Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Theme and Tradition

This time around I want to focus on the development of the Cosby show thematic trailer which evolves each season, and the growing signs of blackness present. Provided below are the season openings for the Cosby show which on the theme music and movements of characters as signifiers for black modes of cultural expression.

Season One Opening:

The season one Opening depicts the Huxtable family through a series of pictures (presumably in a photo album). Important to note are the lack of distinct class signifiers.

Season Two Opening:

Season two foregrounds music and dance as part of the Cosby show cultural repertoire. In this opening sequence, the entire cast dances in front of a gray backdrop. Emphasized are the fashionable clothing and trendy dance moves of each character.

Season Three Opening:

Within this season's opening, the cast of the show dance to a Latin-Jazz inspired version of the popular theme song. Also, important to note is that there movements parody Salsa, Bolero and other forms of Latin dance.

Season Four Opening:

The season four opening depicts the cast dancing to a 1920's inspired version of the theme song, wearing clothes characteristic of the time period which include: Claire's floor length ball gown, Sandra's flapper-inspired tasseled dress, and Vanessa's World War 1 inspired bomber jacket and pilots cap. This opening draws on the cultural significance of the 1920's including the Harlem Renaissance and World War1.

Season Five Opening:

Probably one of the most elaborately choreographed and stylized, this season opening appears to be set on a tropical location. Also, important to note are the cast member's brightly colored clothes. (please see further analysis of this season's opening below).

Season Six and Seven Opening:

Set in front of what appears to be the famous Apollo Marquee in Harlem, New York, the cast again perform the latest dance trends to what appears to be a blues inspired version of the theme song.

Season Eight Opening:

Set in front of a mural which depicts an urban community, this seasons opening is stylized in what could be considered an urban-hip-hop style. The cast wears cross colors, baggy suits and street gear, and tennis shoes. Also, break-beats and horns are emphasized in the shows theme song.

Close Reading the Season 5 Opening Credits

More importantly, however, is the dance sequence itself which was choreographed by the iconic Geoffrey Holder, a native Trinidadian. The dance its self is rather broad in style, avoiding easy categorization and incorporating stylistic elements of dances from various cultures specifically Latin, African, and Caribbean folk dance. Signifying on these various qualities and technical aspects, the dance which the cast performs parodies works produced by choreographers Katherine Dunham and Alvin Ailey; more specifically, Alvin Ailey’s “Pilgrim of Sorrow.”

Click here to see Alvin Ailey's "Pilgrim of Sorrow"

In drawing these visual connections, I wish to call attention to the way in which Cosby’s show signifies on cultural images and experiences linked to the African Diaspora, popularizing them within American pop-culture and depositing them within the cultural imaginary. The use of dance on the Cosby show not only serves as a means by which draw attention to the legacy of American black dance tradition, but also African and Caribbean folk dance traditions more broadly. In drawing on this tradition Cosby invites his audience to contemplate over the repression and exploitation of the black body in the cultural and historical past, as well as celebrate the liberation of that body through dance.

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