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The Cosby Show Essay

2056 words - 9 pages

The Huxtable family in The Cosby Show represents the overarching achievement of the American dream through an African American family. According to Marvin Riggs’s 1992 documentary Color Adjustment there were two types of images of African Americans in the media. On one hand, the news showed the social and racial tensions that enveloped the post-civil rights era. On the other hand, primetime television depicted social harmony among the races–an image that most Americans understood as inaccurate. In the 1980s, most African Americans lived below the poverty line and primetime television hesitated to present that challenged ideology of the American Dream to the viewing public. Henry Louis ...view middle of the document...

The initial association with the Huxtable family through the set design affirms an African American achievement of the American dream, but also avoids the discussion about racial issues with the audience. Their home appeals to a bootstrap ideology, in which individuals in American society can raise themselves up and make something of themselves through hard work. This ideal is a subset of the American Dream and can speak to a broad audience. The first scene of the episode shows the Huxtable’s kitchen. The family separately gathers together to see Olivia read from a book as the scene progresses, as though giving the audience time to accommodate to each member of the Huxtables. The walls of the kitchen are a muted pink color. The colors in the space either follow this muted pink motif like in the countertops and the tablecloth, or they pertain to some sort of neutral tone like the brown of the bricks in the fireplace and wooden chairs arranged throughout the room. The only color that truly stands out in the set design is the natural green of the houseplants. This home could belong to any upper middle class urban American family. The set design serves its purpose of easing the Huxtable’s transition into American homes. The space is not calling attention to itself, nor is it confrontational. Their lifestyle does not seem threatening, but rather welcoming and relatable. They are a homogenized and integrated American family. The set design transcends Huxtable family, as well as the entire population of African Americans they were expected to represent, beyond the stereotype of the servant. The Huxtable family is obviously financially successful, despite racial impediments. The subdued color palette of the set design allows the family to become assimilated into the homes of whoever has this show playing on their television screen.
The Huxtable’s home, according to Riggs’s Color Adjustment, is attributed to a certain White American sensibility in order to make them “acceptable” to White audiences. The image of the Huxtable family is constructed carefully to avoid an underlying White American fear¬ of an African American individual, in this case an entire family, entering into their home through the medium of television. The set design of the Huxtable home is subdued to the extent that the viewer is not offered an understanding of the family through their home, other than that they are upper middle class. The home is typically meant to reflect a family’s cultural values and aesthetics, but the Huxtable home does not seem to reflect their generally spirited attitudes towards life. The space is almost completely void an African American heritage. The acknowledgement of the Huxtable household being an African American household within the set design appears in the background, often out of focus of the camera frame and insubordinate to the themes the narrative is addressing. When Vanessa, the Huxtable’s middle child, is seen collapsed on to her bed after...

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