“How “The Cosby Show” duped America: The sitcom that enabled our ugliest Reagan-era fantasies”
“In many ways “The Cosby Show” was the anti-”Moynihan Report” — a much misunderstood and misrepresented exploration of “black ghetto poverty” and “the breakdown of the black family” written in the 1960s by the Labor Department. “The Cosby Show” was also a rebuttal to ’70s TV producer Norman Lear’s popular shows — “Good Times,” “Sanford and Son,” and “The Jeffersons” — where the humanity and travails of black folks living in poverty (and escaping such conditions) were the dominant themes.
Popular culture is inherently political and ideological. While the depiction of a rich and “functioning” black family was superficially transgressive, “The Cosby Show” channeled a particular understanding of race, capitalism, “success,” and “middle class” identity that more often than not reinforced dominant American cultural norms and rules basically in line with the the Horatio Alger myth; it offered to viewers a harmless type of “diversity,” where blackness and the “Black experience” were massaged down into a throwaway mention of the March on Washington and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., or the struggle to end Apartheid, or simple guest appearances for accomplished black musicians, artists, and actors.
For most of its 8 seasons, “The Cosby Show” existed inside a bubble that was outside of the day-to-day lived experiences of the vast majority of black Americans. The events in bubble were white fantasies of black folks’ lives.”
When I was a child, I loved to eat dinner in the kitchen, sitting at the family dining table, alone, while watching…www.salon.com
I want shows and media in general to take me out of the background and sometimes the black best friend role and place my stories as central and real and complete. But I have this big internal struggle about what I want those stories to be. Sometimes I really want to see a mainstream representation of the problems that I have in my life, the ones that I have trouble putting words to or convincing other people about if they haven’t personally experienced it. But other times, I really just want someone showing people who look like me just leading “normal”, mainstream lives where they don’t have to deal with extra baggage. I mean, honestly, I always have to be a little emotionally-ready when I encounter stories about people who are like me — and sometimes I just want brain candy — but brain candy where I exist.
But then, like, all the problems brought up in this article…
And, so, I have this important relationship with The Cosby Show, because it remains the piece of media that (a) mostly closely resembles my family, even though almost all of the details are different, and (b) makes me feel like there are safe spaces for me in American society. And as I get older, I understand more and more that this was an illusion, but it was still an illusion that had a big positive impact on me when I was young and I don’t know exactly what to do with that.