Asia Cobbs
Professor Cirucci
COMM 200
Mid-term project

Same Lifestyle: Different World
The Cosby Show and The Fresh Prince of Bel-air were very popular sitcoms that had many diverse audience viewers. Ever since television's began in 1939, Blacks have often been portrayed as custodians, maids, servants, or clowns.

Ehrmann said it might be said that these Black sitcoms largely echoed the back lash against multiculturalism, stating that blacks can belong to a common American identity through the narrative of achieving the American dream. Alternatively, it may not be this simple.Perhaps the Cosby's and the Bank's had to be portrayed as "acceptable,” wealthy black families in order to gain a large, diverse audience (p 8)

Both Shows showed some sense of stereotypes, although some may not have portrayed it in that way. According to Ehrmann these shows aimed to mainstream portrayals of blackness. Blackness was associated with the lack of family values, poverty, rudeness, and uselessness. (P 16-17)

After decades of degrading media images of black people in other shows, the Huxtable family presented black characters that black and white audiences could relate to said Jhally and Lewis (2).
The Cosby show showcased dance, music and black art. It also introduced Historically Black Colleges and Universities through Cliff 's sweatshirts.

In the Enlightened Racism: The Cosby Show by Jhally and Lewis had their point of views of how the show was being look at, both views by whites and from Blacks. This show represents the family that had dreams of being someone and they worked hard to get where they wanted to be. For whites this is acceptable because they are portraying their values. Jhally and Lewis (1986) discuss how the show was an "unrealistic portrayal of a black life." I believe the show was a demonstration of how Blacks can make it, be as wealthy and as successful as a white family.
The show was seen either as socially progressive or as an apology for a racist system that disadvantages most black people. What do you think?

According to Erhmann, Bill Cosby along with Alvin Poussaint (who was hired by Cosby to review scripts in order to screen out any references that perpetrate stereotypes), but deliberately create positive images of blacks and references that expand the cultural context represented by the show. According to Alvin Poussaint, the Cosby show used small important details like using an anti-aprtheid poster on Theo's poster on Theo's door to represent a typical black families view toward apartheid in South Africa. Also honoring freedom fighters Winnie and Nelson Mandela, Sondra's named her children Winnie and Nelson as well.



The Fresh Prince of Bel-air was more of a comedy. This show also had high ratings for black and white audiences. I love how the show incorporated Will coming from a lower-class life and the Banks high class life. That showed how will coming from the “hood”, how it can help you experience things more critically when you fall into a more formal, wealthy surrounding.
In this show Will and Carlton portray completely different characters. Will knows that where he came from, that being in Bel-air is a second chance from the struggles he has been through. every obstacle he has, will manages to work it out on his own. Carlton on the other hand expects things to be handed to him and gives up very quickly. He is so obsessed with getting his way, when things go differently her jumps to the conclusion that he is a complete failure.

The show made the viewing more dangerous to me because since it was more of a comedy show, it made the stereotypes portrayed in the show less of a serious matter than what they really are. I think that may have been so, to make sure no one would feel offended in any way. But because of this society, we may begin to make media into reality which then people will begin to forget about the issue of the demographic.

For example, One episode, will and Carlton were arrested because they were seen driving a Mercedes. They were stopped because of the color of their skin. The message that I got out of this episode is that black people don’t normally drive Mercedes because they cannot afford it, so it looked as though they stole it. Will, being from the “hood” knew what the police were assuming because he has experienced things like this. He knew exactly what they were going to say before they even said it. But Carlton he was never brought up knowing that because of the color of his skin that he would be accused for such a crime.
Above is a video link that shows the scene of the episode. Take a look!

Now let's compare the level of success portrayed within the two shows.The Hutables live in a brownstone town house in Brooklyn where Clair (the mom) cooks homemade meals like a everyday mom and they have family activities together.
In the Fresh Prince of Bel-air, the Banks wealth is more extreme and rich than of the huxtables. The backs live in a mansion accessorized with a pool house and a Black butler. having a butler is a common image for a white lifestyle.

Money is what the kids were brought up to and they show it. Hilary seems to always have to ask for money for shopping like every day and Carlton he expects money for his school events. They dont share as many family gathering time together but there is advise always given throughout the show.

The Huxtables have more of a family connection and the Banks live their own lives, go about their day with less family time. I believe having less family time is a portrayal of reality today. Familes in today’s society have less family interactions.


In the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, the show represented para-social and cognitive dissonance relationships. The show portrays a para-social relationship because as the black audience viewed the show, they felt more connected with Will from his lifestyle in Philadelphia and his personality as a black individual. I think black people took advantage of the show to prove to Whites and/ society that it is hard to survive in the hood, that people should not doubt them and when an opportunity is given they will take it like Will did moving to Bel-Air. In the show Will is confident and himself. Blacks are comfortable with him and therefore can laugh at his jokes because they know that is how Black people act themselves sometimes.

Carlton and Will present a cognitive dissonance relationship. an example where Carlton wanted a scholarship from Harvard University but he did not get it. Because of that he thought he was a failure. Will went against what Carlton said because Will knows how smart Carlton is and told him he was smart. Carlton held on to this cognitive dissonant idea that there was no hope for him since he did not receive that one scholarship.

A para-social relationship between Cliff Huxtable and Bill Cosby were portrayed. The audience I believe connected with cliff because they seen him as Bill Cosby, not as a character a television show. People began to go off of status- quo and thought since they watched the Cosby Show, that they knew Cliff as well. Which again shows that our society is basing fictional characters and fictional shows to reality.

Cliff Huxtable Bill Cosby

Also agenda setting played a part in both sitcoms. Both shows played at a certain time appropriate enough for them to get several viewers to watch.

  • A black stereotype that is known is that black people are known as good dancers. Carlton on the other hand cannot, but his moves seem to influence the hit song "the Dougie" and many others. People seen Carlton's moves as "white" but if they are so white then why are blacks incorporating it?

People perceived this video differently just as they would any type of media. So many people would have different views on both of the shows.

Both the fresh prince of Bel-air and the Cosby show I think want to send a message to whites that they too can have lifestyles similar theirs.

The Cosby Show was more of a true reality to me because they knew they were black, they were successful, they knew their culture, they had a family which they portrayed as a normal family, they portrayed all of this without over doing it.

The Fresh Prince on the other hand, was a comedy, although Will was the character who brought reality to the show. Since he grew up in the hood, he had many experiences that none of the Banks children had. Although this was a black sitcom, it really did not portray their culture as it did in the Cosby Show. This show i believe was more informal.
It is interesting to note hat as NBC aired the final episode of The Cosby Show in April 1992, most other networks were showing the race riots occurring in Los Angeles in the wake of the Rodney King court decision.


Racism is powerful, it is still in effect. But on the flip side, you have to internalize yourself for racism to come into full effect. If Blacks look down on themselves and blame themselves for not being like the Huxtables then whites are more than likely going to blame them (blacks) for not being successful like the Huxtables or the Banks. If blacks start to believe their own stereotype, then they will begin to think down on themselves and negatively. If blacks doubt themselves then why can't whites? I believe that is what Enlightened Racism is.

Works Cited

Ehrmann, B. J. (2009). Black, White, and Watched All Over: The Racialized Meanings in 1990s Sitcoms.

Jhally, S. & Lewis, J. (1992). Enlightened Racism: The Cosby Show. retrieved from