Bill Cosby, Activism and “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition”

There is a theory that power (the notion of what it is and what it represents) is trumped by seduction.  Chiefly, that power is weaker than seduction because of its irreversibility.  A movement or a leader takes a stand forcing their program upon the public.  Whether it’s good (such as civil rights) or bad (such as Nazism), adversaries form an antithetical unit of power, opposing the dominate power to enact change; thus, power isn’t all powerful. Paradigms are born and those paradigms are destroyed by new paradigms, and so on. 

In an advocacy sense, seduction (the notion of what it is and what it represents) is reversible, but seeks to influence and not command. In this manner, seduction is similar to the concept of the past, where the past influences everything, but dictates nothing.  Seduction works by influencing the seduced to act on behalf of the message.  The messages vary such as live healthy, become a custodian for the environment, be charitable.  Messages are more meaningful when are acted upon through individual choice, rather than dictated by a governmental force (of power) or a de facto movement. 

At gallerydirect.com, we sometimes debate as part of our team-building exercises. These are useful discussions meant to encourage respect for our differences of opinion, while recognizing the need to converge as a team in order to be productive and in the end sell a bunch of artwork in the healthiest, most creative and most respectful way.

 At one such event a question was posed by our moderator.  Who is the greatest American activist? Some said Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., others, Malcolm X; there were some RFKs, some JFKs and one Ronald Reagan (weird I know).  As you can imagine a very lively discussion ensued. The only candidate presented that wasn’t assassinated or shot at was Bill Cosby.  I wish I had said that.

 MLK, Malcolm X, the Kennedys and Reagan are symbols of power.  Cosby is an entertainer.  Yet the case was convincingly made that he’s done more for civil rights than any African-American, past or present. A non-activist activist. 

Civil rights works best when acceptance is promoted. Who wouldn’t want to give rights to the “accepted?” Furthermore, what good are the rights to the newly bestowed, if they are not accepted universally?  How does one become accepted? By having a march or an assembly? By making a rousing speech?  I’m not criticizing these by any means, but movements and demagoguing are examples of power, and with power there is resistance and sometimes violence and death.  The best way to influence change and live another day to influence more change is by seducing the ignorant and the undecided.  The best way to seduce is to entertain.

Looking at Cosby’s television career, starting in 1965, he plays super-spy and scholar, “Scotty” in the groundbreaking and massively popular television show “I Spy.” His character was presented as an equal to his (white) partner “Kelly,” played by Robert Culp.  In “Scotty’s” realistic portrayal, by Cosby, race isn’t discussed or presented as an issue.  What’s more, he’s doing things that are not everyday, but rather things that are inspiring, while in the service of his country and chillin’ in exotic locations.  Moreover, “Kelly’s” acceptance and admiration for his partner “Scotty” translates to the audience’s acceptance and admiration.

In the 1970s, Cosby goes to work on my personal favorite of his shows, “Fat Albert & the Cosby Kids.”  What’s really accomplished here?  He’s bringing the message of acceptance by showing kids being kids (much like the “Our Gang” series of Hal Roach), but the kids happen to be African-American.  This show influenced a whole generation of suburban white kids, watching Saturday morning cartoons.  Again race isn’t the issue, just kids living in the city and learning important life lessons.

But in 1984, the debut of “The Cosby Show” took it to the next level. “The Cosby Show” was unparalleled in its depiction of an intellectual, prosperous, African-American family.  The show didn’t have to take a stance on race, instead became a prima facie statement of normal family life, promoting acceptance through entertainment by portraying acceptance.  Its symbol of change is cloaked in its portrayal of normalcy. To this day “The Cosby Show” remains the top rated show of all time.  We bring this case today, not because of our desire to show how our think tank operates, which has been described by some in the industry as radical.  We’re not trying to be overly philosophical, either. 

Gallery Direct is beyond delighted to be involved with “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition.”  A series that we feel is a direct descendant of the work produced by Mr. Bill Cosby. This is a show that influences many Americans to contribute to their community and consider the circumstances of others, but does it in a manner that is more applicable to today’s world through spectacle, collective-heroism and hyper-philanthropy.  “EMHE” is celebrating its eighth season, which is how long “The Cosby Show” reigned.  Much like the programs of Bill Cosby, it promotes unity and hope and entertains at the same time.  In the end, entertainment is as important as the message because if the show wasn’t entertaining, no one would watch, would they?

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