The end of racism and the last ideology: The Cosby Show’s Fukuyaman neo-liberal children
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AbstractBoth popular and academic discourses on The Cosby Show have focused on the eponymous family’s post-racial representation. Challenging historically negative television and film depictions of the African American as an exotic and/or savage ‘Other’, the program’s upper middle-class professional family presented 1980s white America with an image of blackness that had been fully assimilated into hegemonic culture. Academic analyses of this acculturation have considered both the impact of this ostensibly positive depiction of the black family for white audiences, and the subtle traces of African American social and cultural experiences which appealed to black audiences. Discourses about the show’s children have also positioned the characters’ relationships with their white contemporaries within a post-racial context, so that they undergo the same kind of bildungsroman angst and trajectory as other, whiter, 1980s coming-of-age narratives, without any particular experience rooted in racial difference. This essay situates the show’s children within a wider post-racial context that dominated American political and social culture during the period 1984-1992 when the show ran. This was the era of triumphant Reaganomics, punctuated by the fall of the Berlin Wall, and bookended with Francis Fukuyama’s influential panegyric to neo-liberalism’s victory over every other possible form of ideology, The End of History and the Last Man. The Cosby Show’s professional American nuclear family is post-racial not only because of the gradual impact of socio-cultural and legal developments emanating from the Civil Rights movement. Even more fundamentally, the enormous popularity of the show’s Huxtable family, amongst both black and white audiences, in America and beyond, encapsulates Fukuyama’s color-blind ideological model – a celebration of hard work and cooperation leading to the enjoyable consumption of plenty, with any inconvenient impediments to this vision, such as race, class, gender or sexuality, overcome through virtuous labor and consumption. The show’s children, inheritors of the End of History, are the central drivers and beneficiaries of this process.
CitationGeal, R. (2018) The end of racism and the last ideology: The Cosby Show’s Fukuyaman neo-liberal children, in Schoeber, A. and Olson, D. (Eds.) Children, Youth, and American Television. London: Routledge.
TypeChapter in book