By the time Bill Cosby’s perfect black family was being watched weekly by millions, I was a young, radical, adult. It so perfectly tested my desire for a chocolate coated Janet & John existence. Many of my compadres watched and critiqued the show. My young blk radical fam were under no delusion that Huxtableville existed but I could see the conservatism and still luxuriate in the fantasy ... couldn’t I?
Season Butler’s performance opened with the theme song to the 1980s sitcom. For much of the hour she addressed her audience at a desk on a stage from which she seemed to operate the slides, sound and film clips that illustrate her thoughts. Occasionally she rose, grabbed one of a dozen cardigans, shawls and capes and treated us to a tongue in cheek interpretative dance ... Was she mimicking the moves of one of the Cosbys from the opening sequence?
She told us how as a child in the 80s the show first entered her consciousness and why she’s been thinking about it more recently. And then she used the show as a motif, a structure even, (punctuated with caped dances), through which we agreed with her that the media is powerful, making reputations and constructing identities, laughed with her at the ironies of racial and gender politics illustrated by Mother Theresa, Jurassic Park, Margret Thatcher, Martin Luther King, Condoleezza Rice, Saddam Hussein and finally we contemplated Bill.
Season is a maker-upper of stories and she plays provocatively and evocatively with truth and fiction, first toying with her audience ... “I can’t see you but I am guessing there might be some white people in the audience ...” And then introducing the vexed and complex discussion of hair – “Where agency meets heredity.” She muses on the difference between what is unlawful and what is against the rules, referring to the lawful killing of Trayvon Martin and the consensus that Jimmy Saville played by 1970s rules in order to better describe this take on whose lives matter.
And as we watch and consider Dr Huxtable, credible, authoritative and trusted we also hear a story about a date rape. A small story of humiliation, violence and control. By the end of the performance the recurring theme tune is distorted. Season replaces the interpretative dance with a speech that sounds remarkably familiar in its conservative “those people should pull themselves up by their bootstraps” rhetoric.
There are some joyous moments in this performance. What are we to make of Season’s apparent attachment to the Huxtables. The audience at The Drum laughed heartily. I suspect that many were as familiar with the doc and his family as I. Amongst my favourite lasting images are the loquacious diary entries of radical, socialist, 6 year old Season, outraged by the enforced polarisation of her political and racial identities.
The hour ended too soon. A beautifully considered, hilarious and thoroughly thought provoking show.