Underline Perception vs The Reality: African American Families
The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air vs The Cosby Show

The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air is a show centered on a character named William“Will” Smith. Smith is an urban youth from

44385_the_fresh_prince_of_belair.jpgWest Philadelphia, PA. He is very “street smart” and witty. After an altercation with some neighborhood “thugs”, Smith is sent to live with his mother’s sister, Vivian Banks, and her family in Bel-Air, CA. The Banks family consisted of; Vivian Banks, Phillip “Uncle Phi” Banks, Carlton Banks, Hilary Banks, Ashley Banks and Nicky Banks. The Banks parents are very well off, but have come through the “struggles of life” to get to the status that they live in. The show was broadcasted in 1990 for six seasons that ended in 1996.

The Cosby Show is a about a middle class family, The Huxtables. This African American family external image the-cosby-show-7.jpglived in a brownstone in Brooklyn Heights, NY. The father, Heathcliff Huxtable is an obstetrician and his wife Clair Huxtable is an attorney. They have five children; Theodore “Theo” Huxtable, Rudith “Rudy” Huxtable, Vanessa Huxtable, Denise Huxtable and Sondra Huxtable. The show was broadcasted in 1984 for eight seasons that would end in 1992.

The trouble that most viewers run in to is that there is an underline perception and the reality for the “African American family” Both sitcoms provides the viewer with a form of insight in what the “African American family” looks like or can look like. Both sitcoms give off two similar yet very different perception of what the “African American family” looks like. But with the perception given off by both shows, which one gives the best sense of the “African American family”?

The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air is the show that many African American families can relate to in the sense that the character “Will” came from the inner-city and had the “hip hop” attitude. Will was introduced to the “Banks lifestyle” after coming from the everyday “real life struggles” that exist when individuals do not have access mass amounts of money like the Banks did. Will become acclimated to the lifestyle and allows it to make him into a better man instead of become something he was not traditionally. In other words, the values he came to Bel-Air with stayed the same but he was able to mature them. So for the viewer it becomes easier to develop a para-social relationship with not only the character but to the show itself. To the viewer this was more so believable and/or achievable for the African American families watching.

The Cosby Show on the other hand is the more “watered down” view on what the “African American family” looks like. The perception is more “friendly” to the majority of the population, rather than the minority that it represented. Although The Cosby Show did give a positive outlook to the “African American family”, the underline perception giving by the show was that there were no “color barriers” or “hardships” that allowed them to get there they are. By doing this the viewer become acquainted with cultural theory. By watch the show, the viewers tend to believe what they watch, no matter how fictional it may be, and allow it to alter their reality or even become their reality. The problem exists, because that perception giving is not as easy obtainable in reality as it is in sitcom.

In Jhally and Lewis article “Enlightened Racism”, Alvin Poussaint states that unlike The Cosby Show, other shows like The Jeffersons, Sanford and Son and Good Times were “full of jivin’, jammin’, streetwise style stuff” and that “The Cosby Show, however portrayed comedic black characters with dignity and humanity”. This could not be a more false statement. In the very first episode it opens with the family “jivin’ and jammin’” in the kitchen. Poussaint reaffirms very own statement in which he says “that is the worst kind of stereotyping”.
external image enlightened_racism.gif

Also in Jhally and Lewis “Enlightened Racism”, Henry Gates states “that the Huxtables’ charmed life is so alien to the experience of most black people that they are no longer “black at all but in most respects, just like white people.” It is very hard for one to argue against this statement due to the fact that there are no hints or signs that the lifestyle they are living was not just given to them.

This brings up the last point, in “Enlightened Racism”, John Downing host several valid statements. Downing “acknowledge, the show does let racism off the hook”. But why is this? To make a sexternal image black-white-family01.jpguccessfully show that the majority will watch to form a better assessment of a false “African American family” which will lead to the great rating that the show achieved? Downing states “to be as good as it is and to have gotten past these barriers is a major achievement in itself”. This state that Downing agrees that the creators were not focused on having a realistic show based on an “African American family”, but that they wanted to produce a show about a “African American family” that could “crossover” and that the minority could relate to, regardless how accurate or fictional it was.

So in the underline perception vs reality as it pertains, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and The Cosby Show, only one sitcom gave the best sense of the “African American family”. The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air gave the viewer a more insightful idea of what the “real” African American family should and/or can look like.

sixthdude. (Producer). (2009). The fresh prince of bel air season 1 epsiode1 part 1 . [Web Video]. Retrieved from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9j8B7pq_BR4
TheBishopCJ. (Producer). (2009). The cosby show season 1 episode 1 part 1 . [Web Video]. Retrieved from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kezs4Y6PoeI
Jhally. , & Lewis, (n.d.). Enlightened racism.