Bill Cosby on whether the “Huxtable effect” helped Obama’s run

Bill Cosby seemed surprised and a little flattered by a writer’s theory that the “Huxtable Effect,” named for his 80s sitcom family, helped people feel comfortable voting a black man into office. Writer Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez coined the term “Huxtable effect,” which she meant as a counter to the “Bradley effect,” a theory that the polls might not be correct because people would fib about whether they’d actually vote for a person of color. Valdes-Rodriguez claims that positive images of African Americans in popular culture like on “The Cosby Show” helped change public perception, with Obama directly benefiting from that change in this election.

Cosby said of course his show wasn’t responsible for Obama’s win, and that the historic moment is more due to who Obama is as a person. Cosby told a very touching story about how he brought photos of his late parents and brother with him to the polling booth and said they were voting too.

Cosby talked about the concept for his 80s show, which was a positive family-friendly sitcom in which the parents, not the children, were in charge.

When Bill Cosby entered the polling booth in his neighborhood last week, he carried with him photographs of his late parents and Jimmy, the kid brother who died in childhood.

“I pulled out the pictures, pulled the curtain shut. And I said, `You guys are gonna vote.’ And they did, on one piece of paper,” Cosby said.

He couldn’t resist delivering a punch line for fellow voters in Shelburne Falls, Mass. _ “I yelled out, `How do you spell plumber?'” _ even as he exulted in casting his ballot for the first African-American president.

There’s an argument circulating that “The Cosby Show” laid the groundwork for President-elect Barack Obama by presenting an appealing black family, the Huxtables, to young TV viewers who grew up equipped to thwart stereotypes and barriers.

Writer Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez called her theory “the Huxtable effect,” a counter to the so-called Bradley effect (named for failed black California gubernatorial hopeful Tom Bradley) of possible hidden racism among white voters.

Ask Cosby, 71, his view of the part his 1984-92 NBC sitcom played as political groundbreaker, and the man who looms large as both a comedian and blunt commentator on black America first offers a measured appraisal.

“I was amazed when the young woman’s theory came through,” said Cosby. It sounds plausible, he mused, recalling the show’s immense popularity and the many times that fans said Cliff Huxtable reminded them of their dad _ their white dad.

But he chafes at what he calls the “Karl Rovian” interpretation, referring to the Republican strategist’s Election Night comment on Fox News that viewers embraced the Huxtables as “America’s family” and not a black one.

“The reason why he’s in the White House is Cosby? No, no, no,” Cosby said.

He suggests looking beyond the influence of a TV family to that of a real one: the household in which the future president was raised.

He cites Obama’s account of being woken early to do his homework and his mother’s refusal to brook any complaints. Cosby bows as well to Michelle Obama and her father, who refused special treatment despite multiple sclerosis.

“This is what Michelle and Barack are made of, the things they see” in their parents, he said.

It was Cosby’s firm belief in parental responsibility _ and aggravation over ’80s programs _ that shaped the creation of “The Cosby Show,” out this week in a boxed DVD set of the complete series.

“I was not happy with what we used to call family TV in those days. … They had all these shows where you just dropped to one knee and fired, then a car blew up or a plant blew up _ all this dopamine-raising violence,” he said.

At a time when the sitcom genre appeared near death, the few family comedies that aired were especially dismaying.

“The situation comedies were failing because they had children seemingly who had taken over the house. In a sense, TV comedy writers and producers had decided they would no longer have a family where grown people were making corrections and kids were going through … `Leave It to Beaver’ type things,” he said.

The idea for a show where “the parents weren’t losing to the kids” was rejected by other networks before NBC executive Brandon Tartikoff bought a revamped version of it, with the original blue-collar family now morphed into affluent professionals.

“The Cosby Show” starred the comedian as a mellow physician who, with his lawyer-wife Clair (Phylicia Rashad), kept a loving, firm hand on their five children.

Tartikoff knew that Cosby, a recording, movie and TV star (with shows including the 1960s “I Spy,” in which he was the first black star of a drama series), was funny and likable.

“And Tartikoff also said, `What I like about this show is dignity. The family has dignity,'” Cosby recalled. “And what’s odd about it is it was just natural for me. Because what I wanted, the only thing I wanted, was to stop these children on TV from running the house.”

Wasn’t he also intent on shattering racial stereotypes?

“Look, I’m already black,” Cosby said, so pressing the race issue “gets to be stupid after all.”

But, he adds, “What I did have in mind was that the images that you see on television are not the behaviors of Americans who are black. Racism is so stupid, but it is and it does exist. Period.”

[From AP via Huffington Post]

I watched this show all the time when I was a kid and you just kind of got involved in the story and didn’t think about the fact that the family wasn’t white. Maybe it did change people’s ideas about race, but it did it subtly by just being a fun show. That’s probably the most effective way of all.

“The Cosby Show” aired for eight years, from 1984 to 1992 on NBC, and according to TV Guide it “was TV’s biggest hit in the 1980s, and almost single-handedly revived the sitcom genre and NBC’s ratings fortunes.” [via Wikipedia]

Here’s a clip of Cliff trying to get Rudy to eat her vegetables.

If you’re in the US, you can watch whole episodes of The Cosby Show on YouTube.

Bill Cosby is shown outside The Late Show on 10/11/08 (credit: WENN) and performing on 1/20/08. Credit: PRPhotos

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7 Responses to “Bill Cosby on whether the “Huxtable effect” helped Obama’s run”

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  1. Henrietta says:

    Oh dear, Bill – stay home. Cosby is dying for publicity, that’s all I see.

  2. Kim says:

    Thar was a cute story about all his family ‘voting’. Loved the Cosby show. Always will.

  3. Ernestine says:

    Oh my God, you are the SHIT for that youtube Cosby link!!! I never think to watch this show during my downtime, but I’ve always, always loved it. I was the same age as Rudy and sort of grew up alongside her. *sigh.* The Cosby Show is like Thanksgiving and marshmallow smores and hot chocolate in one half-hour dose: pure comfort. I still adore it, and it’s still funny. And if it helped in any way to elect Obama, great! Gee. A positive portrayal of African Americans! Crazy!

    The Huxtables are better than the neck-snapping, grill-wearing, goblet-holding, jibber-jabbering, bling-laden representations of black people you so often find in pop culture. Hell yes. Viva la Huxtable. I’d be glad to know if TCS really DOES have that much of an influence, still.

    Favorite episode: when Cliff’s parents have their 50th Anniversary and the entire family lipsyncs to Ray Charles’ “Night and Day” as a sort of present/tribute.

  4. elisha says:

    We learned about this kind of stuff EXTENSIVELY in one of my media classes in college. Many media analysts think the Cosby show did more harm than good by letting mainstream America believe that there was no more work to be done when it came to equality and civil rights.

    I don’t think it helped Obama win. Didn’t do any harm either… I forgot it was even on.

  5. Syko says:

    I think that the Cosby show may have made some people who’d never been around a black family a little more comfortable with it, by seeing that black families are just like white families, just a group of people who love each other, are related and live together. Nothing special or sinister at all. But I think it’s Obama’s intelligence, charisma and the fact that he looked presidential while a bitter old man stood there telling lies that won him the election. He didn’t win because he is black. He won because he’s who he is.

    But just possibly Cosby may have made a few people able to see him for what he is, instead of just another black man.

  6. vdantev says:

    Tell Bill to have a Coke and a smile and to shut the hell up.

  7. Shay says:

    How is Bill dying for attention when he didn’t write the article about the theory and was asked about it?