Sunday, April 24, 2011

Final Project Blog/ The Cosby Show

What does TV teach us about teenagers?
Television has a tremendous impact on its viewers, we all know this. Our project; myself, Mary, and Lauren, have decided to compare three different decades of teenage representation from television shows. We each have chosen a different weekly television show from a different decade. We are taking a close look at how teenagers may or may not have changed; the concept of teenagers, the issues involving teenagers, and media’s representation of teenagers. After answering these questions we will be able to answer the overreaching question, what does this media teach us about teenagers.
My TV show is The Cosby Show. This sit com was one of my favorites

and after spending hours watching reruns for this project I can honestly say it is one of the best television shows of all time. It ran for 8 years and each episode makes the viewer laugh, think, and learn something. As a kid I related to the teenagers in the show and as an adult I relate to the parents. My older son would spend many hours watching the reruns on Nic at Nite and he also loved this show.
A little premise about the show for those of you who may not are familiar with it. The Huxtables are an affluent African American family who live in NY and are raising 5 children. One who is off a college so the sitcom centers around the family dynamics of Dr. Huxtable, his wife Claire, who is an attorney, and Denise, who is 16 at beginning of the series, 14yr old Theo, 12 yr old Vanessa, and 5 yr old Rudy.

This video will give you a good idea of the show, the parenting skills, the issues and why it was so successful.

This family is the epitome of SWAMP. That’s right.. Oh wait, I forgot the family is black. As I watch the show there is no sign of blackness; there are no cultural differences at all or stereotypical ideas about African Americans. Is this a good thing or a bad thing? To sway away from the media’s depiction of teenagers, let me discuss some of the issues, or non-issues of race. With the exception of the W, this show can be seen as SCWAMP. We could change it to SCBAMP. However, they are black, therefore I could make an argument that Grinner’s SWAMP cannot find its way into The Cosby Show.

The Huxtable are black. Although in the eighties America seemed to have its race wars under control, there was still racial tension. This show epitomized the factor of equality in America. Here is a black affluent family who were not portrayed as dysfunctual ( one parent, usually mom) or poor or even struggling. This sitcom brought forth a new idea of African Americans that perhaps many didn’t realize. Here they were in our living rooms every week. Actually, while watching at least 10 episodes I only witnessed five white people and they were all in the same episode . This is because I was looking, otherwise I was not aware the Huxtables were any different than any other family, except that they were rich, happy, and respectful of one another. A family I wish I had. Were the Huxtables being portrayed as white to draw in the audeince? The two oldest girls are very light skinned. What I found interesting is that in the pilot episode, Theo dressed like a typical adolsecent kid, after that he becomes very preppy and colorful. Check out the following videos to look at Theos's fashion.
The first video is worth watching . It epitomizes the characterizaton of teenage mentallity as Raby would say "Becoming" as Theo tryies to become more independent and "not necessarliy doing everything that your parents do, you know?"(Raby). Also the video depicts the strong parenting theme with a hint of humor.
I love it.

To get to Theo's clothes fast forward to 4min 40 seconds!

The teenage representation of Theo that "teenage boys are assumed to be least in control of their sexuality" (Higgins) is very funny in this video. Check out his clothes..

The "Shirt Story" again reinforces Raby's discourse of "Pleasurable consumption" shown here with Theo. "Youth today are courted as a high-sonsumer group" "Today, youth not only advise their families on how to spend money, but are identified as a group with both free time and disposable income" (Raby). Not in the Huxtable household!

Here is another reference to "a testosterone thing" that Higgins refereces in his text.

Christensen states in his text “Unlearning the Myths that Bind Us”
“Many of us grow up in neighborhoods where we have limited opportunities to interact with people different from our own families…. Consequently, most of the early information we receive about “others” – people racially, religiously, or socioeconomically different from ourselves – does not come as a result of firsthand experience. The secondhand information we receive has often been distorted, shaped by cultural stereotypes, and left incomplete.”
The Cosby Show brought an African American family into the living rooms of millions of Americans (black and white) each week. “It was the most watched program in the country for four years, 1985-989, dropping to second place in 1990. Indeed, while The Cosby Show led the ratings there were nights when more than half the homes watching television in the United States were in its audience” (Budd). So America got a good look at the typical African American family. Was this show a good “secret education” for those who never had the opportunity to interact with people from different races? In the article “White Racism and The Cosby Show” by Mike Budd and Clay Steinman, they argue many points, but most importantly to me, what did America learn from the Huxtables. The country was still experiencing racism but a poll taken from The Cosby Show audience states “that U.S. whites no longer feel blacks are discriminated against in the schools, the job market and the courts.” Was this a good thing or a bad thing? The Cosby show does not deal with racisim. It is shocking to me that so many Americans fell like everything is good because the Huxtables are good. What this tells us is that the media has a HUGE effect on its viewers.

The Cosby Show, according to Katie Couric, changed American's perspective of African American people.

Many argue and wonder how this show would have been a great venue to pull in supporters and bring the truth to white America but Bill Cosby, the co-creator, executive producer, and the star of the show “insisted that it never highlight racial conflict. He says if it had done so even once, every white viewer would have felt this was set up to make you feel like you’re the villain” (Budd). Also, “Many African American views seem to enjoy the show because, like members of any group, they take pleasure in seeing favorable representations of themselves on television” (Budd). So all of this makes sense, right? Well sometimes we just need to take it as it is intended. This show was intended to make people laugh, bring a sense of unity to the country and teach a moral lesson. I did forget to make money, but lets ut that aside to. What did Americans learn from The Cosby Show? The viewers very often were seen as “colorblind.” The characters on the show seem white. But never the less the show was wildy popular and I too, didn’t see color when I watched the show. I like that, to me it does signify equality. The show centered around parenting mostly mixed with humor. This can be seen as “white racism.” It is argued that many two parent , affluent household, where both parents have careers, spend too much time advancing on the cooperate ladder, ther children are neglected and left to nannies. Most often these parents, typically white, feel a sense of guilt. In the show the characters spend an abundant amount of time with their kids and “the show tries to educate its adult audience to little tricks of parenting and to educated its younger views to agree with and respect their parents” (Budd). This is a great secret education, black or white. As a parent, I took away certain tips from Mr. Huxtable, Every parent wants to be like him “Dr. Heathcliff Huxtable, the perfect TV dad. He’s perfect because he parents how to have a touch that is firm but light, how to discipline with humor, as he disguises parental control, even manipulation, with silly faces and childlike actions. There is an inescapable element of education for parents and children, of therapy for dysfunctional families, in The Cosby Show” (Budd).
As for the media’s depiction of teenagers, what I learned, and the American audience learned about teenagers is that all teenagers go through issues. As Raby puts it "A powerful, pervasive story about adolescence is that it is a clear, predictable (but turbulent ) stage that teenagers inevitably undergo as they grow into adulthood." The generalizations of teenagers is apparent in the show but at a level of “OKness.” Kids were supposed to mess up, find themselves, and be at risk. Teenagers are depicted as “good” kids messing up once in a while. The media portrays these teenagers as average American kids growing through the stages of adolescence; making mistakes, getting punished, and overall learning from their mistakes with the help of great, involved parents. It is the epitome of family. This is apparent with all the Huxtable kids, the girls as well as Theo. I think it is most turbulent with Vanessa, the fourth child. Vanessa seems to push the boundaries the most with all the "discourses of adolescence." Too many to show but a few clips of Vanessa pushing the boundaries.
At the beginning of the clip, Vanessa is unsure about how she feels and is torn between the "good girl or bad girl" status with her morals that her parents instilled in her. Further in the clip we see the adolesent discourse from Raby; "The Storm" as Vanessa takes risks with her sexuality but doesn't put the consequesnces above her own, or his own, pleasure. This adds to the "Social Problem" as her decisions upset the houshold. Although, this media's depiction of Vanessa seems accurate without suggesting that teenagers are a social problem.

Another issue that has gone through the test of time with teenagers is underage drinking and peer pressure. Again, this media depicts it as normal adolescent behavior. The Cosby kids are not doing drugs, having sex, stealing, dropping out of school, joining gangs, the way that many media depict this age group. The Cosby Show adds humor to this turbulent age but also send the message to many young peopel that this behavior happens, it what one learns from it that makes a person's character.
Vanessa's peer pressure starts approximately at 4minutes.

The consequences of her actions is very funny..

The Huxtable parents are patient, insightful and the kids respect their parents. Through the venue of The Cosby Show, the media is trying to get America to understand that black kids as well as white kids, all go through this journey and that “teenagers are not some alien life form.” The idea that African Americans do not live in homes like the Huxtables, and do not have the careers that the Huxtables have, and most of all , that young teenage black and/or white kids are delinquents and are running wild is demolished through the characters and ideology of the show.


Budd, Mike and Clay Steinman, "White racism and The Cosby Show" from Jump Cut, no. 37, July 1992, pp.5-12: A Review of Contemporary Media, 1992,2006.


  1. Excellent Job! Yeah, that was a great show. It dealt with all the issues that teens go through. Here's another interesting observation about that show: All of the sisters were failures in some way- Denise (Lisa Bonet)got pregnant out of wedlock and dropped out of college(but then briefly went back to college in the Spin-Off, "A Different World")Sandra, who began college as a Med student, but eventually found a guy named Elvin and she no longer pursued that dream- they opened up a camping store, and Vanessa (Tempest Bledsoe)"fell in love" with a guy who wanted a simple life and she never fulfilled her potential. Meanwhile, Theo, the son, who was always being pushed by his father, ended up in the series finale,graduating college and became a teacher. The final scene was all about Cliff being proud saying, "My son. My son. The college graduate." So, I wonder if that is a coincidence or did Bill Cosby and the writers want it that way?

  2. Oh, and that girl that Theo was dating, actually died in real life. She got stomach cancer. Her last role was playing a geeky girlfriend of Steve Urkel on Family Matters in the Mid-90's.

  3. Good work. However, I think I have to disagree with one of the points made. At one point, it states that there is "no sign of stereotypical" representations of "black" culture and then goes on to point out how SCWAMP "doesn't fit in" because of this, however, I think the show is an example of how the white standard seeps into media representations of non-white people and proves SCWAMP is pervasive. I'm not saying that a family of color cannot have the type of achievement and mobility that a white family can, but I think the show doesn't *address* issues of race in a good way at all because it is unrealistic to show a family of color in which the head of the household is an ob-gyn and there is no sign of ever having had to struggle...especially since we're talking about a pretty old show. It's just not really fair that those things are never talked about, I think. But I'm not a huge fan of the show so I could be wrong.

  4. Deidre, I agree SCWAMP is the dominant ideology but it can't be used to identify the Cosby Show; the family is black and the mother is a lawyer and very often puts Heathcliff in his place. Also Bill Cosby specifically did not want any issue of race in the show. I mention it in my blog. insisted that it never highlight racial conflict. He says "if it had done so even once, every white viewer would have felt this was set up to make you feel like you’re the villain” (Budd).Perhaps having no white people in the show was his very subtle way.