I wondered why should his name in the title entice anyone to buy a ticket?

You know what shut me up? It fucking worked.Diary of a Mad, Black Woman was made for a little over $5 million and, even though it was critically panned by almost everyone, it became a surprise hit, making $50.6 million. The second film in the Madea franchise, Tyler Perry's Madea's Family Reunion, opened at #1 and made $65 million. It was around this time that I started getting that Twilight Zone feeling.

He's also written a book, Tyler Perry's Book About Madea The Title of Which I'm Too Lazy to Google But I Know Involves the Words 'Black Woman', delivered in the voice of the Madea character, and it topped the New York Times bestseller list.

He's also got a show on TBS called Tyler Perry's House of Payne. After 10 episodes, Tyler Perry signed a $200 million deal with TBS for the show because it was such a hit.

What the hell is going on?

Now, lest you think I'm an uninformed hater, I want to make it clear that I'm not going into this blind. I've seen both Madea movies, and at least part of an episode of TP's H of P (which is the closest anyone I know has come to watching a full episode). They all sucked pretty hard. Tyler Perry's Tyler Perry movies are some of the least subtle films I've ever seen. For example, if a marriage is going to fall apart, they have to be filled with evil men who physically beat their wives, so the audience clearly knows who to root for. If there's a bad husband in Tyler Perry's Madea Goes to Jail, you'll be able to tell in the opening scene when he violently rapes the cute robots from Wall-E.

Do robots have butts? Whatever you have, this dude's gonna put a wiener in it.

They're bad movies. But you know what makes this whole thing a little bit weirder? If you follow critical response, not just on Rotten Tomatoes, but everywhere, you'll see that critics are steadily increasing their approval for Tyler Perry's Tyler Perry movies. The bigger Tyler gets, the better the response, even if it comes from a critic who previously hated him. And that's insane, because the movies aren't getting better. In fact, the opposite's true. The few complexities of Tyler Perry's Diary have been replaced in Tyler Perry's Madea's Family Reunion with more sight gags and dry sex jokes. The movies are steadily getting worse, they're making more money and critics everywhere are just surrendering. Tyler Perry got a bunch of cranky white critics to throw up their hands and say "I guess you're right, these movies are great." How the hell did he do that? Critics went from panning his movies, to sort of seeing the merit in them, to flat out praising Tyler Perry for his knack for making Tyler Perry movies. If this trend continues, Tyler Perry's Madea's Class Reunion will win best picture in 2010; by 2015, all movies will be made by Tyler Perry and shortly thereafter, Tyler Perry will infiltrate all aspects of society.

And I don't buy the argument that it's a movie aimed toward a "black audience," as if white people in general wouldn't get it. For me at least, it can't be a race thing (some of my best friends liked Barbershop). As far as coming-of-age tales go, I've personally identified more with The Wood than I have with Stand By Me, or whatever else would pass for a "white" coming-of-age story (Flight of the Navigator?). So it's not something as simple as "white people be makin' comedy like this, but black people...," and it's not like I have anything personally against Tyler Perry. He's clearly a smart businessman, I've read that he's worked his way up from nothing and he's certainly overcome more adversity than I've faced. Also, he's incredibly tall. I have no negative feelings toward him personally (other than my persistent suspicion that he's some rare breed of wizard), and I wish him all the luck in the world.

I'm just confused, because this dude came out of nowhere with a bunch of bad, redundant movies, slapped "Tyler Perry" on the box, as if it were a big deal, and somehow convinced the world that he was a big deal. I feel like that guy (every guy) in the Twilight Zone, except instead of waking up in a world where everyone has a pig face except me, I'm waking up in a world where everything is brought to me by Tyler Perry and everyone is thrilled about it.

Get your bookmarks ready, set your alarms, because DOB will be live blogging the Oscars with G-Stone, Brockway and Swaim right HERE!

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