Doc McStuffins and the Impact of Bill Cosby

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In my last posting, I wrote about a New York Times article that was featured on the front page of its Sunday edition:   “Race in Toyland:  A Nonwhite Doll Crosses Over.”  The article considers the racial and gender crossover appeal of Doc McStuffins, the extremely popular, African American cartoon character from Disney Jr. who tends to the medical needs of her toys.

The article correctly looks at things like changes in demographics and the election of an African-American president as leading to the acceptance of a minority based character.  I see some other elements:

Pretending to be a doctor along with pretending to be a Mommy and Daddy are early childhood play patterns familiar throughout the world.  For that reason Doctor and Nurse kits used to be a part of virtually all toy departments.  Perhaps in order to make way for licensed products, these toys kits lost their position.  So, one could surmise that part of Doc McStuffins popularity is a return to an old play pattern; it just needed a license to come back.

But when you really think about it, the popularity of Doc McStuffins can be traced as a straight line going back to Bill Cosby’s lovable Doctor Huxtable.  And let’s not forget the pioneering work of the first non-stereotypical television show for an African American, “Julia”. The show, which debuted in 1968, starred Diahann Carroll who played a nurse (it is difficult to look back now and remember that there were very few female doctors at that time). 

Still, it is Bill Cosby who picked up the stethoscope in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s and with his warm and lovable Dr. Huxtable established a comfort level among Caucasian viewers in the perception of an African-American in an authority position. 

Those children who grew up watching Dr. Huxtable are now the parents and grandparents of those children who love Doc McStuffins.  The crossover appeal of Doc McStuffins may therefore be as much about the parents and grandparents as the children.

When you really think about it, Bill Cosby has made a huge impact on modern American culture.  With shows like “I Spy,” “A Different World” and even “Fat Albert”, he brought a different type of hero into American homes.  So, as your child sits their watching Doc McStuffins give a nod to Bill Cosby.  He did a lot to make it happen.

2 thoughts

  1. I think this article is really reaching, by trying to tie the success of a toy in 2014 to a sitcom from the 1980’s. For one, let’s be honest about this McStuffins character–it’s an ethnically-ambiguous one. Just because the character’s skin is brown, that doean’t mean its creators intended for McStuffins to be seen as “African-American”. Honestly, Doc McStuffins could be re-branded and sold in other markets as South American, Asian, or African. Have the character or her parents on the show ever vocalized that they’re “African-American”? Sure, the creators won’t admit this, but look closely at the the way the characters are drawn. Their facial features–ambiguous. Their hair texture and style–ambiguous. Their surname–ambiguous (or Irish, if we’re being technical). Just like with the election of our current president, many are comfortable with embracing a person, or character, of color, when that individual is ambiguosly “other”.

  2. While I am a big fan of Doc McStuffins this article neglected to mention “KENYA”. “Kenya” was the first African American doll manufactured by Tyco Toys in 1992 that was only for the AA market (there was no white doll friend). She also was the first AA doll that had a full television advertising campaign during her almost 6 year run at Tyco (Tyco got acquired by Mattel during year 6). Today, Kenya is back on the market and girls that played with her are now today’s moms.

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