In the beginning of 1920s, the television coming out just as a shilly-shallying device, it has been more of an issue economically, politically, culturally and ethically for society in following years. The concept of stereotype has taken the lead the topic of racism. As for the concept of racism, has been raised by some concepts such as white person and the others. Mass media has been one of the main devices in the way white Americans perceive African Americans. African American people has been portrayed and lampooned in a stereotypical way and they have been represented in disparaging ways such as ignorant, joyous, lazy, superstitious, buffoonish and musical till the end of 1980s. That decade in United States was the golden age for soap operas and TV shows like Dallas, Dynasty, Falcon Crest, and Knots Landing and the hit series like The Cosby Show, Cheers, and Family Tie. The references in these TV shows were mostly about the culture, consumer society, domestic issues and ethnicity in that period. Moreover, The Cosby Show can be assumed as a milestone in the racism policy of American history within its characteristic values. The way of reflecting traditional African American stereotypes has been really surprising for most of the audiences. This paper will focus on the use of traditional stereotypes in sense of racism, the race relations and the importance of ethnicity in American culture through the analysis of The Cosby Show as a leading figure among TV shows at the end of 1980s changing the traditional stereotyping of African American people in media in United States. Throughout the essay, I will discuss about the issue that how new media in United States portrays the ethnic groups via TV shows; what has changed by the rise of The Cosby Show in traditional stereotyping of African American people and how the society reacted to this particular TV show; how the Huxtable family projects universal values so likeable and how ethnic and social backgrounds can be identified in an entertaining way and finally I will question if The Cosby Show challenges or perpetuates the traditional stereotyping discussing the race relations in the United States.
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The media portrays many faulty stereotypes about various races and these stereotypes who are members of certain groups with which we have not had firsthand contact are reflected in a chagrining way in general. The media branches such as the television, books, comic strips, and movies are all exuberant sources of stereotyped characters. By stereotyping the people or some ethnic groups, we kind of mark the people with certain characteristics. For much of American history, The US media focuses in on specific races and negatively represents them. Thus, this situation perpetuates the racial stereotypes in American society. It is frankly seems that some certain ethnic groups who have not white skin -African Americans in particular - are mostly reflected as being less intelligent, more vulgar, and more violent than the Caucasian citizens when we go through the American history. The white people have seemed to have more privileges that the other ethnic groups. Furthermore, this situation of skin turns into an `internalized racism.` The African American people have felt this inferiority in society as the white people have started to think that the African American people are inferior compared to them in course of time. Ruth FrÐ°nkenberg (1996) mentions about some examples in her research. According to her, white Ñ€eÐ¾Ñ€le mÐ¾ves tÐ¾ the Ð¾Ñ€Ñ€Ð¾Ñ•ite Ñ•ide Ð¾f the Ñ•treet when twÐ¾, tÐ°ll, blÐ°Ñk men Ð°Ñ€Ñ€rÐ¾Ð°Ñh Ð¾n Ð° Ñ•idewÐ°lk. TheÑ•e Ñ€eÐ¾Ñ€le dÐ¾ nÐ¾t mÐ¾ve Ð°Ñ•ide when Ð°Ñ€Ñ€rÐ¾Ð°Ñhing Ð¾ther white Ñ€eÐ¾Ñ€le beÑÐ°uÑ•e they Ð°re Ð°Ñ•Ñ•umed tÐ¾ be gÐ¾Ð¾d Â Ð¾r nÐ¾rmÐ°l. Â She also mentions that she received a worse or poor service when she went in public places such as cafes when she was with other friends who owns white skin which she does not have.
The roots of whiteness concept date back to time of colonization. This concept has risen in Britain and the British people thought the the Ñ€eÐ¾Ñ€le Ð¾f the Middle EÐ°Ñ•t as others. EdwÐ°rd Ð…Ð°id (1978) indicates that there were two different kinds of people in society as the Orient who is white and kind and the others who are not Westerners and civilized. In process of time, the concept of others wÐ°Ñ• ÑÐ°rried tÐ¾ NÐ¾rth ÐmeriÑÐ° and it is transferred to the Native an African Americans. In media, these others are shown as the threats for white people till the end of 1980s. Even in the cartoons, it can be frankly seen that many of the African American characters with minority voices are not shown to be as smart as the whiter characters. These stereotypes have created the nature of prejudice in American society against the African American people. In general sense of traditional stereotyping, the dominant culture consists of white middle class as African Americans are unfairly and unrealistically portrayed as violent, angry, hostile and criminally minded. This misrepresentation of African Americans became the common image on television till the end of 1980s. The new media was not showing the reality in cultural sense as it seemed opportunity for equal representation and communication between the races.
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The negative image of African American people which was developed by these stereotypes was perpetuated in some TV shows such as the Amos and Andy Show. This TV show began as a radio show featuring two white men portraying two comedic African American men. This TV show showed up between 1920s an 1950s for the first time and it became very popular that time. In course of time, some alternative TV shows such as The Cosby Show have risen against the African American inferiority. The Cosby Show showed up in a period the African American people seeking for their own roles and identities in American society. In the show, there was Huxtable family that consists of Cliff and Clair Huxtable, and their five children: Rudy, Vanessa, Denise, Theo, and Sondra. The father was doctor as the mother was lawyer. This family was an upper-middle class African American family. This TV show was a new image of African American families presented and it was not accepted fully because it failed to represent the full cultural scope of African Americans according to the many people. A new trend showed up with The Cosby Show although it was not fully accepted and African American families started to tend to watch programs with primarily African American casts.
The media has a great power to influence the societies and the individuals in TV shows are accepted as real characters in real world. The American society has had a tendency to accept the false images as the truth and the images misrepresenting African Americans has had negative effects on American culture till The Cosby Show's rising. Davidson (1997) indicates that the mediÐ° ÑreÐ°teÑ• rÐ¾leÑ• fÐ¾r the Ñ€eÐ¾Ñ€le thÐ°t Ð°re Ð¾ften Ð°ÑÑeÑ€ted in Ñ•Ð¾Ñiety. The important thing is that not to accept the images draw from the television as real images and being careful about the impacts of the negative stereotypes of people in TV shows.
The stereotypes of African American people in American media industry can be called countless and we can say that they have been portrayed in an unfairly and delusively way in American TV shows till the end 1980s. The African American woman was showing up by using a vulgar language in a movie as the African American man seemed to have tendency to violence in a TV show. We cannot say that this way of stereotyping the people totally died out in new media however it can be frankly said that something has changed the way of traditional stereotyping of African American people at the end of 1980s.
On September 20, 1984 a TV show named The Cosby Show aired in American televisions that mostly changed the traditional gender roles. Television still perpetuates traditional gender stereotypes by reflecting them as dominant social values. This reflection reinforces the traditional gender stereotypes and presents them as 'norm' although something in new media seems changing nowadays about the stereotypes since the end of 1980s (Chandler, 1). The Cosby Show challenged the traditional African American stereotyping of television, daring to go against both the dominant social values and the concept of the race discrimination of its time period. In sense of challenging the dominant social values, The Cosby Show reformed the portrayal of male and female roles in television as the show refined the traditional African American stereotyping of United States television in sense of race discrimination. We can see that this TV show has changed the gender roles in domestic issues, social values and work sites. The Cosby Show supported Freidan perspective in her view of "castigating the phony happy housewife heroine of the women's magazines" (Douglas 136).
In 1980s' America, this was not realistic and the show was there to be used as a kind of calmative for ethnic rebels. The producers were trying to present some proves for the society that there is no difference between people and everybody can be happy with their own identity. The idea of The Cosby Show was rejected by ABC on the first demand because they did not believe America would be able to handle the idea of an average, middle-class African American family (Johnson, 59). Afterwards, The Cosby Show has been one of the favorites of the society and it altered the perception of African Americans on television. The African American people have often been portrayed as custodians, maids, servants, clowns, or buffoons towards the end of 1970s and this portrayal has been altered with The Cosby Show. Before 1980s, there was a traditional stereotype the TV presented to the audience and the white people were often portrayed as middle or upper-class family in TV shows as the African American people often presented as the negative racial stereotypes serving to the whites.
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The stereotypes have often come with the serious consequences and the prime-time television has been assumed to present the stereotypes of "certain ethnic groups." After 1980s, the producers kind of tested the audiences through the counter-stereotypical characters in the soap operas like the Ellen and The Cosby Show. Before the appearance of Ellen and The Cosby Show, the audiences have not often encountered the portrayal of the homosexual characters or an upper-middle class African American family. The characters in those TV shows were challenging with the traditional stereotypes of United States. Because The Cosby Show in particular were presenting a deviant picture of the traditional stereotypes of African American people to the viewers. We also can indicate that those kinds of TV shows have been screened to encourage the change in viewers' perspective toward some minority ethnic groups that have traditionally been portrayed in a very negative and stereotypic manner.
TV shows have mostly been popular in American culture and the counter-stereotypes on TV shows have directed the white audiences to the alternative ways of thinking about the groups and the individuals which seemed different from them in a sense and they were mostly African American people in US society. The minority groups have had a history of being portrayed in certain stereotypic ways that have often included negative attributes through the age of technology but these kinds of programs like Ellen and The Cosby Show have possibly leaded to a positive change in viewers' attitude.
The television images have been determiners and one of the critical concerns on racial stereotyping and especially for African Americans in the last decades. TV shows like The Cosby Show has been a kind of information source and the guidance for the young generation about the social positions of different groups and background in a society. The Cosby Show has been analyzed by many authors and critics in terms of history, politics, economics, and media audiences. For instance, Le Gall describes The Cosby Show is "an informative, comprehensive and well-documented monograph" she also claims that the issue of the portrayal of women is another crucial theme of the show.
Bell examines in her review on research project by Jhally and Lewis on Cosby Show and she tells us about the selected audience groups to examine "both the positive and negative effects of television images on prejudicial attitudes". According to her, Cosby Show is selected on purpose because it is a "long-running sitcom" and it also addresses and appeals both to whites and African Americans as it is a social progression device on "positive influence on beliefs about African Americans" in racist system. She explains the ways of analysis of groups consisting of whites, African Americans and Hispanics by Jhally and Lewis. The groups were subdivided by their social class, their ethnicity and their genders and they are asked "how much the image of Huxtable family reflected viewer's conception of reality and how much realism viewers' attributed to the characters and events on the show. " As a result of this analysis, it is proved that there was a direct link between the stereotypical belief and culture. The Huxtable family was a proof for the racial inequality according to the selected groups. By Cosby Show, a new era that African American people might be successful and asserted themselves in social classes has begun. Besides, it has raised a positive image breaking down the racist idea and negative stereotypes of African American people.
The Cosby Show have received a lot of responses from the audience and it has been one of top TV shows in its time and all the audiences including whites in US have seemed to respond to the show in a positive way. Furthermore, Jhally and Lewis's research study also indicates that there have been both positive and negative responses to The Cosby Show. Though the responses mostly were positive, there also were negative responses as well. Jhally and Lewis explain this situation by saying: 'In many of the answers, there clearly is a dialectical tension, with recognition of both the positive and negative features of the program. For example, many negative responses centered on the show not providing a realistic portrayal of an African American family, or of an African American middle-class family.' On the other hand, Jhally and Lewis figured out a contradiction in White responses to Cosby Show. In their research, the white people have supported the show because they want the African American people in US to stop complaining about the racial discrimination. The white audiences have watched The Cosby Show in a different way from African Americans. This contradiction between Whites and African Americans appeared with the African American people's attitudes during the study. Thereupon, Jhally and Lewis have concluded: "the Huxtables proved that the African American people can succeed; yet in so doing they also prove the inferiority of African American people in general (who have, in comparison with whites, failed) (1992:p.95)".
Within every perspective, The Cosby Show has had some hallmarks peculiar to it. Americans watched a fully eccentric TV show on September 20, 1984 and the characters on TV were African Americans average jobs and average lifestyles just like the other people. Moreover, the characters in this show were talking about the important issues of life and they seemed intelligent. In 1988, The Ebony Magazine published an article titled "The Huxtables: Fact or Fantasy" and it has stated that The Cosby Show presents a high level of positive images which are far ahead of other African American sitcoms.
It is obvious to see that all negative stereotypes of African Americans in The Cosby Show are eliminated when we watch the show in a scrutinizing. Furthermore, there has been a gossip spreaded that Bill Cosby hired some professionals to clear all the racial gags and stereotypes from the scripts. All these efforts were for African Americans to show in a positive light to change white Americans' perspective to them (Racial Stereotypes Persist, 12). According to many critics, there was a problem making the show factitious with The Cosby Show and the characters in The Cosby Show and other African American sitcoms were acting white. John Killens asserts that The African American folk [on these shows] are full of understanding and wisdom, sympathetic all the way. No basic problems between the races. All men are brothers, right? An undramatic, middle-classish situation, which hardly has anything to do with the African American experience. (Torres, 71)
Many people have found The Cosby Show unrealistic; with their words The Cosby Show was too perfect for American society with the portrayal of middle class African Americans. As for in Jhally and Lewis's research, some of the respondents have had positive perspective about the reality and life presented in the show as some have found it too imaginary even if they love to watch it. As for some of the respondents have commented on about the ethnicity and African American background in the show and one of them say: 'I think I am glad to see them portraying African American middle-class roles, and realizing that African American people, African American middle-class people, have some of same values of White middle-class, Hispanic middle-class or Oriental middle-class. It is not necessarily that race determines it, it's just middle-class people sometimes have similar values.'
In Jhally and Lewis's research, The Cosby Show is concluded as a program watched by many audiences, however it has been found unrealistic because of not reflecting the social problems in American society in that debate. Besides, the representation of African American face of America was not true but mostly fantasized. The White face of America is totally absorbed in the show and we meet a "too happy" African American family living in the middle of America. The Cosby Show can also be defined as a kind of American dream for African Americans in US and it has been the living model of Martin Luther King's dream. However it fails at the point of reflecting everyday life and 'real' role models in 1980s' America. Actually, there was not a problem with The Cosby Show but the depiction of African American family of 1980's America in the show was a stunning change from what the American people were used to.
As another specific point in The Cosby Show was that the African American people is still on the screen to entertain people and The Cosby Show still makes most people laugh in America when they watch it though it has been a sensational TV show in 1980s challenging with the traditional stereotyping of African American people in United States. In the show, African American people and their 'real' problems in society have not been presented and that has meant that "Black life and problems with race are not serious". In other words, they have been on the screen not to reflect the problems but just to laugh and entertain. We can say that the images in the The Cosby Show still are "linked to the old stereotypes where African Americans are seen as buffoons in a deep level although it challenges with the stereotypes in appearance."
The negative perception of African America people has diappeared with the rise of The Cosby Show. The show has made a "significant mark in the landscape of American commercial network television." It has achieved a remarkable commercial and popular success with its challenging point of view. A fantasized African American upper-middle class family life has centered on the commercial network television. As a result of The Cosby Show, perceptions of African American people and race were mostly altered. We can indicate that the roles of ethnic groups in American society have been determined by the "black sitcoms" in that debate that Amos 'n Andy and The Cosby Show aired on TV. Until the beginning of The Cosby Show, African American people were viewed as poor and living in the ghettos on TV, but The Cosby Show has avoided to reflect the racial stereotyping in the society not to affect the people's ideas about the African American people in a negative way. The Cosby Show has taken the negative perceptions left by the former TV shows about African American people and replaced them by positive ones. The white people's perspective for African American people has gradually altered with The Cosby Show anda kind of sympathy has replaced by the racist thoughts in a part of the American society. Poussaint says: 'The Cosby Show has dramatically altered the image of Blacks as poor, downtrodden, yet happy-golucky clowns. The Huxtable family has helped to dispel old stereotypes and move its audience toward more realistic perceptions of Blacks (1988:p.72).'
The Cosby Show took the audience into the Huxtable's everyday life that is lack of racial problems but daily problems just like everyone can have. Hence, the show raised the sense of "more ethnic awareness" in America because of its positive approach to family life and its equally positive values and standards (Blair, 61). The show has also aimed to teach people some lessons and values about the life. Crenshaw says about these values that: 'Accepting responsibility, sharing or honoring possessions, celebrating family stages and accomplishments, breaking stereotypes, understanding feelings, facing current social problems, drugs, sibling rivalry, teenage lifestyles, parental authority, grandparenting, and family respect are several values that The Cosby Show introduced.' The Cosby Show presented us a "successful black family with Black consciousness and concerns in everyday Black life and a high level of positive images that are far ahead of other Black sitcom" Crenshaw says. Poussaint says that the Black style of the characters is evident in their speech, intonations and nuances and they all are also well-educated, responsible and likeable.
Many critics argue that The Cosby Show break "the chokehold of such traditional African American stereotypes" and it has not reflected the reality of the typical African American family or their life in America. The Huxtable family and their 'wonderful' domestic life is perceived by the White audiences as an exception of African American's family life and they mostly thought that the racism would not be a problem in American society if only African Americans were more like "Whites." The main goal of The Cosby Show has seemes todestroy the traditional stereotypes of negativity in Blackness even if the producers have rejected to accept that. Most of African American people living in metropolices of America are not usually exposed to racism until they go to colleges or into the workplaces. In The Cosby Show, the parents go to workplaces and the children go to colleges but they never face the cruel face of racism. There should be two races at least to talk about the racism, however we only meet African American people in The Cosby Show. Thus, we can say that it is not abnormal to not to talk about racism in The Cosby Show since there is only one race in it.
Poussaint defines The Cosby Show as a program that does not reflect "the recurring images that people see through the news and television shows, but it does reflect on the African American middle class family of the 1980s. The Cosby Show reflects on the number of African American professionals in America that has more than tripled in the past few decades. "The Cosby Show, just like most other shows on television, depicts only one aspect of Black reality (1988:p.72)"
The Cosby Show has changed the stereotypical view of African- American family on TV and it has introduced the African American middle class that rarely appears on television to the commercial network television. Many critics say that The Cosby Show has contributed a lot to the success of today's African American people are encouraged by The Cosby Show in 1980s. Because they have seen what they are capable of in The Cosby Show. They have started to ignore the issues like racism and discrimination to take firm steps forward to the success.
As another remarkable feature of The Cosby Show is its universality. It has aired in many countries around the world and it has usually got a positive reaction. Even today, the people still watch it and they laugh just like in 1980s. Every society has found something in The Cosby Show that linked to their culture. For instance, the people in Africa and Caribbean watch and sympathize to the show because they find their own races in a good social position. They see their own "American dream" in the show and they like to see that. In Turkish society, the show was and is still popular because they ignore the race and they care about family tie. Every people from different societies watch the show from a different but sympathetic point of view.
In The Cosby Show, we can see some vital points about the difficulties the African American people have met when we examine the show deeper and in detail. For instance, the grandfather of Huxtables in The Cosby Show has had a difficult life and we can conclude that situation from his words. He says that he has served in armed forces in time, and afterwards he was accepted in a place as musician but not as an African American person. After he worked hard in his past, he has achieved to have this kind of successful family like a doctor son and a lawyer daughter-in-law. We can conclude that to reach the American dream is not that easy like in The Cosby Show just as it appears on TV. The show gives a message in a way that if you want to have your dream, you need the face the difficulties and you need to pay a price on the path of success.
The Cosby Show has not only challenged the traditional stereotyping of African-American people in United States in 1980s but it has also challenged the traditional stereotyping of the woman in that period. The white American women were only just discovering a new identity by working and earning in United States in that period, however in The Cosby Show, it has showed the African American woman as both working individual in a high social class ignoring the race and a perfect mother in house. We can say that the female figure in The Cosby Show is the most fantasized image in the show. However, The Cosby Show is liked by most of the people around the world and took as a lesson by them even though it fantasized structure of race relations in America. The Show's both counter-stereotype and likeable story line has left a positive effect on the people from any race. It did a great job showing that sometimes it is just better to go against the societal norm and do what you feel like is best for your life. The show leaves all the choices to us for our own life.
The Cosby Show has been a big step in new media in that period and the news and TV shows seemed unaware of realities in America. The Cosby Show created a world as it should be for the audiences. It has proved that African American people were not much different from anyone else. We can say that the portrayal of African Americans is not satisfactory and United States still has a long way to go in the issue of race. However, it increases the number of the TV Shows ignoring the race issues day by day and the misinterpretation of people on TV decreases gradually. The only thing the viewers need to do to keep in mind that many things on television are just images for us to enjoy as watching the TV.