How “The Cosby Show” recoded race
Have you ever wondered why “The Cosby Show” was such a success and appealed to a wide audience?
The show was “racially safe for everybody,” said Ron Taylor, a Semester in LA instructor with an extensive background in television development. Taylor’s last position was vice president of diverse programming at Fox Broadcasting Co.
On Thursday morning, Taylor escorted SiLA students to the UCLA campus to meet Dr. Darnell Hunt, a professor of sociology and director of the research center for African-American studies.
Hunt edited “Channeling Blackness,” a book of studies about race and television in America. The book has a study on “The Cosby Show,” and Hunt said this show is “probably one of the most studied shows in terms of academia.”
Hunt said the timing of “The Cosby Show” is a major part of why it was so successful. The show first aired in 1984, which Hunt said was a time of crazy racial politics. He said the show was a response to stereotypical images of black people.
The intention was to “recode blackness” and it worked, Hunt said.
He said usually if a black character was successful you had to “erase all of their blackness,” but “The Cosby Show” avoided this by incorporating African-American jazz and art.
The show “fused this notion of blackness and success,” Hunt said. “You don’t have to check your blackness at the door.”
From the perspective of the white audience, Hunt said the audience of “The Cosby Show” was allowed to celebrate their own racial open-mindedness. He also said the characters in the show proved to white America the American dream was alive and well. If Claire and Cliff Huxtable could be successful this meant all black people could be successful.
You cannot believe everything you see on television, but the messages behind why certain shows are created are very real. People who shape the stories in film and television have a lot of power in influencing people and their political attitudes.
“These are the things we really have to be cognitive of, especially as journalists,” Taylor said.