The Cosbys Are Aliens
In 1984, America was introduced to what was then a mystery to them, a happy and extremely wealthy black family on The Cosby Show. This was particularly bewildering to white people, who had been trained to believe that black people were rarely doctors or lawyers, and here was one family who had both, as well as children who had goals, went to college, and were always self-aware about how their parents might view their actions, so they never took chances too large.
Remember how one of the most disruptive things to occur on the show was that Denise didn’t want to go back to college (the same college the entire family had gone to for many generations), and the fact that she wanted to just experiment in her life and not take the job that Sandra and Elvin were offering her at their store (keeping everything in the family again) and instead just float around and try to make it in the music industry, was seen as a huge betrayal, and a major crisis. How dare Denise be a 20 year old and not know exactly what she wants in life and have all of her goals completely mapped out and organized. How rather than take Clair to her senior prom, Cliff studied for his medical exams, because work is more important than experience.
What does this all mean? Well, even though no political affiliation was ever established, I’d say that it’s fairly obvious that The Cosbys were republicans, based on their community status, milquetoast and non-controversial opinions, insistence on the importance of money (think about how often they tried to teach Theo about the value of money, rather than let him make his own mistakes and find out for himself), enormous focus on the importance of family, etc. Not that there is anything wrong with being republican, but it helps explain why white America in the 80′s (the Reagan era) was willing to make the leap to accept this family, which would have been far more alien to them if they had been card carrying democrats. Think about how long Good Times lasted before the whole show was turned into a cartoon, because having to think about strife and poverty on TV, i.e. dealing with reality, is too much to take.
Why does it matter that the Cosbys were republicans? Normally, it wouldn’t, but recently it got to me thinking. When I was in college, at one point we studied the popularity of The Cosby Show, and how there were many complaints about it from the black community because it’s portrayal of the black family in America were unrealistic. I always felt it was unfair, to lay an entire representation of a culture, 10% of the population, on one TV show, even if it was one of the few black shows on the air, and certainly the only crossover hit with white audiences. Isn’t it enough that the show was an extremely positive portrayal of black culture and very much playing up the value of family and how useful and supportive it can be? But then it hit me. I knew why they were so angry about The Cosby Show for being unrealistic.
If we learned anything from John Carpenter’s classic They Live, it’s that any person who is obsessed with money, only wants you to marry and reproduce, and insists you follow whatever the government says, is not only a republican, but also an alien.
Does that mean that the fact that the Cosbys were republicans made them aliens as well? I wasn’t sure. That is, until I was watching the show this afternoon and came upon a notion. While Cliff may be the head of the family, he seems to have the least control, and it appears that Clair’s feelings on the matter are often the final ones. But really, if you pay careful attention, it’s all subterfuge. The most strong willed in the family, and the least willing to budge and the bossiest, is most certainly Vanessa. She orders her sisters and Theo around all the time and rarely does what her parents want without whining or an enormous hissy fit. If something is important to her, she fights and gets it, and I swear that Clair, though extremely strong-willed was only ever intimidated by Vanessa, because it was the only time she would face a legitimate challenge.
As the show went on to its final seasons, the reasoning behind this became extremely apparent. If you track Vanessa’s hair throughout the years, it didn’t seem significant. But then by the sixth and seventh season (it’s the era where the family performs ballet in the opening credits), as the family was ready to go back to their home planet, the message became clear. Vanessa was the head of the family, both literally and metaphorically. Her hair was the spaceship with which they planned to fly back in.
If they wanted to get home safely, they had to appease and kowtow to her every wish, lest she not let them get on board her massive platform hair. You think this is all a coincidence? The producers of The Cosby Show, Tom Werner and Marcy Casey decided a few years later to try a more honest version of the same concept, which was Third Rock From the Sun, also about an alien family, and also with the oldest and wisest of the family having to wear the skin of the youngest, the teenage son. It also featured the notion of a giant head (played by William Shatner) controlling the actions of everyone else, and having all of the characters fear this head.