Television’s portrayal of blacks has had its ups and downs, from stereotype-laden comedies like ”Amos ‘n’ Andy” to advances like the late-60’s series ”Julia,” starring Diahann Carroll. It seemed to have reached a new stage in 1984 with the premiere of ”The Cosby Show,” on NBC. The show, about a family of black professionals, the Huxtables, ran successfully for eight years, attracting a multiracial audience, often topping the ratings and spawning another successful show, ”A Different World,” about the Huxtables’ daughter, going to college and rooming with a white woman at a historically black college. The great thing about this show, of course, was that it “A Different World” painted a positive image of black colleges, one that brought about white curiosity towards schools like Hampton or Howard University.
”The Cosby Show” was criticized in some quarters for depicting a nonrepresentative upper-middle-class family, but others argued that it exhibited positive values widely held in the black community that were too often overlooked on television. It seems that the Cosby Show feared complex topics that denote a sense of realism, especially about matters important to the black community. This might have more to do with its high ratings and general popularity across both white and black audiences. Recent shows that touch on issues reflective of black communities have not done as well. For the most part, just turn to the WB or CW, stations that portray black shows. I do recall making it a point to watch the Cosby Show every Thursday night as a young grade school student. At that time the element and complexities of race were absent from my understanding. The show seem perfectly normal to me in that it portrayed what I deemed comedy at the time; however, with age and education, one cannot help but reflect on the show, hence noting not so much of what they were doing, but rather the absence of topics that pin point the complexities of the 1980s. My most recent paper showcases an avenue of darkness that plagued black life in the 1980s as seen in the gangster lyrics of NWA and other rappers.
I started renting and borrowing old episodes of the show to see what topics were addressed and what topics were omitted. Thus far, here are a few general things noticed:
- There was a heightened sense of racial division during the 80s, however, that division did not seem to impact the black middle class.
- No conversations about the issue of sexuality and sexual identity with the rise of AIDS.
- The economic downturn that hurt many Americans, especially black Americans thus far did not exist.
- Though break dancing was a part of Theo’s culture, the complexity of artist that marked the period in a more realist genre was absent. There was talk of Michael Jackson, though.
- The show did define the significance of religion on a few episodes, but avoided its relevance in the black community altogether.
- Drugs thus far has not been an issue.
- Black on black crime was a non topic.
- Interracial dating was addressed in a positive fashion, though done so indirectly
- There was no Cold War. Also, the general topic of politics and civil rights so far has not been seen.
- There was no evidence of popular culture.