Americans from their prior connections with poverty and pop u lar youth culture

Americans from their prior connections with poverty

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Americans from their prior connections with poverty and pop u lar youth culture. In this way, the series was able to achieve a comparatively digni- fi ed depiction of African Americans, shorn of conventional reliance on black stereo types, inner- city settings, and youth culture. Moreover, as Gray points out, through the use of African American high culture, it was impossible to treat the characters’ race as “an object of derision and fascination.” 24 Much like their African American counterparts, non- white viewers abroad appreciated and enjoyed the fact that show por- trayed nonwhites with dignity rather than derision. Despite the show’s break with conventional popu lar images of Afri- can Americans, it nevertheless retained a good deal of physical hu- mor, which has been prevalent in African American culture since the days of slavery. 25 For instance, in one episode, all of the family mem- bers perform a lip-synch pantomime of Ray Charles and the Raylettes’ “Night Time Is the Right Time” to the delight of the Huxtable grand- parents. Much of the humor derives from Bill Cosby’s exaggerated fa- cial expressions and reaction shots. In international markets, The Cosby Show ’s physical forms of comedy retained their humor because they were not based in verbal expressions that often lose their subtlety and effect in translation. Finally, The Cosby Show tried to include something for every viewer in order to gather the entire family in front of the set at a time when cable channels were focused on fragmenting the family into demo- graphic niches. Episodes frequently featured multiple story lines that highlighted family life, the romance between Cliff and Clair, the tra- vails of teenage life with Denise and later Theo and Vanessa, and childhood with Rudy and later Olivia. Thus, viewers from a wide range of circumstances could fi nd characters and plots that inter- sected with their own lives and interests. This kind of diversity ex- tends beyond the borders of the United States as well, as we frequently see international characters and plots. Theo’s math teacher Mrs. West- lake, for instance, is Portuguese. In the fi nal episode, we discover that Denise is living in Singapore. As John Downing has written, these “aspects of international culture are part of the Huxtables’ taken- for- granted world.” 26 As such, we might expect the show to appeal more to international viewers than a series focused solely on a single slice of American life. Black viewers from around the world responded well to the show’s unique depiction of black dignity through the show’s humor and the
T H E G R E AT E S T S H O W O N E A RT H 401 trope of African American high culture. Consider these comments from international black viewers: I like this show because it depicts black people in a positive way. I think [Cosby] is good. It’s good to see that black people can be professionals.—United States 27 Black people in this show are not isolated, no fun is made of Blackness, and the characters are shown leading wholesome nor- mal lives.—Barbados 28

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