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Class and Cranapple Juice: The World According To Cousin Pam

Towards the end of “Period of Adjustment,” the sixth season episode of The Cosby Show that introduces Cousin Pam, one of her friends “from the ‘hood,” Lance stands in the Huxtable living room asks for some cranapple juice because, as he wryly observes, “this looks like a house that would have some cranapple juice.”  Within the context of the show’s history, it is a moment fraught with social and class implication and directly addresses a theme that haunted the program throughout its history.  I see the cranapple juice ss nothing less than a signifier representing a certain set of critiques that dogged The Cosby Show throughout its existence.  For Lance, cranapple juice is something you see on television on commercials and shows, not a drink that you can get in real life.  And for Lance-and many viewers-The Huxtables’ life seemed just as unrealistic as the cranapple juice.

Since the beginning, The Cosby Show had always been criticized in some circles for what some saw as an unrealistic depiction of a black family.  Ironically, most of the loudest voices putting forth this critique were African-American. To put it bluntly, some black folks  didn’t think the Huxtable lived like real black folks because they had too much money.  The concept of a black pediatrician and a black lawyer was just too much for a lot of people to wrap their heads around.  Personally, I trace the furor to the infamous second season episode, “The Auction,” when Clair pays $10,ooo for a painting.  Even though the script went to great pains to show that the painting was purchased for sentimental reasons and the follow-up episode, “Vanessa’s Rich,” tried to defuse the brouhaha, I don’t think the Huxtables ever really recovered from what many viewed as the proof of their extravagance.

And, importantly, the show had only really addressed the critique, until this point, through the faceless girls who had jumped Vanessa in the aforementioned episode.  After that, the issue of the Huxtables class status was never addressed again.  The introduction of Cousin Pam, one of Clair’s relatives who apparently lived in the other part of Brooklyn, introduced a different dynamic, however.  Unlike Vanessa’s nameless assailants, Pam was a new cast member who brought along a whole gaggle of recurring characters.  And Pam’s crew all served as voices to interrogate the different types of class experiences that black people have on an ongoing basis.

I thought it was a brilliant move on the part of Cosby and the other creators and, the inclusion of Cousin Pam, led to a series of storylines that earlier seasons couldn’t have explored.  Rather than set up that same ol’ tired, “bourgie black folks are stiff and rigid and poor black folks sho’ can get down!” dichotomy, Cousin Pam, literally, personified the fact that we are all one family regardless of what it says on our W4 and, as evidenced by Pam’s girl Charmaine’s migration from “the ‘hood” to the ivory towers of A Different World’s Hillman College, class is not an impenetrable barrier.  Whether the family grappled with Pam’s boyfriends incidence on unprotected sex, the incidence of Pam serving as protector as Rudy went to see a rapper in a seedy club, or Cliff and Clair discussing how they’re going to pay for Pam to go to college, the inclusion of Cousin Pam completely dissembled any notion that the Huxtables were untouchable and weren’t “real.”

Moments after Lance asks about the cranapple juice, Cliff and Clair come in from a date.  After they are introduced, Cliff asks Cousin Pam to offer her friends a snack and tells her that he’s pretty sure they have some cranapple juice.  It’s a funny moment and, certainly, after six years, it’s a moment when the writers are playfully addressing the issue of socioeconomics and the Huxtables.  What I think is more important than the fact that, while the Huxtables indeed have cranapple juice,  Cosby & co. let you know that the juice is for everyone.

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No, Really? Henry Louis Gates?

Y’know, racism/non-racism aside, my real question is, how stupid is that policeman and the Cambridge Police Dept? Seriously, is there a more famous face at Harvard than Henry Louis Gates? And, even if there is, he’s certainly the most famous black face. Plus, plus, PLUS, let’s just be serious here; how many black faculty members could Harvard have? If I was in charge of the Cambridge PD, I would have a sheet with the pictures of all the black faculty at Harvard…all twelve of them…and I would hand them out to the officers. In fact, I bet that’s what they do now because, boy, they stepped in it with Gates! Oh, Our Kind Of People are about to put their educated foot in the police’s ass.

(I also would like to know more about the lady who again lives on a street with Henry Louis Gates but doesn’t know who he is…)

MJJ RIP

It’s a shame that it has been a month since I posted and the last thing I wrote about was a Michael-less Jacksons album. And here we are.

I’m still a little in shock but the first few things that are on my mind-

-At least the freakshow is over. I know it’s going to be some foolishness with the toxicology report and, probably, some madness about who gets the kids but, at least, new ongoing Mike dumb sh#$ is done and, eventually, people will focus on the music.

-You know what’s really amazing to me? How people are genuinely surprised by how much they’re wrecked. Like, I’m looking at papers and TV and young, hip, ironic cats who, two days ago, wouldn’t be caught dead claiming Jackson are fell out in the streets trying to get themselves together.

-I’ll go ahead and call it; I don’t need to hear the songs, “Thriller,” “Billie Jean” or “Beat It” ever again. The media acts like that is the sum total of what that man’s done. One of the enduring memories for me from this period will be the CNN footage showing the impromptu gathering at the Apollo last night where a crowd of black people started singing “Rock With You”…because black people are Off The Wall people.

-Conversely, watching videos, you forget just how long Mike made good music. Again, folks act like he stopped making records afterThriller. “Man in the Mirror”, “Remember the Time,” “Smooth Criminal,” “Another Part of Me,” that friggin’ “Butterflies”; Mike’s catalog is long and deep.

Ain’t We Lucky We Had Him?

Painter Ernie Barnes died yesterday.  Barnes is best known as the real life artist who provided the art for J.J. on Good Times.  I’ve always had a soft spot for the painter’s work, not just because of the Good Times connection, but also because he was one of the first artists I was exposed to who showed urban life as beautiful.  From the potrait of the Evans family that is shown in the credits, to the potraits of Black Jesus and Sweet Daddy, as well as scenes of basketball players and drunks on the street, Barnes’ work was a wonderful combination of the high and the low. 

My favorite Ernie Barnes story actually comes from something I read in Wax Poetic last year.  In the midst of a great Bill Wither’s interview, the singer comments on the fact that he allowed Kanye West to sample “Roses” after a conversation the two had at Ernie Barnes’ house.  And that’s Ernie Barnes; bringing together different aspects-and creators-of the Black Experience and showing that all of it is beautiful.

Black Maybe

Still on my Bobby Jindal obsession a little bit.  Thought his 60 Minutes interview was fascinating and doesn’t change my opinion that he’s a smart cat that I hope the GOP attaches their cart to.  The one thing that really stood out to me was something his wife said that alludes to my earlier post.  When asked about their Indian heritage, Mrs. Jindal said they didn’t think of themselves as Indian, they thought of themselves as American.  Now, as an African-American from a certain place and space, that kind of talk from people of color always makes my skin crawl because, what I hear is, “I’d rather just be like everyone else, which really means, ‘white.'”  But I understand that this space that I come from also never could have foreseen Barack Obama being elected president.  My question is, in a post-Obama landscape, what racialized space does this mindset occupy? 

While I believe President Obama has completely disrupted the manner in which identity politics are understood, I don’t know if he’s destroyed them.   Nia-Malika Henderson has a really smart article up at politico.com outlining the manner in which Obama is very much a racialized black man and, to paraphrase Jindal, sees himself as a black man and an American.  In fact, once again, I believe that his embrace of this codified blackness is part of the reason he succeeded.

Yet, within this codified blackness, clearly Obama created his own space.  Biracial heritage and Hawaiin background aside, he never consciously tried to be something he wasn’t.  His “coolness” was a reflection of his natural tendency towards introspection and deliberation, not a foolish attempt to bring, “hip-hop” to his campaign (coughcoughMichaelSteelecoughcough).  In reference to the title of this post, the Syreeta Wright song that challenges some post Integration blackness, Obama didn’t engage in much, “I’m down” pantomime.  He was simply him…but he said and acted like there was space for himself in the black world.  And we loved him for it.

So I wonder-does a person of color downplaying his color make him more or less attractive to the rest of us, regardless of color, in the 21st century?

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