Living with the Huxtables in a State of Emergency

in Starring Mandela and Cosby

Published by University of Chicago Press

Published in print September 2010 | ISBN: 9780226451886
Published online March 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780226451909 | DOI:
Living with the Huxtables in a State of Emergency

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This chapter considers the role of television in further breaking down the absence of Black South Africans under the States of Emergency in the mid-and late 1980s, paying particular attention to the third fence post: the overwhelming popularity of The Cosby Show among White South Africans. Ethnographic research shows that the SABC's version of current events during the States of Emergency was widely viewed as untrustworthy by Black and White South Africans alike. While Black South Africans lived the States of Emergency in an immediate and visceral way, White South Africans turned away from television news to make sense of their world. One of the places they turned, in extremely large numbers, was The Cosby Show. Through transnational media flows in general and particularly The Cosby Show, White South Africans were able to appropriate the language and attitude of “racial tolerance” in the United States while simultaneously conceptualizing a profound difference between Black Americans and Black South Africans. While this often led to apartheid apologetics, the shift from a biological to a cultural foundation for racial domination made formal apartheid increasingly difficult to maintain.

Keywords: Black South Africans; State of Emergency; White South Africans; apartheid; The Cosby Show; television; transnational media flows; racial tolerance

Chapter.  12984 words. 

Subjects: African Studies

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