every friday morning i was eager to get to school to laugh with my friends about what we saw on the cosby show the night before. the show was funny and it had black people on it and one was a doctor and another was a lawyer and their kids went to college... wow, college... like my parents wanted me to go to college. if i wanted, i could grow up to go to college like sondra and denise and become a doctor that delivered little babies like cliff. and i could live in a house with expensive artwork and go on homecoming trips with my family to a historically black college and have my own room like clair with french doors - "inside... outside!!!"
i kinda understood what dr. cosby was doing when i was a child. i knew there was a difference between married with children and the cosby show - that there were shows with "good" families and shows with "bad families." i also knew there was a difference between what's happening and the cosby show - that there were black people on tv that you laughed at, and black people on tv that you laughed with. i also understood on some level that there's room for all kinds of entertainment. but i think that's as far as it went.
watching cosby reruns today, i find it amazing that i sat through some of those episodes, that i watched and understood them as a child. but i realize that i watched them with a child's understanding in the same way that children witness the adulthood of their parents with a child's understanding and inquisitiveness, watching them for clues and habits and behaviors. maybe i didn't have the comprehension then that i do now, but that's how children learn. and so i learned. the cosby show was like a field trip. there were cameo appearances from famous people like lena horne and dizzy gillespie and miriam makeba - names i wouldn't have known from the hood, not in my generation anyway. nancy wilson and phylicia rashad sang moody's mood for love. framed black art adorned the walls of the home. "hillman college" became a symbol of the destination i wanted to leave home for. bill cosby was basically being the black mr. rogers. y'all remember mister rogers - the one who would teach children about the world around them by speaking plainly and breaking it down? well, his chocolate counterpart was heathcliff huxtable.
i remember hearing that the show was unrealistic because most black people didn't live like that. okay, so maybe most don't. but did that make the show any less valid as entertainment? it was funny. it made us laugh every thursday night. and let's not forget the mr. rogers factor. besides, did good times reflect all of black experience? of course not - we don't all live in the projects. but that's the thing - we are not all alike, our experiences vary, and the cosby show showed just one of many experiences.
what's interesting is that the older i get, the more i see in the show. things i understood in 1985 were seen from a different angle in 1995 and here it is 2005 and i still pick up things from a different angle than i did before. time and life experience give me new lenses with which to relate to the story lines and understand the character traits. i myself have been denise, headed towards flunking my college classes because of bad study skills. i myself have been vanessa, ready to defy convention for love, and ultimately too scared and unprepared to take the chance on it. i understand now why cliff and clair were so mad at sondra and elvin about the wilderness store and i also understand now why they put off law school and med school. i so understand why denise left hillman to go to africa and why she had such a hard time settling down. maybe one day i'll better understand why sondra went on a rampage when the grandmothers took her babies, or i'll better understand denise and martin's challenges with a precocious three-year-old.
my "friday mornings" have changed now. instead of singing kenny and b.b. king's "i gave you seven children, now you wanna give 'em back" to entertain my classmates, i now think of the value of seeing b.b. king and lucille when i was a kid and having had exposure to that part of the black experience. i'm not saying the show is the end-all be-all of television. but it does tell facets of our story - our culture, our family values, our history, and our challenges - very, very well.