Newsday from New York, New York on May 17, 1992 · 216
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Newsday from New York, New York · 216

New York, New York
Issue Date:
Sunday, May 17, 1992
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10 Its a Fair I Cosby Lulled Us Into Complacency Esther hrerem hen riot images from Log Angeles were first televised on the same day that "The Cosby Show aired its final episode, I immediately Bummed this up as proof of what some Cosby critics had said for a long time: By refusing to confront the effects of racism on African Americans, the show which was taped in Queens at the Kaufman-Astoria Studios offered a distorted view of what it is to live black in the United States. How starkly in contrast were pictures of enraged, looting and murderous youth responding to the not guilty verdict in the Rodney King beating case and blissful images of Cliff Huxtable preparing for the college graduation of Theo, his only son. How far apart these worlds would seem to be. How could a show about African Americans air for eight years without once making it clear that Cliff Huxtable, Theo or any other black male could just as easily have been the victim of racist police violence as Rodney King, that their middle-class status would not exempt them from the racism that their skin badge ensures? I did not come to this .conclusion easily. I must admit, however, that I was slow warming up to the show when it first aired in 1984. Over the airwaves and in newspapers, I heard various camps of critics: One camp, primarily made up of white journalists, didnt feel the show was black enough, meaning, I suppose, that they wanted a portrait of what they assumed the monolithic black family life to be full of struggle and pain, drugs, violence and void of much hope. Another camp zeroed in on the issue of racial discrimination. They wanted to know why the show didnt show race to be the central issue that it is in the lives of blacks. I remember that I first fell into step with the latter camp, not because I watched the show and judged for myself but because by 1984 I had been burned too many times by television shows that were supposed to be about me, my family and my community. I was supposed to relate to jive-talking Jimmy J.J. Walker on Good Times and have laughs left for shows like DifTrent Strokes, featuring black children adopted by whites. It was easy to write off this new show as just a classier twist on the same tired minstrel show. It was too painful to watch television; I risked too much pain in giving this show a chance. When I finally decided to watch it (I didnt get many opportunities because I worked at night at an white colleague suggested I join her in front of a newsroom television during our break. Somehow in 30 minutes, during which we laughed heartily together at vintage Cosly (Cliff babysitting a humorous assortment of neighborhood children), I realized that the critics had not mentioned how genuinely human it was. And for managing to portray blacks or any people as human beings, with real lives filled with love and daily drama, this show had achieved a television milestone. Few could deny the shows achievement in presenting a true and comical portrayal of family life. The reason that it remained at or near the top of the ratings for most of its eight-year tenure is because Americans of all colors and income classes could observe the weekly antics of the Huxtable family and Bee something of themselves and their families, something they could not see in the prior decade of dehumanizing, silly sitcoms or escapist Dallas,,-type shows. Since that time and over the ensuing years, I was more likely to be a defender of the show than a critic. The sad fact is that in the 1980s, when the Reagan-Bush propaganda machine reduced all blacks to welfare cheats, Willie Hortons or affirmative action recipients holding the jobs of more deserving whites, I gladly accepted Cosbys weekly warm blanket. It was the closest, sweetest thing to real family life I could see on TV. No, my father wasnt a doctor; he was a diecaster (but he and the real-life Cosby did grow up in the same North Philadelphia public housing project). No, my mother wasnt a lawyer; she was a garment worker. But these fictional and real parents shared the Bame love for and discipline of their children. I agree with defenders of the show who point out that the real crime is that black television shows, plays and films are repeatedly expected to portray the entire black experience, to be the African American epic and are criticized if they do not meet this rigorous standard that is not applied to art by whites. But when the guns crackled, the fires burned and the pent-up anger poured onto streets across this country, I realized the shortcoming of my thinking and of the show. I greatly admire Bill Cosby and I will always be thankful to him for offering Americans something wholesome during the decadent 1980s. But reality, the countrys entire reality, is coming home to roost in PARK from Page 1 restored structures, including the Unisphere, the parks most famous landmark. Contributing to the parks air of resurgence are renovations at a number of independent institutions within the park, including Shea Stadium, which in .1987 received a new facade and the distinctive neon figures of ballplayers; extensive renovations now under way at the Queens Museum and the 500-seat Queens Theater-in-the-Park, prqjected to cost $12 million and $3 million, respectively, and a $ 10-million expansion at the New York Hall of Science, scheduled to break ground July 1. Also, the $16-million renovation of the Queens Zoo will be unveiled to the public when it reopens for the first time since 1988 at the end of next month. While the renovation was completed last year, until now, there has not been money to staff it We had to start over, said Arne Abramowitz, the park administrator of the restoration project that for years had been put on hold, leaving much of the park underdeveloped and in disrepair. The irony of Flushing Meadows rebirth coinciding with a deficit that this year forced the citys Parks Department to slash its budget 33 percent is not lost on Abramowitz. But he makes no apologies for the parks good fortune, which he said is long overdue. It was our time and we werent going to miss it, he said. The park was designed by developer Robert Moses, who oversaw its transformation from a garbage dump to a prairie-like meadow, created to house the 1939 Worlds Fair. It was completed in time for the fair. The park, ringed by highways and expressways, is perfectly suited for a fairground and the millions of cars that have passed through. It also has easy subway access. But it has always been tough for local pedestrians to get to. And unlike the lush Central Park and Prospect Park its Manhattan and Brooklyn counterparts Flushing Meadows has minimal landscaping, which is now being addressed with an aggressive landscaping scheme. Abramowitz said the conveners of the 1939 and 1964 Worlds Fairs had vowed to develop it into a world-class regional park that would rival Central Park and Hyde Park in London. Those promises were derailed by World War II and a bankruptcy filing by the 1964 Worlds Fair Corporation. He said the citys budget woes in the 1970s again dashed any hopes of park development. During the late 1970s, the cultural institutions floundered, said Abramowitz. Things were neglected. The parks were not a high priority. We never got the promised park, he said. Finally, in 1987, Mayor Ed Koch committed $80 million to carry out a master plan for the park but the money dried up, Abramowitz said. But the battle to develop the park is now snowballing into place with money procured on a per-prqject basis. Currently under way is the $3. 8-million reconstruction of gardens, walkways and fountains in the heart of the park near the Unisphere. About 400 new trees and up to 300 new rose bushes are in the process of being planted. The last time that area was alive and beautiful was during the Worlds Fair, said Adrian Smith, the parks capital projects director. He Baid huge expanses covered with asphalt will be brought back to life with beautiful gardens. The plan also includes the renovation of the long-dry fountains and reflecting pools near the Unisphere, expected to be fully operational within 18 months, and the installation of benches and a work of art by Matt Mullican depicting the parks past, present and future. Abramowitz said that will be followed next year by the cleaning and polishing of the Unisphere, the restoration of the remaining park fountains and the reconstruction of the electrical system, projected to cost roughly $3 million. Also next year, a $2. 35-million project to install two pedestrian entrances off 111th Street for Corona residents is scheduled to begin with funding from Queens Borough Presi- other newspaper), it was because a a big way in the 1990s. HlwhQf LiwU MrKur

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