Asia Black

Prof. Cirucci

Intro to Mass Comm

1 Nov. 2011

A New Light

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The Fresh Prince of Bel-air and The Cosby Show were both very influential shows in black culture. The both of these shows present black families who are substantially wealthy living in upscale neighborhoods. The Cosby Show was put out long before The Fresh Prince of Bel-air. While The Cosby Show was on air it was listed as number one on the TV rating charts, by far. The Cosby Show is the exact opposite of what most of America stereotypes a typical black family as. It set a new standard for what a show featuring a black family should be like. Sut Jhally and Justin Lewis argue that the show is a positive look for blacks; however the show is unrealistic in the sense that it shows no struggle. In Sut Jhally and Justin Lewis’s Enlightened Racism they say that “The Cosby Show reinforces the myth that blacks who are not successful only have themselves to blame.” (Jhally & Lewis 3) Saying that unsuccessful blacks are responsible for being so, disregards issues that have been problems for some time now. Both of these shows try to go against the stereotypes about blacks that most people believe in. The Cosby Show neglected uncomfortable topics like racism. By not showing racism people could potentially continue to think that it does not exist anymore, which is dangerous. Racism does exist, but not everyone realizes this.

The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air mentions The Cosby Show countless times in various episodes. This is not only is that paying homage to The Cosby Show, but it is also shows the audience that The Cosby Show probably influenced The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air somehow. The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air never shied away from showing racism or any other relevant issues happening in reality around that time period. This could be a form of agenda setting. Agenda setting is when media tells the viewers what to think about, but does tell them what to think. The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air is a show about a young man named Will who moves from his mother's urban home in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to his uncle's luxury mansion in Bel-Air, California because he was getting into trouble (theme song). Will is played by movie superstar Will Smith. Will has trouble adjusting to his new environment, his lifestyle often clashes with those around him. This sitcom illustrates a bunch of different stereotypes, but differently from The Cosby Show.

A lot of people can comfortably say that these two shows impacted their lives; I know a lot of people who pretty much grew up watching these shows. When you invest so much time into these sitcoms and getting to know the characters, para-social relationships form consciously or unconsciously. Will Smith has tons of fans based off his career as an entertainer. On account of roles like Will on The Fresh Prince people like him, or feel that they know him personally. It becomes very possible to confuse a fictional character with who the person is in reality. The Cosby Show showed Bill Cosby playing Cliff, although the two men really do have a lot in common as far as financial stability and family goes; one is real and the other one is made up. Having these para-social relationships can also be the reasoning for why blacks as a race compare themselves to the way these actors were living on the show.

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Will brings the harsh realities of being black into his new wealthy atmosphere, which is blinded. Carlton who plays Will’s cousin in the show is very educated and intelligent, does not speak in black dialect, has been rich all of his life, and has a prominent judge for a father. Since he has all these aspects he doesn’t really know about discrimination. Upon looking at Carlton the first thing a person would notice is the fact that he is black. Unfortunately, some people have a problem with the color of his skin. He is still discriminated against before anything is known about him. Will who is almost the exact opposite of Carlton, has the fact of being black in common with him. Please click here to see what I mean.

Images affect the way society feels about every race. The images of white people are always being saturated, and every race is compared to whites. To be affected by racism, you have to know what it is. Racism is mainly about power, when racist actions are put into play, someone has to be the victim. Enlightened racism is just as bad as obvious racism. In The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, we have a struggle to see what it is to be black. The fact that other black people don’t feel as if Carlton is considered authentically black because he never went through a struggle, dresses clean cut, and does not speak with black dialect is ridiculous. All of Carlton’s traits do not change the color of his skin. Acceptance and internalization of stereotypes makes people actually believe in these stereotypes. It’s not just other races that believe these stereotypes heavily, blacks also feed into and believe these stereotypes. For an example, in the episode when Will and Carlton try to pledge. Carlton does everything asked of his potential brothers asks him to, but when it's time to see if he's accepted, the fraternity turns him down, even though he meant all the regulations needed. He was turned down because of who he is.


In the clip above cognitive dissonance is also shown. Cognitive dissonance is believing in something heavily, and then hearing that it is not true. Logical evidence must be provided to prove that it’s not true. When Carlton expresses how he feels about the reason he was not accepted into that fraternity, we see the lead fraternal member suffering from this. From the look on his face I would say that he was not only let down, but also in shock. As humans we do not enjoy being proved wrong, especially when we feel something is so right.

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The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air put issues like racism on the front line to be talked about. Being that the show is so popular, it obviously taught people lessons about how things are in a black household. However did not reach everyone. Even though the Banks family were rich they still had to deal with discrimination. This is very realistic. Although The Cosby Show did show blacks in a new positive light, The Fresh Prince did so as well not omitting the race card; a very important factor. People in and out of the black race believe stereotypes, and act upon them. Until stereotypes are not being fueled, people will continue to believe in them. I feel like this whole concept has a lot to do with the cultivation theory. According to George Gerbner, television is our narrative. I couldn’t agree with him more. We allow television to become the narrator of life as we know it. People from all different cultures and background watch television, and their beliefs start becoming more and more similar. A lot of the content seen on television have all the same point of views. After watching the same thing over and over it naturally becomes apart of your belief system.


Sut Jhally and Justin Lewis. Enlightened Racism: The Cosby Show, Audiences and the Myth of the American Dream. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1992.

Baran, Stanley J. "Theories and Effects of Mass Communication." Introduction to Mass Communication: Media Literacy and Culture. New York: McGraw-Hill Higher Education, 2010. 376. Print.


©Asia A. Black [Introduction to Mass Communications Fall 2011]