First name Fat, last name Albert.
When I was a kid, I couldn’t wait for Saturday mornings to come around to watch the adventures of Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids. Bill Cosby was the “host” in that he started every episode with a brief set up that gave a little bit of information about the theme of the show. Cosby also provided Fat Albert’s voice. Admit it. You can hear Cosby, now:
“And if you’re not careful, you just might learn something. Hey! Hey! Hey!”
After Cosby did his thing, the scene would shift to the animated part of the show, which involved the hijinks of Fat Albert and his cohorts like Mushmouth, Weird Harold and Dumb Donald.
But for me, the show began and ended with its lead character.
Fat Albert. Fat. Albert.
And I can’t help but think about how times have changed since I was a kid and Fat Albert was one of my TV staples. For as funny, silly and even at times touching and educational as Fat Albert was, there is no way on Earth that Fat Albert would get greenlit today.
That’s because of Fat Albert’s name.
First name Fat. Last name Albert.
Fat Albert was nothing more than a funny kid with a big belly. And he was a cartoon kid at that. He didn’t represent anyone who was oppressed, or picked on, or suffering at the hands of some superior force. His friends liked him and he was the leader of his gang of buddies. After all, the show was called “Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids”.
But that was thirty-plus years ago. Today, well…
In today’s culture, where parents are told to be their children’s friends and everyone is a winner, kids are massaged, swooned over and protected to the point where we are afraid of hurting even the remotest of their feelings. We live in an age where we don’t want to discipline our kids too much out of fear they will turn into anti-social misfits or turn on us when they “have” to go into therapy in 20 years. Or even in 10. Woe to the parent who actually sends their child to their room for punishment, and instilling a sense of shame over doing something wrong is as far gone as the belief that a good spanking can be a learning tool.
And then there’s bullying. We used to say, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me.” And this brings me around to Fat Albert.
Today, “fat” is OK, but calling someone fat isn’t. To be honest, it really wasn’t the nicest thing you could say to someone back in the days of Fat Albert. But here’s the difference between then and now: Back then, we understood that Fat Albert wasn’t real, and calling him “Fat Albert” wasn’t going to hurt anyone.
Well, if the Cosby Kids called Albert “Fat” here in 2012 they would likely not just get sent to the principal’s office for being bullies, but they would possibly be rounded up by the cops on the grounds of committing a hate crime. And as if Fat Albert isn’t bad enough these days, can you imagine what kind of uproar would ensue if a show tried to push a couple of characters with the names Dumb Donald and Weird Harold?
Facebook and Twitter would both certainly erupt like a couple of volcanoes with all kinds of breathless histrionics from buttinskis and professional worriers aghast over the horror of all this society-ending-caliber name calling and what we must do to end this scourge. And Anderson Cooper would have to put on an hour-long prime time special showcasing kids who had been “hurt” by Fat Albert.
Those would also be the same people without real problems to worry about.
We can’t call a cartoon character “Fat” anything, in spite of knowing that there is nothing real at work here because we are too afraid of what kind of impression this might make on our kids and they might call another kid “fat” and hurt his or her feelings. Fine.
But what is OK for our kids to watch and absorb?
Apparently, the obnoxious misanthrope that is Spongebob Squarepants, who looks like he escaped from the Molokai leper colony is fine. If anything, we should boycott Spongebob for his poor dental work. What kind of message is that? Act like a crazed, undersea hobo and let your teeth fall out?
And then there are the Bratz girls. If you’re not familiar with these characters, try to imagine an animated version of the Kardashian sisters only with eyes that look like they slid off some Japanese anime artist’s cocaine-driven sketch test page. If MTV decided to do a cartoon version of “Jersey Shore”, the Bratz girls could play the roles of Snooki, J-Woww and whatever nameless bimbo is also tramping her way through the show and 23 guys’ beds.
All that is on TV right now. But Fat Albert? He’s consigned to the ash heap of characters that are considered unsafe for our children to be exposed to.
He’s a cartoon, people. He’s not hurting anyone. He’s Fat Albert.
First name Fat, last name Albert.