The Cosby Show: Guilty by association?

 

The Cosby Show is a family sitcom that has been around since the 1980s. The show has had much success in being a pioneer for black sitcoms that would follow such as: The Fresh Prince, A Different World, and most recently, Blackish. The show is also known for breaking many stereotypes associated with black families that can be found in shows like Sanford and Son.

the huxtables

 

The Show has taught us all so many positive messages and has made most of us wish to be as witty and successful as Clair and as thoughtful, family oriented, and funny as Cliff. There is, however, an elephant in the room that cannot be avoided.

Over the past several years, many women have charged Bill Cosby with various sexual assault charges dating all the way back to the 1960s. Since the news of these charges began to circulate, Bill Cosby’s reputation has continued to be obliterated. He has been removed from many of the positions he has held and many of his shows, including The Cosby Show, have been taken off of channels that were still playing re-runs.

Recently I have spent a significant amount of time studying this sitcom for one of my courses. I, personally, am having a very difficult time separating all of the positives that the show brought to prime time television in the 1980s, from all of the sexual assault charges brought up against Cosby. Since several of the assaults took place during the time of the show and the name of the show is directly associated with Bill Cosby, does that make everything that the show did for American families null and void?

As this article by The New York Times states: “The show became the oasis that we needed. But real trouble has intruded. And now the oasis is condemned.” For me, the historic achievement and success of the show still remains and can continue to teach us invaluable lessons, but it can be extremely difficult to accurately examine and enjoy the show without at least thinking about the disturbing actions of Bill Cosby.

Shanice Street

 

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4 Responses to The Cosby Show: Guilty by association?

  1. mediaphiles says:

    This is definitely a very real issue and an internal debate I am sure many people are having as you can no longer think of one without the other. I still believe that the impact of The Cosby show as a whole cannot be completely disregarded after the disgusting crimes of Bill Cosby himself. The show made huge strives in showing the real African American family, in a good light, on television for the first time. Ignoring stereotypes and flipping the script showing the many positive ways in which African Americans function in society, and that it should be normal for people to see this and not think of them any different because of the color of their skin. Racial discrimination had no place in society and the show challenged it head on. Do I think a bad man like Bill Cosby being associated with it hurts its influence because of the message they wanted to convey? Yes. Bill Cosby ended up reflecting everything the show did not want to be thought of the African American during this time and moving forward in society. This makes you see things differently but does not change the great picture it painted of African Americans as no different than a white people in society, and the barriers it broke cannot be taken away from it.
    – Anthony Duran

  2. mediaphiles says:

    Shanice, I appreciate your take on this difficult issue! The Cosby Show provided us with an iconic black family that subverted stereotypes and created a positive narrative. However, the deplorable actions of Bill Cosby cannot be separated from the man we saw on screen. While the show certainly paved the way for broader representation of black men and women on television, Cosby has undercut that message. The influence this show had on a generation still exists and The Cosby Show will forever be remembered as a large success, but the mountain of allegations against Cosby have tainted and soured the show.

    – Meghan Barber

  3. mediaphiles says:

    I think another way to look at The Cosby Show and Bill Cosby’s actions would be to view him just as an actor playing a part, not a true representation of his own beliefs. He can wonderfully portray a loving father, devoted husband, and successful professional; however, he may not live out these values in his personal life. I do not think that this means we cannot still learn from the show. It enlightens us to the fact that racial discrimination is invalid and malicious because the stereotypes people utilize are simply malicious. Today, we have actors on the television screen who, on the set, embody traits we value. They may not–and often do not–adhere to them in their outside lives.We can still use them as an example within the context of the show, just not as true individuals.

    Alex Buter

  4. marymdalton says:

    This is a great post — very readable but thoughtful and important — and the discussion from the comments is among the best on the blog so far.

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