Have you been following the discussion on the Huxtable Effect? The term refers to an idea circulating about The Cosby Show and its impact on how people voted in this year’s presidential election. Many white Americans, it is believed, experienced their first realistic glimpse inside the lives of African Americans through the fictional Huxtable family. Some theorists say this appealing depiction of a middle-class black family on the ’80s sitcom made possible the candidacy and election of Barack Obama as President of the United States.
Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez, the columnist who coined the term “Huxtable Effect,” has since claimed the media misinterpreted what she was saying. “What I actually posited was much more complex than that,” she clarified. “I said that the social norms of a population are generally formed through its popular culture.” In other words, our entertainment actually sets the standard for the public perception of what is socially and politically acceptable over time.
When asked what he thought about his iconic show paving the way for a Barack Obama presidency, Bill Cosby dismissed any direct link. “The reason why he’s in the White House is Cosby? No, no, no,” Cosby said.
What do you think? Did The Cosby Show pave the way for a black president?
As always, Cosby has the best (and funniest) word:
“‘I’m just waiting to see what Bart Simpson’s people are going to do at the next election,’ he said.”
As someone who grew up watching the Cosby Show, I think it probably did have an impact on how voters viewed a black candidate.
Before that show, there weren’t really any programs on TV that showed me, a young black kid, that I could grow up to be a doctor and marry a lawyer and raise my kids in a nice neighborhood. Cosby made me believe. And I’m sure that show enlarged the imaginations and realities of a lot of white viewers as well.
I think Dennis Haysbert’s portrayal of President David Palmer on “24” had more of an influence on me than Cosby and the Huxtables.
Claiming that the Cosby’s had an effect on perceptions of Obama is, in my mind completely valid. People loved Bill Cosby, they loved the Huxtables. There was something that was culturally familiar to them. This was not the Jeffersons, Sanford and Son or Good Times. The Jokes were not culturally specific (though there is nothing inherently wrong with that), they were universal. Family was the universal, you knew the Cosby’s were black you couldn’t deny that in the History spoken about on the show, the artwork, the music (Jazz), the guest stars, etc. But those things were secondary; primarily the Cosby show was about family, which everyone can relate to. Cosby himself said this,
“I would not be surprised with the comfort level of people looking at a family and not being afraid of them, and not holding them to some strange old thoughts of a nation,” he said. “It’s what people have done with themselves by watching that show and believing in it.”
I think it would be improper to deny the effect that the Cosby’s had on culture. Although there were African-Americans on TV previous to the Cosby Show (including middle and upper-class black folk), the Cosby Show was a real catalyst for change.
After the Cosby show there was a surge of Blacks on mainstream TV, in the Media and in visible politics. We can’t deny that the Cosby’s have had an impact. In a documentary about the Cosby Show (which is included when you by the first season) Oprah speaks on how refreshing it was for the world to see into the life of an upper class Black family. We are perhaps out of the Cosby culture, but those young adults (35 and under) and even their parents who voted Obama were highly influenced by seeing the Cosby show. It is another part of the multicultural society we live in. That is not a non-racist society, but one where various cultures can be seen (especially in pop-culture)
There are definitely other political and pop culture icons that have helped pave this road (Condi Rice, Colin Powell, Douglass Wilder, Andrew Young, Clarence Thomas, Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Warren Moon, Nat King Cole, etc.). And there has been a plethora (relatively) of blacks in prominent positions on TV. And yes, other shows, politicians, and actors influenced Cosby; there was a long road before him. But because the, Bill Cosby was the dad everyone wanted, the Cosby Show is one of the most successful TV shows ever, and the fact that America was exposed not only to an individual but a family and entire culture leads me to suggest that the Huxtables did a lot of paving work.
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