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The Cosby Show

By Terry Joseph
July 09, 2004

September 17, 2004 marks a dozen years since NBC-TV aired its final episode of The Cosby Show but recent monologues from the co-creator and star of the Nielsen-friendly sitcom, although showing him in a distinctly different humour, are scoring even higher ratings.

Pride felt by the black community when The Cosby Show debuted on September 20, 1984, a glow sustained through 193 episodes, then rekindled and fanned by more than a decade of re-runs, emanated from a format portraying the Huxtables as a well-knit, intelligent and socially adjusted Brooklyn family, parented by professionals.

Before Cosby, black sitcoms largely revelled in the plight of ne'er-do-well ghetto types, ribs and grits, fried chicken and sweet potato pie, semi-literate dialogue, peculiar junk collectors, tap-dancers, maids, misfits, buffoons aplenty or pet charities of white adoptive parents.

Cosby brought a refreshing image, guiding the adorable Huxtables through life's challenges, without loud outbursts or widening eyes, forever wearing that disarming smile, speaking elegantly all the while and in the wake of each episode, leaving a trail of pristine examples.

In a cabaret frequently spiked with uplifting musical interludes, tributes to black icons, sensitive and intellectual solutions to social problems, grandchildren named Winnie and Nelson, grandparents who visited often (invariably in good cheer) and all the outward and visible signs of a near-perfect existence; blacks were painted in self-esteem's best hues.

But that was 1992. Cosby 2004 returns to the screen as a contentious character, replacing Dr Huxtable's penchant for compromise with warlike words, curling his trademark smile downward into a thoroughly disapproving scowl, wading into blacks with mercilessly candid observations.

No Fresh Prince shenanigans, Steve Urkel's wackiness, Steve Harvey's suave, nor happy endings of The Hughleys, The Parkers, Girlfriends, Moesha, The Parenthood and Jamie Foxx but a different Comic View from an older, wiser Cosby, back in the ring without the kid gloves. And after round two, it isn't pretty.

The first flurry came in mid-May at Howard University. Speaking at the 50th anniversary commemoration of the historic Brown vs the Board of Education desegregation ruling in the US, Cosby lashed out at his tribe for parental failures that he said led to high dropout rates, teenage pregnancies, crime and other social ills.

"The parents stand there and cry for the camera when their son is dressed in jail clothes," he boomed. "Where were they when he was two, or at high-school time, or when he got to be 18 and had a pistol in his waist? How come the parent never knew the child was forever high on drugs or into a life that was bound to get him into trouble with the law?

"You can't keep saying God will find a way. God is tired of you," Cosby revealed. "People putting their hats on backwards, pants down around the crack, isn't that a sign of something gone wrong? Or are you waiting for Jesus to pull his pants up? Isn't it a sign of something when she has her dress all the way up to the crack?

"Those people are not Africans. They don't know a damn thing about Africa," he said. "With names like Shaniqua, Taliqua and all of that crap, all of them are in jail. Basketball and football players-multi-millionaires- can't read or write a paragraph. The white man, he's got to be laughing: 50 per cent dropouts, the rest in prison, teenage sex, five, six children, one woman, eight, ten different husbands or whatever."

And, as we discovered, he was only warming up. Speaking last week in Chicago at the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition & Citizenship Education Fund's annual conference, Cosby pulled no punches, telling a gathering of activists black children are "going nowhere". He didn't forget husbands: "Stop beating up your women because you can't find a job," he fumed.

In short, the good-humour man was now chiding them for squandering opportunities secured by the blood and sweat of martyrs, saying his detractors were trying in vain to hide the black community's dirty laundry. "Let me tell you, your dirty laundry gets out of school at 2.30 every day, cursing and calling each other nigger on the street," he said.

"They think they're hip. They can't read, can't write but they're laughing and giggling and going nowhere. I can't even talk the way they talk and I blamed the kid until I heard the mother. And then I heard the father. Everybody knows it's important to speak English except these knuckleheads. You can't be a doctor with that kind of crap coming out of your mouth," he told them.

He had spent eight years showing them the kind of life they could live and it was a lucrative laugh-riot. Now, he's showing them what they opted to become instead and it sure as hell isn't funny. Of course, he infuriated more than a few but Rev Jesse Jackson and NAACP Executive Director Kweisi Mfume publicly endorsed his comments.

Happily, we in Trinidad and Tobago do not need contemporary Cosby to pontificate for the Afro-Trini community because, annually, we get even more forceful lessons from the SEA results.

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