The prejudice, bias and overt stereotyping of the African Americans in modern television sitcoms is evident. However, no one would have presumed that with the introduction of the television in 1939, there would be an extended oppression of the Black Americans. The results of television advent do not come as a surprise because the African Americans had been depicted in earlier films as well as on the radio in demeaning roles, examples of which are noticed in the movies “Jezebel”, ”Coon”, “Mammy” and “Tragic Mulatto.” Demeaning presentation in the movies was a usual business for the African Americans. Nevertheless, the portrayed images were not accepted by all the affected, as some people might have tried to correct what was presented on the television. The growing discontent appeared because the black images in films gave another gaze for not only the black audience but also the white. These films did not succeed in changing the image that had been created, which is a white gaze.
Henry Louis Gates, Junior’s argument that the Black urban sitcoms of the 1970s represented both the greatest potential for representing Black life in television’s history and the greatest failure is another point that augments the proposition. This paper establishes that though many people support the suggestion that the entire show does not portray any form of racial stereotyping and bias, there is a disguised image which makes the representation of the African American life unrealistic.
Brief Overview of the Episode
The Cosby Show is about a family that goes by the last name of Huxtable. The major characters are Doctor Heathcliff Huxtable and his wife Clair Huxtable, who are happily married and bringing up their daughters Sondra, Denise, Rudy, Vanessa, and a son Theodore. The oldest children Sondra and Denise live worthwhile lives, both get married and have happy families. The kids are growing up and the family enlarges; however, to the Cliff’s disappointment, all kids keep returning to parents’ house, even though he wants the children to move out and live on their own. In the episode “I’m With The ‘In’ Crowd”, Vanessa sets out for a party and ends up getting drunk under her friends’ influence while playing the Alphabet Game. Next morning, her parents force her to practice the game with them as a punishment, and also push Rudy to take a shot prior to revealing that the bourbon they drunk was tea. There are many women actors in this episode unlike in many others. In this episode, it is unclear how the punishment given to Vanessa is going to teach her a lesson, especially considering that she had just committed a mere vice of staying out late with her friends. This particular instance of parenting shows the wrong image of the true nature of African Americans’ lifestyles (Kelly 2).
Since time in memorial, the African Americans have been identified as the race with the highest affection for the television, because they watch television more than any other race in America. There explanations for this fact are discussed below. First of all, the faces of African American representatives on particular shows like Amos and Andy had started showing. Secondly, some African Americans, such as Nat King Cole, had started hosting a variety of television shows. Thirdly, the African American women get attracted to the shows that have a black character, such as Beulah. Lastly, the characters on such shows were real African Americans, and not just white men speaking in black voices.
One could presume that the stereotype is strongly associated with the history of the blacks, their hope for the American Dream and black consciousness. Despite the protest of the black community and the National Association of Colored People, which led to the removal of Amos and Andy show, a platform and a model had been set undoubtedly for the television portrayal of the blacks in future for everyone to see and perhaps enjoy (Wilburn 4).
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At this particular point, various questions emerge in regards to the African Americans. The question what is so intriguing about the African Americans’ image remains unanswered. However, the fact is that even presently, just like in the past centuries, this image must be preserved, ridiculed, and imitated. The answer may be in their capacity to laugh even when things seem to going amiss, or the African Americans’ ability to enjoy life despite the difficult circumstances. However, Hollywood fails to understand the African Americans culture, which empowers them to make a way out of difficult situations that seem to have no solution. Their creativity and upbeat character excites both the white and black audiences and the producers (Wilburn 5).
To stress on this point of the importance of the African American character and resilience, this essay will examine critically The Cosby Show with a close reference to the episode “I’m with The ‘In’ Crowd.” This show is important as a television phenomenon because it won a time slot for many years. In fact, it was the most watched show for four years, 1985-1986 through 1988-89, though it started to falter later in October 1990. The widespread popularity of this show with the huge audience of whites in the U.S. seems to have been propelled by producers’ refusal to incorporate any racism in its representation. Nevertheless, despite producers’ relentless efforts to control prejudice, The Cosby Show comprised of some elements that revealed disguised fantasy about the African Americans. It is the factor that made the show bound by racism that its producers fretted over in its potential viewers.
Different individuals have dissimilar views on this episode. Some viewers and critics feel that the show aired with absolute impartiality from the beginning to the end. Others claim that there were elements of African American stereotyping in the very beginning. However, these stereotypes were disguised in a way that only a keen eye would have detected them. When The Cosby Show was granted an opportunity by the NBC to be on the television, it emerged as acceptable sitcom not only by the white Americans, but also by the African Americans (Steinman and Budd 6).
At this point, it is paramount to note that the portrayals of Denise, Vanessa, and Rudy do not reflect the real nature of the African Americans. Some viewers still consider them unrealistic, even though the positive images are portrayed in this show. Whereas earlier depictions of the African Americans portrayed them as domestics, servants, custodians, or clowns, The Cosby Show dispelled these stereotypes through presenting the professionals like Claire Huxtable and Cliff to the public. In the earlier sitcoms, representation further manifested blacks as poor and subjugated yet go-happy clowns.
It seems that this episode and generally the entire Cosby Show changed the perception of the African Ameticans by both blacks and whites. From the perspective of Whites, Huxtables were just like them, and thus are easy to comprehend because integration and assimilation had worked. The family was viewed as an accurate representation of how the middle-class African Americans lived. Furthermore, the picture of the Blacks as long-suffering ethnicity was long gone. On the other hand, some African Americans felt that identifying with Huxtables was like being detached from one’s roots. This detachment is due to the Huxtables’ material possessions that are showed in the episode.
Indeed, the Huxtable family possessed unrealistic means of acquiring wealth in the Unites States. The family is shown to easily earn money irrespective of race and without the help of annoying legal regulations, such as the affirmative action. These facts happened to be untrue and unrealistic (Wilburn 21). Statistics shows that despite the constant campaigns to abolish racial segregation, minorities continue to suffer exploitation in the hands of the majorities. The exploitation is especially evident in areas relating to jobs, education, and leadership. The blacks for a long time have been underpaid, locked out of the prestigious institutions of higher education and unable to contest for many leadership positions due to the lack of finances. Although the condition has been improving recently, the portrayal in this episode is still questionable, bearing in mind that it was aired in the twentieth century.
Another observation in this episode is that it represents a very high number of black actors. The issue here is that it is recognized beyond doubt that many television networks have been experiencing problems in black programming, particularly in the sitcoms. The reason behind it is that the sitcom makers try to respond efficiently to demographics of the actual audience, advertising processes, and are based on the economic benefits. The sitcoms that most producers prefer airing are those that fetch high incomes in the market because they can attract a high number of viewers. In fact, black sitcoms are not credited with this capacity.
Nevertheless, many television viewers feel that the TV shows should be a reflection of the society. This belief is aligned with the existing philosophy that all works of art should perform the function of showing the society what is considered morally right or wrong. Thus, the television should be like a mirror that shows what is happening in the society by covering the contemporary issues identified within a given community. As a result, it is impossible for some people, and in this case the African American minorities, to be excluded from this function of literature.
Based on the fact that more African Americans watch the television compared to any other group in America, higher black representation in television sitcoms is expected. However, contrary to this claim, the executives’ assumptions are that most blacks do not like watching themselves on the television. The assumption might be untrue because in most cases the executives are whites, who probably lock out the black sitcoms with concealed intentions of protecting their personal interests.
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Additionally, the executives cling to the idea that most African Americans lack sufficient financial support to invest in the black shows running. Though to some extent this assumption might be true, it is not proven that the entire African American community cannot raise adequate finances to support their sitcoms. Therefore, this may be considered as a clandestine conspiracy to exempt the African American shows from broadcast media. Finally, the executives assert that black dramas and sitcoms lack crossover appeal. This assertion sounds ridiculous, if not bizarre. What these executives fail to understand is that preferences differ among people, and the producers’ opinions do not apply to the rest of the public. All these factors render The Cosby Show unrealistic, especially considering that it was aired in the 80s.
As already stated in the previous section, The Cosby Show remains the most popular African American show for both the whites and the blacks up to date. In the episode “I’m With The ‘In’ Crowd,” Bill Cosby, who is a professional comedian, has decided to create an impression unlike any other time before. He presents humanistic qualities of the African Americans as fundamental in the show, though they are not its basis. However, the circumstances in the show are inaccurate, and appear like a fantasy world. Some blacks were concerned that the white fans might have concluded that inequity, poverty and exploitation were no longer affecting the blacks. This show portrays the impression that the blacks have achieved the American Dream, which is not the case. Thus, for this reason the episode is classified as unrealistic and has an inadequate representation of the true state of the blacks.
The episode presents a successful and intact Black family with both parents. This would imply that the African American community is now composed of middle-class educated professionals, who are proud of their African American culture and protect it. It can be concluded that the show was comfortable for the white viewers but not for the blacks, who understood the problems not mentioned and were still experiencing racial discrimination in their places of work.