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Cosby Show turns 25....soon

Happy Saturday, friends and frienemies.

I just wrapped up a pleasant afternoon of recording radio interviews and ambient sound for a story I'm working on about something I'll call "pubic relations" for now. I'll become less vague as the project moves forward.

In the mean time, even though its actual "birthday" isn't until September, when mine happens to be, I thought I'd take a moment and pay tribute to "The Cosby Show" for what it has contributed to life and perceptions in the United States.

Yeah, I know it's just a TV show, and I've never been much of a fan of Jello Pudding Pops or Coogi Sweaters. But "The Cosby Show" helped me in a tremendous way by breaking and defying common, if silly, stereotypes about black folks.

I had a great example in my parents and how they operated our household. Unlike the Huxtable parents, neither of my folks was or is a doctor or a lawyer. They're accomplished. But they are and were normal, and honest, and proudly simple.

They didn't feel the need to impress anyone. They didn't show off, though they could have. My mom has been recognized widely for her community service. My dad would be aw shucks about it, but he's a widely sought after speaker in some pretty big religious circles. And during his military career my dad was a U.S. Navy Sailor of the Year.

Most importantly, my folks marched to their own beat when I was a kid. Sometimes that beat had them in line with the rest of our community. Sometimes not.

To an adult, the stuff I just listed about my folks and family is "neat!" To a kid? It's little more than additional reasons to get picked on by the cool kids and called a nerd...or, in my case, when I was younger, occasionally being called "not black enough." My point is, like a typical tunnel-visioned kid, I didn't appreciate the lifestyle my folks had set for my sister and I until after I saw that it was popular outside our little home.

So when "The Cosby Show" debuted in the fall of 1984, even as a young boy I can remember thinking how cool it was that this regular black family was causing such a stir, breaking stereotypes and defying common but silly assumptions. Even though it was just a bunch of actors, I can remember swelling with pride and thinking "We're sort of like them. And if they're cool for dressing sharply, speaking well, and trying to get good grades, and working hard, then so are we!"

I used to cringe when some fathead in school teased me and called me some form of "Cosby," 'cause it was the pop culture equivalent to teasing the smark kid for scoring well on a test.

In retrospect I should have thanked the fatheads for comparing me to a Cosby. It was a pretty damned high complement.

I have friends who've complained for years that "The Cosby Show" wasn't realistic. But by who's standard? Your realism is about how you live. The Huxtables represented a lot of black families who never made headlines because they hadn't done anything wrong.

PS. Don't forget to follow me at http://twitter.com/jamesburnett.

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Christine Thresh

The Huxtables represented a lot of white, brown, and Asian families too. We loved and related to that program.

"The Huxtables represented a lot of black families who never made headlines because they hadn't done anything wrong."

James B.

Not a contest over which race has the most "claim" to the Huxtable's Christine. Judging by the show's ratings back in the day it was loved by people of many colors and ethnic backgrounds. Mathematically, it would have been impossible for the show to enjoy a consistent level of high ratings if only black people had watched it.

Since I live in Miami these days I call the Miami Heat "my" team. But several million other South Floridians share the same feeling.

My post had two points and two points only: that the Huxtables did black people a service by representing a family that did not fit negative stereotypes and that in my personal experiences seeing a nice family, a good family, that looked like me and mine on TV did me a world of good as a child.

Otherwise, I can share! I don't have exclusive rights to the Huxtables ;-)

Christine Thresh

Oh, I was not offended at all. I was just commenting on the universal appeal
of the show. It was good for our family to see a nice comfortable family.

I don't know why you thought I was offended.

I was sure it was a refreshing show for many families. Good lessons were
taught.

The CEO

It was, and still is a great show. Your points are well taken.

I consider you a friend, and I read and comment on your blog because I think your smart, and I can argue with you. Your folks have a lot to be proud of too. I don't mess with any other columnists, not from the Wahingtom Post or the New York Times or the Wall Street Journal or my favorite Investors Business Daily (still a Libertarian, not a Republican or a Democrat).

ɔıuʎɔıʇsɐɔɹɐs ǝɥʇ

As your friends have observed, The Cosby Show was NOT realistic. I mean c'mon! A doctor and a lawyer living in harmony??

Melissa

I heart me some Cosby Show. Remember the Real World Apartments? When Theo asked Cliff if what was wrong with wanting to grow up to have just a regular job - like a garbage collector. They turned the house into an apartment bldg. and Theo had to pay rent and bills. Changed his tune real quick. Brilliant. This pinkish-beige girl loved that show.

Pubic relations? You must dish more than that.

Classof65

I loved the Cosby show -- the funniest episodes were the ones I saw in Rotterdam where everyone spoke Dutch and the subtitles were in English! I know that's off-subject, but I had to mention it...

Actually I think that black people should feel insulted by the sitcoms featuring black people today -- I think they're "dumbed down" whereas the Cosby show emphasized positive traits. No sitcoms are "true-to-life," whether they feature whites or blacks or Asians or Hispanics. Have you ever met anyone as looney as Lucy? Was Newhart real? So why should we expect Cosby to be completely realistic? Yes, there was an underlying message, but it was a positive image of middle-class or high-class black people who stressed education and honesty and yet still had enough humor to attract a wide audience of all races. It gave all of us a good laugh and a glimpse of people we could all use as role models

heartinsanfrancisco

This is a great post! As a white kid (and lawyer's daughter,) I would have been thrilled to wake up in the Cosby family. Since "I Spy," I have considered Bill Cosby the most charming man in America. He made even jello pops and ugly sweaters endearing and I would still love to have him for a dad.

Several years ago, I had the thrill of seeing him as Grand Marshal in the Rose Parade, and felt like a star-struck teenager. More importantly, the Cosby Show served to disabuse many white people of their stereotypic ideas about black families and even helped to bring us to the point where we could elect President Obama. I know of no other TV show that has had such an impact on our culture.

class factotum

The Cosby Show was about the only sitcom my dad would watch. It was the only one, he said, where the father wasn't made to look like an idiot.

James B.

ClassFactotum, it's funny you say that. My dad used to say something similar. He had a bone to pick with both George Jefferson and Archie Bunker. So when Cosby rolled around, he was grateful for a TV dad who wasn't a buffoon.

class factotum

Maybe it's something dads in the military picked up on. :)

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