Images in popular culture are powerful. When Christi and I first saw David Palmer on 24, long before Obama ever burst onto the scene, I remember saying to her, “This is great for America! It will help get a lot of people more comfortable with images of a very good president who is also very black.” Earlier this week, Edward Gilbreath, pointed out a short article on UrbanFaith.com about the “Huxtable Effect.” “This is the notion that the middle-class African American family portrayed in Bill Cosby’s famous ’80s sitcom, The Cosby Show, had an impact on the way Americans voted in last month’s presidential election.”
I don’t want to take anything away from Obama’s brilliant campaign, but I suspect these positive images did help him pick up a few votes – especially from some of those who might otherwise harbor fearful emotions of one kind or another (and I certainly heard plenty of those).
Regarding the Huxtable effect, UrbanFaith article adds a qualification that makes an important point.
Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez, the columnist who coined the term “Huxtable Effect,” has since claimed the media misinterpreted what she was saying. “What I actually posited was much more complex than that,” she clarified. “I said that the social norms of a population are generally formed through its popular culture.” [emphasis mine]. In other words, our entertainment actually sets the standard for the public perception of what is socially and politically acceptable over time.
Gilbreath notes that Tiger Woods may have helped, and one of the comments on his Reconciliation blog post says: “I think Colin Powell and Condelezza Rice should be given some credit, too. We saw Bryant Gumbel on the morning news every day for several years. It all works together. Shirley Chisholm. Barbara Jordan. Andrew Young.”
Who would you add to this list? What popular images have shaped some of your perceptions? What does this about the importance images on TV, in popular fiction? What can we do about this?
Next: Who do I see when I hear “African-American” – the personal images.
Coming next week: Thinking about images of Africa: On one of my “most favoritest” blogs, What an African Woman Thinks, Rombo reflects on the implications of popular imagery for our dreams of Africa. (I have a few posts on that subject in the pipeline.)