Historically, the representation of race and gender varied consistently in different media because the society had and still has a prejudiced attitude toward genders and racial minorities. At the same time, the emergence of mass culture contributes to the elimination of differences between genders and races because the mass culture implies that the audience is homogeneous. To put it more precisely the mass culture makes the audience homogeneous because it refers to and shapes values which are common to all people, regardless of their gender or racial background. In this respect, it is possible to refer to the modern African American cinema, namely movies shot by Tyler Perry, which are the manifestation of the modern mass culture. At the same time, the emergence of mass culture is closely intertwined with emancipation of would-be oppressed social groups, including women and racial minorities. What is meant here is the fact that, today, it is possible to trace the emancipation of women and racial minorities and their struggle for closing the gap between them and the dominant social group, which is still male and white today. At this point, it is possible to refer to Bell Hooks’ The oppositional gaze in black looks: race and representation as well as other feminist writers, which reveal the transformation in the representation of gender and race in the modern society. In such a way, the emergence of mass culture stimulates the development of feminist culture and altogether they contribute to consistent changes in the modern society because they promote the idea of equality and are oriented on the homogeneous audience, which is deprived of distinct differences.
In actuality, the emergence of mass culture contributes to consistent changes in the mainstream culture. In this regard, it is possible to trace the growing impact of African American culture on the mainstream culture. However, it is important to place emphasis on the fact that such impact is mutual and the African American culture is as vulnerable to the impact of the mainstream culture as the mainstream culture is vulnerable to the impact of the African American culture. In actuality, the mass culture dominates that means that cultural diversity tends to disappear and, instead, basic principles of mass culture arise. In this regard, the modern mass culture is oriented on consumerism and shallow values of the consumerist society.
This trend can be clearly traced in films shot by Tyler Perry, such as the film Diary of a Mad Black Woman (2005). The director attempts to show the life of average people but, at the same time, he uncovers their problems and deep-rooted conflicts. In fact, the film Diary of a Mad Black Woman (2005) is the film depicting an average family, which seems to be happy and wealthy. Moreover, the family is supposed to be happy due to its wealth. At first glance, the family has it all, wealth, success, a fine home. However, these material values do not really make the family happy. The director of the film shows that wealth is the major criteria of happiness in the modern society and he makes wealth the major value of the mass culture. On the other hand Tyler Perry stresses that, in actuality, the modern mass culture has a deep-rooted flaw. To put it more precisely, the director of the film shows that the wealth does not make people happy. The family depicted in the film seems to be happy and outsiders cannot notice any problems in the family. However, the director gives a deeper look into the internal world of each family member and uncovers that they are absolutely unhappy in their life.
In such a way, the director shows that the emergence of the modern mass culture stimulates the emergence of consumerism, which, though, does not make people happy. In fact, this idea can be traced in other films shot by Tyler Perry, such as Madea’s Class Reunion (2003), or I Can Do Bad All By Myself (2009). For instance, the main characters of Madea’s Class Reunion (2003) strive to be wealthy and this struggle makes the sense of their life but all their efforts and their life are so mean and shallow that wealth becomes obviously oppressing people rather than making them happy. I Can Do Bad All By Myself (2009) also reminds the audience that wealth and success do not always make people happy for the main character of the film, April, seems to be a successful and wealthy singer but she is alcoholic and has serious troubles in her personal life. This is why Tyler Perry attempts to show that the modern mass culture stresses the importance of wealth and success but they do not make people happy and these goals are difficult to achieve, especially if people belong to racial minorities group.
At this point, it is possible to refer to Bell Hooks’ The oppositional gaze in black looks: race and representation, where the author agrees with Tyler Perry in regard to the difficult position of racial minorities, namely African Americas. However, Bell Hooks bring in a new aspect of the modern mass culture – the emerging feminism, which remained almost unnoticed by Tyler Perry. To put it more precisely, Bell Hooks stresses the problem of the oppression of African American women. African American women suffer from inferiority and discrimination not only from the part of men but also from the part of the white majority. As a result, their position becomes unbearable and the author attempts to explore reasons and effects of the oppressed, inferior position of women in the modern society. Bell Hooks argues that the position of African American women is often unbearable and they have to change their position, rebel against the oppression and male domination. The author places emphasis on the fact that African American women are underrepresented not only in the American society but also in their own, African American communities, where they are often treated as mere commodities by men. Hence, probably such problems as alcoholism of April in Tyler Perry’s I Can Do Bad All By Myself (2009) as well as other problems characters of his film have. Bell Hooks points out that such problems are common and they are provoked by the oppression of African American women in the American society.
Patricia Hill Collins’ Black feminist epistemology in black feminist thought supports the major idea of Bell Hooks in regard to the position of African American women in the American society. At the same time, she argues that African American women should struggle for their rights, liberties and equal opportunities. Inaction is dangerous because it threatens to the position of women in the American society. Therefore, Hill Collins appeals to action and changes and, in this regard, Collins is similar to Tyler Perry, who stresses the negative effect of the modern mass culture on individuals. However, it is due to Tyler Perry, Bell Hooks, Hill Collins and other artists and activists the modern society changes and eliminates differences between genders and races.
On the other hand, in spite of a consistent progress of the African American community, its members are still vulnerable to discrimination and their participation in the political life is quite limited, whereas their economic opportunities are even more limited than their political ones. In this respect, the election of the first President of the African American origin, Barak Obama seems to be a tremendous success of the African American community. However, in this respect, it is worth mentioning the failure of the African American candidate, Jesse Jackson, who participated in the Presidential campaign of 1984. Unlike Barak Obama, Jesse Jackson failed but he revealed the readiness of Americans to accept the African American candidate as he took the third place in the primaries. At the same time, his failure was a very symbolic moment in the history of the development of African American community because he revealed clearly the fact that the involvement of representatives of minorities, for instance, women or African Americans, could grant a white candidate for Presidency with certain advantages over his opponents, who could be viewed by minorities as supremacists. In such a way, Jesse Jackson proved the importance of votes of African Americans but he also proved that African Americans remained a minority which had little opportunities to win the Presidential elections.
However, the recent political successes do not contribute to consistent changes and improvements in regard to the representation of African Americans and African American women in particular in the political, social, economic and cultural life of the US. In fact, works created by Tyler Perry, Bell Hooks, and others reveal the wide gap that still persists between genders and different racial groups in the US. At the same time, their works do not just reveal the underrepresentation of African Americans, African American women and other minorities. In fact, their works appeal to the action. They appeal to changes and social activism of people, who suffer from oppression or discrimination. At this point, the mass culture tends to eliminate differences between people because the mass culture offers common values, shared by all people. However, Tyler Perry warns against the ongoing progress of consumerism as the main point of the modern mass culture. In this regard, feminists, such as Bell Hooks, stress the importance of the elimination of gender discrimination, which is often closely intertwined with racial discrimination. In fact, the elimination of any discrimination would lead to the emergence of new culture, where people can feel being free and equal.
At the same time, Stuart Hall in his article “Encoding” and “Decoding” in Culture, Media and Language” points out the impact of gender and racial background on the communication of people and their models of behavior. Stuart Hall argues that gender roles are, to a significant extent, defined by their background and the impact of mass media. The formation of gender roles is vulnerable to the impact of mass media and racial background of individuals. In this regard, L. Mulvey agrees with Hall in respect to the formation of gender- and race-related biases.
Thus, taking into account all above mentioned, it is important to place emphasis on the fact that Tyler Perry, Bell Hooks, Patricia Hill Collins and others reveal the diverse manifestations of mass culture and feminist culture in the modern society. However, the main point of their works is the elimination of inequality and discrimination and the prevention of degradation of the modern society.
Collins, P.H. Black feminist epistemology in black feminist thought, In Selected Works. Chicago: Routledge, 2008.
Halls, S. “Encoding, decoding” in culture, media and language. Melbourne” Hutchinson & co. Ltd., p128-138
Mulvey, L. 2003. “visula pleasure and narrative cinema,” in the audience studies reader. ed, W. Brooker and D. Jermyn, New York: Routledge, p 133-142.
Hooks, B. The oppositional gaze in black looks: race and representation, In Selected Works. New York: Random House, 2008.
Perry, T. Diary of a Mad Black Woman. Lions Gate Films, 2005.
Perry, T. I Can Do Bad All By Myself. Lionsgate, 2009.
Perry, t. Madea’s Class Reunion. Lions Gate Films, 2003.
Weiner, M.S. and A. A. Knopf. Black Trials: Citizenship from the Beginnings of Slavery to the End of Caste. New York: Random House, 2004.