Over at AlterNet, I really dug this article called The Huxtable Effect and Obama. The Cosby show was a big deal from my family. It was the first time that a black family was portrayed on American tv as normal, educated and middle class with both comedy and drama. I considered myself fortunate in that I got to come home to a dad that was actually warmer, smarter, kinder and funnier than even Dr. Bill Cosby. Here’s a slice:

In all the talk about the supposed “Bradley effect” in this year’s presidential election, I think big media have missed the much bigger story, which is to say few of them are writing/broadcasting about “The Huxtable Effect.”

“The Huxtable Effect,” as I’ve coined it, speaks to the importance of images in popular culture — TV, movies, music, books, etc. — and formation of both a sense of self in viewers and, most importantly for our discussion now, a sense of others.


So it is, I believe, that Barack Obama’s successful candidacy and likely presidency were heralded with the arrival of The Cosby Show in 1984. On the air for eight seasons, The Cosby Show featured Bill Cosby as Cliff Huxtable, an all-American father, medical doctor, and love husband, in the lead role. Never before in American TV had there been such a character. But the impact of Cosby’s weekly presence in America’s family rooms, as the fair-minded, fun, quirky Dr. Huxtable, cannot be underestimated in its affect upon the consciousness of Americans who were children and young adults at the time.

Cosby was not alone in what I have come to think of as the Bel Air Renaissance for African-Americans in popular culture, begun in the mid-1980s. Oprah Winfrey’s show got its start in 1986, and is still on the air. The 1980s saw: the rise of Denzel Washington and Wesley Snipes as America’s favorite leading men, in mainstream, good-guy roles. It marked the mainstream entry of rap and hip-hop into the musical lexicon, and we saw Whitney Houston become the all-American girl-next-door vocalist (well, at least until she married Bobby.)

The incredible explosion of positive African-American role models in American popular culture, which started in the mid-1980s and has continued in force to the present day, has been profound and unprecedented in our history.

Barack Obama is reaping the political benefits of that now.


Part of the reason so many stories in the mainstream media have expressed astonishment at the rise of “a black man” to presidential candidate (and likely president) have to do with the simple fact that many of the older people in charge of those institutions owe their own worldviews to 1950s entertainment; to them, it is Ward Cleaver, not Cliff Huxtable, whom all kids wished were their own dad. America’s editors and producers are living in a Ward Cleaver reality, unaware of The Huxtable Effect, or its many tentacles.

The author makes a good point that there is no Hispanic Cliff Huxtable yet on TV (George Lopez doesn’t count) and that better representations of Latinos are needed on TV and in movies…

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