Start ’Em Young with Stereotyping

Dec 10, 2015 · 5 min read

What is depicted in television gives a powerful message about who is important in society and what is valued. Television shows are beginning to diversify the cast and directors more and more. This ultimately creates a broader audience and makes it relatable to everyone. However, there still seems to be some stereotyping within the characters that gives the viewers a certain perception of that group of people. Demonstrating unrealistic characters makes for unrealistic norms, and an unfair representation. In the very first episode of Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids, “Lying,” ( one can see the portrayal of African-Americans is somewhat low. Not every African-American lives in this manner. The show tries to teach lessons in which can be discussed with all people, but it still has noticeable stereotyping. While Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids expresses how every kid wants to experience adventures regardless of their status, the show still exhibits the average stereotyping of African-Americans.

First of all, one can notice that the characters speak a little differently. They have poor grammar, and use words such as “dem” and “a’int.” Fat Albert repeatedly says “Hey, Hey, Hey!” creating an informal environment and it is basically all he says. In a lot of shows, the African-American character says typical lines such as “was’ good” and “Oh no, she di’int.” These lines make people correlate the lines with African-Americans, which really is not applicable to everyone. The minimal lines from this character make him look dumb and useless. The slang usage of the characters gives off the idea that this race is less educated and speaks a little “weirder” than the average person.

The environment in which the show is placed in also correlates to the lower class reputation. The group of friends all hang out in a junk yard for most of the show. Kind of gross, right? It’s not an everyday thing you hear that kids are hanging out in the junk yard. They make music out of trash such as old mattress springs, garbage cans, pipes, and spoons. The “gang” decides to go play in the local river to see who can fight off an alligator. And in this case, Fat Albert is the alligator. Their river is basically a massive mud pit. It seems as if it is the norm for them, and it is no big deal to jump in the sloppy dirt. Then, they go in water in an old foundation that is filled with garbage. Overall, the town is noticeably run down, adding to the point of being in a lower socio-economic status.

The group’s activities prove, what is seen as, their “troublesome” side. In general, the boys do not follow what their mothers tell them not to do. One of them was not supposed to get dirty, yet went in the muddy river anyway! They walk around areas that are typically no-trespassing. Adding to that, when they were hanging out in the foundation filled with water, an authority figure caught them. Edward said that they were just “poor, under privileged children” that needed somewhere to swim, to try to get out of trouble, showing their mischievous side. Not only that but, Edward demonstrates that lying is what they need to do. He is shown as the leader of the group, with a little more money, and is “cool” for fighting real alligators, so they follow him. Edward tells them on how to lie to their parents to avoid punishment. Even though he lied to his friends about the alligator, they still thought he was a trusting friend. They said, “You outta win an oscar for acting skills like that.” Bill Cosby states, “The truth can be troubling enough.” The young group of friends are already breaking rules, and lying just adds to it! This shows to the viewers that the group worships poor behavior. The behavior of the boys demonstrates an idea that people will label with the African-American race.

With that being said, while this show may have some signs of stereotyping, the entire cast is African-American. There is no “minority” figure in the show. Although Edward has a little nicer house than the others, he still hangs out with all the other boys who may not have as much money. The point is that every kid likes to play in the mud and get a little messy. The little girl cousin even says, “No messy, sloppy boys” and “You dumb boys!” This is because, boys will be boys. They like to show off and top each other, they break rules and annoy girls. Edward lying to the other boys is simply an act to try to impress his friends. He may be at a little higher socio-economic status and eats supper with his family, but he likes to have fun, break the rules, and do whatever he wants just like the other boys. A common theme to the program is that differences should be overlooked, whether the difference was of height, sex or race, they want to have fun.

Regardless of the point that they are boys and what not, the episode of Fat Albert still indicates a particular view on these African-American people. For example, Edward’s snotty cousin says that Edward cannot swim after he had told everyone he had fought a real alligator in Florida. This reference makes it as if all of them are unable to swim. Stereotypes are harmful to our society because people often times correlate them with every scenario, which is not the reality. Even when the show is trying to make a fair representation of equality of people, watchers believe that all African-Americans live and act in this manner. If people do not know any other African-Americans, the media would be their only source, making for unrealistic conclusions of the entire African-American population. If the media continues to lack diversity in their shows, then people will continue to stereotype and label people based on their judgement from the television show. No one wants to be the minority, and looked down upon, thus this is something that needs to be deeply looked into. The show itself is a start, but is there something else the media could do to make the stereotypes go away? Culture is what we make of it, and diversifying our society makes for a more balanced society with equal oppurtunities.


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