March 24, 2009

Hey, hey, hey, look who it is!

Yesterday morning, I saw Fat Albert on the subway.

Not really, but it was interesting. A heavyset young man, probably around 16, dark skin, close-cropped hair, a red sweater over a wide-collared white shirt, jeans and sneakers. A cartoon character made flesh, there on the 1 train.

Granted, there were some key differences. He was fat, but not at the level of obesity that prompts friends to append the adjective Fat to one's name. Furthermore, he didn't bear much of a facial resemblance to Fat Albert; if I had to guess, this kid wasn't even black (Latino, maybe). He wasn't squeezing music out of a radiator, either.

Somewhat inexplicably, I'm a bit of a Fat Albert fan. Age 9 or 10, the shows I rushed home from school to watch were Gumby, He-Man, and Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids. (I also recall a weekday-afternoon, kid-oriented video-hits show called Hot that I really enjoyed, though I can't find evidence online that such a thing actually existed. Maybe it's a false memory, created to cover up all the ritual Satanic abuse.)

Why did I like Fat Albert? Who knows? Bill Cosby created the show so that African-American kids in the inner city could finally see something like themselves on TV. I was not such a child, although it's not as if I saw myself in any other cartoons—what kid related to He-Man? Or Gumby?

Maybe Fat Albert attracted me with simple good storytelling. Cosby was very dedicated to making it a "wholesome" cartoon; note his line in the theme song: "If you're not careful, you might learn something before you're done. Hey, hey, hey!" I'm not sure how effective this pedagogy was, but Cosby did manage to parlay this show into earning an Ed.D. (doctorate in education). His dissertation was called "An Integration of the Visual Media Via 'Fat Albert And The Cosby Kids'' Into the Elementary School Curriculum as a Teaching Aid and Vehicle to Achieve Increased Learning." No wonder this guy is such a pretentious egomaniac.

I can think of one lesson that Fat Albert taught me: Do not fucking go to jail. Granted, a lot of movies/TV shows/news broadcasts/homeless junkies imprinted this lesson upon my brain, but Fat Albert was definitely in the mix. Check this out—I recall it clearly from childhood, and it's even more shocking upon fresh viewing:

Well, I was scared straight. If not for this specific episode of Fat Albert, I would no doubt be doing 10 to 20 as we speak. I should have gone up to that kid on the subway and said, "Thanks, Fat Albert. Thanks for keeping me out of jail. You're my hero." And he would've responded, "Hey, hey, hey!" And then kicked me in the nuts.