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‘The Huxtable Effect’ and Obama

Posted by Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez, Brave New Films 

I voted early at the University of New Mexico today. As I stood in line (for 35 minutes) I tried to read a book and tried not to listen to other people’s conversations. I managed the first okay, but the second? Failed.

Sometimes eavesdropping has its reward. A couple of twenty-something college students, neither one African-American, stood in front of me chatting about how they both used to wish Cliff Huxtable was their dad when they were kids. Cliff was tough, but cool. He wore ugly sweaters — a plus ever since Mr. Rogers made it fatherly chic.

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.

Social scientists have long shown the link between what children see in popular media and how they view the society those images purport to represent. (A good source list here.)

In fact, it has been theorized that every major political movement in the United States has followed, by about two decades, a matching movement in the arts and pop culture.

The Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s onward was predated by theHarlem Renaissance in literature and art, and the hyper-intellectualbebop movement in jazz, by about 20 years.

The women’s rights movement that peaked in the 1960s and 1970s followed by about 30 years the Rosie the Riveter movement in American popular culture, which aimed to show strong women in movies and in music, spurring 6 million women to replace men at war in factory jobs.

There are no accidents of public consciousness, and there is no better tool for changing perceptions of social roles than popular culture.

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.

Read the full story here.

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November 3, 2008 - Posted by | **MAIN**, Entertainment, Politics | , , , , , , , ,

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