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Ebony Magazine’s Fractured Family Issue(s)

After finally having a chance to read the controversial Ebony Magazine article that attempted to tackle the legacy of The Cosby Show in light of Bill Cosby’s recent rape allegations, I have to say I am somewhat disappointed.

The article, Cliff-hanger, is the November issue’s cover story and donning the cover of the magazine is a very familiar photo from The Cosby Show’s first season. Over top of that photo is a fracture giving the cover the appearance of a framed family photo that has been broken. The cover more so than the article is what really jarred people. There were both positive and negative criticisms about Ebony’s choice to use the cover. Kierna Mayo, editor-in-chief of Ebony stated:

We must ask the big loaded question, Can we, should we, separate the man from the fictional character who we all exalted, loved, needed, and in some respects, worshiped the idea, the notion behind? – When you understand the soul of black America and you understand how important iconography is and you understand how important the image of black family perfection … is, you realize that there’s no way to do something like this without it being hugely conversational, if not confrontational, and in many cases painful for people.

-Kierna Mayo, Editor-in-chief of Ebony Magazine

While I cannot argue with Mayo’s assertion that we have to ask the question regarding whether we can separate the legacy and meaning of The Cosy Show from it’s creator’s possible actions, I am not sure that has much to do with the cover. I completely understand the reasoning behind the article. After reading the article I can say that I found it to be much more objective and even-handed than I had expected from the cover. So in regards to the use of the cover as well as the article I think we have to ask ourselves whether Ebony Magazine actually intended to address a critical issue in the discussion of the Black family or whether they were being sensational and provocative for the sake of getting press and increasing sales.

The Article

The actual article begins with an overview of The Cosby Show and it’s rise to success amid a turbulent era for Black America. The usual facts that we all know and/or remember. Then the article takes an almost sharp turn into Cosby’s rape allegations. The article’s The Cosby Showtone borders on assuming all allegations against Cosby are true but holds mostly objectively to facts. The biggest issue I found with the article is that, for all of the heavy rhetoric Mayo has spoken in defense of the article and subsequently the cover, the article barely got near the heart of the topic. I was looking for an exploration of Cosby and his Healthcliff persona and how the 2 are or are not so linked that it could or could not warrant the destruction of his entire legacy. The article ends with the question mark and offers a few quotes from Ta-Nehisi Coates, Phylicia Rashad and Michael Eric Dyson but nothing conclusive or even thought provoking erupts from the text. After reading the article I went back to the cover and found myself more disturbed than when I first saw it (I literaly flinched and gasped the first time).

The Cover

My knee jerk reaction to the cover was immediately followed by a sigh because I knew exactly where this was going. I knew we were headed down the Cosby rape trail. And a wave of disappointment came over me. Not because of Cosby’s possible guilt or by Ebony’s choice of cover but over the fact that this depiction could possibly be justified. It is completely justifiable in relation to the the ultimate question that the author stated was the premise of the article:

If Bill Cosby is finished, what does that mean for Cliff, and the rest of the tribe called Huxtable?

– Goldie Taylor

the-cosby-show-5100a5d8606faWith that very reasonable question and the very relevant discussion that it can ignite, it makes the cover justifiable. However, with the article falling short of any critical analysis or investigation into the question it creates a stark contrast between the cover and the content. One that begs the question of whether Ebony chose this cover because they knew it was provocative and that it would get the magazine some buzz. I might find the answer to that question more troubling than the one about the legacy of The Cosby Show (not Cosby’s allegations).

The Point

The contrasting impact between the cover and its story creates an uncomfortable tension. One that lingers in the mind like a thick evening fog. I find my mind bouncing between Taylor’s question about the legacy of The Cosby Show because, ofcourse, it is a part of my childhood and it was my Black family sitcom of choice above many others and the question about why Ebony chose to publish the cover.

For all intents and purposes – in relation to the article- the image could have gone without the fracture. The introduction of this image into the public media by a Black publication is an extremely risky endeavor. The risk of contributing or propelling Cosby’s legacy into further demise is not worth the risk unless it is followed with a powerful and meaningful introduction to the discussion. And, for me, Ebony’s introduction was weak and doesn’t justify the risky cover. One commentor made a valid point regarding the fact that while it is possible that Cosby linked the show so closely with his own image that it cannot help but take some collateral damage; however, the legacy that the show holds was not created by Cosby alone. There is a whole cast of Black actors who are part of that collateral damage. Many of whom have the show to represent the pinnacle of their acting careers. Overall I am not upset that Ebony chose the cover as much as I am disappointed that they didn’t fulfill the demands that using the cover required: deep intellectual thought and critical analysis.

 

I’m not sayin; I’m just sayin,

 

An Angry Black Man

 

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