Tyler Perry’s movies top the opening weekend box office statistics for highest grossing films. His book, Don’t Make a Black Woman take off her Earrings is a New York Times best seller. As of today, Perry’s message board had 1,207,673 postings.
With critics, journalists, and academicians looking askance at his creative productions, his appeal to African Americans begs for explanation. Having attended a day long lecture given by James Fosshage, a self psychologist and NYU instructor in the American Relational Psychoanalytic track, I began to think about Madea as offering an implicit relational experience that fulfills his fan's desires for empathic connection and mirroring.
Fosshage’s model of mind presents the idea that thought first occurs in images and contains more affect and captures more meaning than does the verbal formulation and expression. Because his plays tap so many imagistic modalities: auditory (songs), very (staging and costuming), somatic (laughter, sadness, outrage as physical stimulations), he is communicating with his audience, right brain to right brain.; thereby conveying a deep sense of empathy.
Through Perry’s and the audience’s reverie, they come to agree that Madea understands. Madea mirrors African American women back to themselves as responsible, single, devout yet suspicious of religious folly. They are individuals saddled with responsibilities but no real power and an all too frequent history of abandonment and betrayal. No one is going to exploit the 6’1” Madea. It is through the imaginative joining with Madea that African American women get the revenge or justice that may elude them in real life.
For Fosshage, growth occurs through identification and through the use of idealizing selfobjet representations. In Madea, we have Perry identifying and idealizing the aunt who could aggressively intervene in his moments of abuse. The audience does the same, in turn, using Perry in this way.
In short, he is part of his fan base’s ongoing transformative process in which their existing internal relationships with their self image is being reworked toward a feeling of being effective in the world and achieving a sense of personal and spiritual justice.
From Fosshage, October 10, 2009, presentation to the Tampa Bay Psychoanalytic Society.