Frank Miller knows he isn’t alone. But the 49-year-old plumber from Victorville, Calif., admits that knowing he is one of millions across the globe puzzled by the success of Tyler Perry provides little consolation when pondering the career of the actor/director/screenwriter best known for creating and performing in drag as “Madea,” a thuggish, elderly African-American woman prone to violence and overreaction.
“I just don’t get it,” said Miller after another failed attempt to make it through an entire 22-minute episode of the Perry-produced sitcom “Meet the Browns.” “It’s not just that he isn’t funny, even though that’s a big part of it. It’s also the shameful perpetuation of stereotypes, the hackneyed formula in all those ‘Madea’ movies and pretty much everything else about every show or movie he’s ever written, directed or acted in.”
While Miller acknowledges his perplexity is just one man’s opinion, a study from researchers at the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania revealed an alarming trend among Miller’s fellow film and television enthusiasts, the vast majority of whom expressed both displeasure and confusion at the success of Perry. In the study, in which more than 500 participants were asked to share their reactions after watching one of the 44-year-old director’s full-length feature films and three episodes of his sitcom “Tyler Perry’s House of Payne,” researchers discovered a nearly universal dissatisfaction among viewers.
“I expect studies like this, in which participants are asked to react to a visual stimuli like a film or a television show, to elicit some rather visceral responses, and those responses typically span the spectrum from the highly positive to the deeply negative,” noted the study’s lead author, Dr. Gerhard von Stieglitz, Ph.D. “But this particular study was unlike anything I’ve ever encountered in my career as a researcher. The responses were certainly visceral, but not a single participant had what I would consider an even remotely positive reaction to any of the films or ‘House of Payne’ episodes we showed as part of the study. Nearly every participant admitted to being deeply troubled by the success of Tyler Perry and what his success might say about our society as a whole.”
Miller, who did not participate in the study, nonetheless seems to exemplify the respondents von Stieglitz encountered in his research.
“I’m really not sure if I want to live in a world where the guy who wrote ‘Madea’s Witness Protection’ and ‘Good Deeds’ and ‘Meet the Browns’ can not only get by but thrive,” said Miller. “His characters are nothing more than buffoonish and degrading stereotypes, and it’s troubling that these characters have seen the light of day in the 21st century … or any century for that matter. Someone must be watching these films and television shows, but I implore them to stop. Please stop.”
Though Miller’s appeal is heartfelt, von Stieglitz suspects such pleading will ultimately be for naught, noting that many participants in his study acknowledged having heard of Perry and his most recognizable character despite having never seen or felt an inclination to see any of Perry’s productions prior to their participation in the survey.
“He’s a very strange phenomenon,” von Stieglitz said of Perry, who Forbes magazine named the highest paid man in entertainment for the 12-month period beginning in May 2010, a period during which the author and sometime-songwriter reportedly earned $130 million. “Everyone has heard of him and no one seems to like him, yet he’s wealthier than many of us can ever dream of being. It kind of makes you hate the world, doesn’t it?”