Thea Moss
October 28, 2011
Intro to Mass Communications


In late 1990, The Fresh Prince of Bel Air debuted on NBC. The show featured blossoming rapper Will Smith as the star show, accompanied by an all black cast. Will was a young teen from Philadelphia, who was shipped to California to live with his rich extended family. Unfamiliar with the affluent lifestyle, Will gets into trouble throughout the series, because his behaviors are unchanged by his surroundings. Although living in a mmillion dollar mansion, paid for by multi- wealthy judge does not represent the life style of an average young teen, let alone an African-American, various situations used throughout the sitcom use media theories to connect audience to cast. These theories shape the way we think and behave.

Will's Role

Will being the star of the show, creates para-social relationship with his audience. He had a previous fan base because of his rising rap career. His behavior on the show reflect his behavior on many of his music videos including Parents just dont understand and Girls ain't nothing but trouble.Will is light-hearted, using comedy and jokes to conveying a sense of reality. Coming on to the show, many audience members connect Will's behaviors on the show, his music career, and his real life. Because his behaviors parallel each other, the assumption of reality may true because they may closely reflect each other. Will is a character that many black viewers at the time could connect with because, the way he acted reflected the behavior of a typical young urban black teen. On the show, the money he walked into did not affect the way he acted.
Jhally and Lewis state in Enlightened Racism, that The Cosby Show provides whites with a relief from not only fear but from responsibility (Jhally&Lewis, 8), the same could be said for The Fresh Prince. Will may give white audiences a sense of relief and reassurance pertaining to black stereotypes. His character is portrayed as a Tom and Buck by using comic relief and hyper sexuality. Whites may think that all urbanized black youth act like Will, defacing school property, chasing after girls, and constantly acting up at home.

will_pimp.jpg VS. carlton.jpg
Blackness VS. Whiteness

Throughout the sitcom Will and Carlton switch between being the protagonist and antagonist, one usually getting the other into trouble, while one character rescuing the other out of trouble. But the main conflict between these two are the concept of whiteness vs. blackness. Carlton is a symbol for the wealthy black kid who never had to face the struggles of poverty, social, and racial injustices. He is a straight A student hoping that his squeaky clean record gets him into an Ivy League school just like his father. Carlton is not and will never be the face of black teens around this country. He does not represent the majority of America, in retrospect he represents 3.5% of Americans in this country.(Danko&Stanley) Just as Jhally and Lewis stated about the Huxtables the same can be said for The Banks children, " the Huxtable's achievements, lend creditably to the idea that anyone can make it, the comforting assumption of the American dream, which is a myth that sustains a conservative potical ideology blind to the inequalities hindering persons born on the mean streets and privileging those born on easy street." (Jhally&Lewis 7,8)

This may well in fact be the reason why Will constantly picks on Carlton. It may be because Carlton doesn't know the struggle, or maybe he goes out of his way to dress preppy and speak "proper". But if this is how Carlton was brought up how can anyone expect for him to change his behaviors. No one expects Will to change coming from the West side of Philly. Carlton's surroundings and experiences growing up have left him thinking that his way of life is right, he shouldn't have to change to gain "black points". Will is looked at my viewers as the "cool one", he gets all the girls and even steals Carlton's friends at prep school. In this episode, Will has an interview with a Princeton recruiter. He uses slang and has his cap on backwards. The recruiter is unimpressed with his grades and extra curricular activities, he's certain that Will is an unqualified canditate. Will ultimately uses his personality to swindle the recruiter. The recruiter asks Will to consider, but Will ends up turning the offer down. Carlton is in complete shock Will wooed the recruiter. That episode shows that all of the grades and accolades in the world will get you nowhere without personality.
The relationship between Carlton and Will proves the social cognitive theory. Social cognitive theroy argues that people copy the behaviors they see. In the case of Carlton and Will, Will seen as the superior character constantly antagonizes Carlton because of he lack of "blackness". Viewers may apply the three social cognitive theory while watching the show: observational learning, inhibitory effects, and dis inhibitory effects. Viewer observe the relationship between Will and Carlton, throughout the series Will gets applauded for his personality: being able get all the girls, make people laugh, and work his way out of various situations. Carlton seems to get put down because he does not fit the role of a "typical black male" for example; being apart of the glee club, wearing lacoste instead of Jordans, and dancing his infamous Carlton dance. Viewers may now carry what they observed from the show and apply it into their real lives, by treat everyone that looks like Carlton "less than". It is more likely for viewers of the Fresh Prince to accept a person dressed like this
will_car.jpgthan someone who dresses like thiscar_dressed.

In this episode Will gets accepted into the fraternity that Carlton wanted to get inducted into. He explains to Will that Carlton isn't what thier fraternity is looking for because he has everything handed to him. Carlton explains that he is black and facing the same struggles as any other black man, the way he cares himself, dances, or dresses does not make him any less of a black man. The black race constantly judges each other based on the stereotypes other races places on us.
The Fresh Prince of Bel Air,taught very valuable lessons pretainting to race, class and family. The sitcom broke down barriers and touched on subjects in the black household The Cosby never attempted. It also reinforces racial sterotypes and encourages media our own race pre judge us, and reinforce racial hegemony.Where in Philadelphia or Bel Air black, white or green, viewers across America still love this show because it has become apart of the social fabric of our culture.


Stanley, Thomas, and William Danko. "The Millionare Next Door: The Suprising Secrets of America's Wealthy." 1996. Web.

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