When you’re surrounded, as I am at Wolves games, by two deadly smart, upper-echelon talkers, conversation tends to wander. At issue during Thursday night’s languid first half was the Cosby Show and it’s depiction of the African-American experience. Were Cliff and his brood a triumph of aspirational representation, a giant step forward from J.J. Walker’s grinning minstrelsy? Or were they a simple reflection of a naively “post-racial” liberal imagination, whistling around the complicated truths of blackness in America? Or both? And anyway why is it the job of every black cultural product to portray the full, complicated spectrum of the African-American experience? And isn’t this asking an awful lot of a sitcom?
Now I love those Huxtables dearly, but what has always gotten under my skin about the show is its eagerness to conform with the sterile, bourgeois fantasies of American success: appropriately upper-middle class professions; kids so charming they’ll hurt your teeth; serious property ownership; more late Louis Armstrong than Ornette Coleman. Again, asking a lot of a sitcom.
It’s just that I happen to prefer Ornette Coleman. And when it comes to the NBA, we can find the Huxtables’ ethos of vanilla success in the competent, businesslike way that the most powerful teams conduct their affairs–and the way the less powerful, but generally more interesting teams tend to aspire to that same bland ethos.