For T.R.P.

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All conspiracies, ultimately, are narratives just as all narratives, finally and fitfully, are conspiracies. The practical and theoretic validity of this decidedly bold critical affirmation, of course, depends upon our definition of the concepts of both “narrative” and “conspiracy.” A narrative, said simply, is a story, a plot that is offered in some fashion in order to moderate and control the thoughts and actions of one party at the behest of another party who controls that narrative; a conspiracy itself is itself merely a story, a plot which is considered, designed and put into action for the express purpose of manipulating one party at the behest of another party who controls at least some aspect of such. A conspiracy, then, is simply a story, and one, like most narratives are by their very nature, that is dubious by its very un-confirmablity and placement aside from or entirely outside of the true\false (fiction\nonfiction) binary that the post-Enlightenment and pre-Postmodern Western world celebrated (or at least conspired to ostensibly celebrate). The driving force behind most every conspiracy narratives—consider, as examples, Stone’s JFK, Pynchon’s The Crying of Lot 49 and Carter’s The X-Files—is to uncover the supposed truth behind the conspiracy at hand. However, as most all conspiracy narratives demonstrate, truth is itself quite relative and circumstantial within a conspiracy narrative. After all, Jim Garrison, Oedipa Maas and Fox Mulder never, at least truly or fully, resolve the mysteries surrounding the conspiracies they encounter and attempt to investigate and “solve”; they only encounter further questions, further truths, mistruths and untruths. Indeed those who seek to resist a conspiracy by investigating it, tend to become first conspirators themselves and, finally, even more subject to the conspiracy itself.

Conspiracy narratives are, then, the postmodern narrative form par excellence for they are by their very nature fundamentally incommensurable with the now outdated and naïve Enlightenment, Victorian and Modernistic notions of the supremacy and actuality of truth and reliability. A conspiracy narrative, in a rather flagrantly contradictory fashion, makes truth claims about events that cannot fundamentally be proven or disproven. For example, the conspiracy surrounding the murder of John F. Kennedy offered a truth claim about the nature of the event that could never truly be disproven or proven, just as the countless conspiracies that arose in response to such cannot themselves be ultimately proven or disproven, just as the counter-conspiracy theories cannot be proven or disproven. Conspiracy narratives, also, sometimes serve to convince others of the existence of a conspiracy, even when such doesn’t exist (take, for example, the letters and manifesto of the Unabomber, narratives which served to suggest that there was a collective conspiracy behind the Unabomber’s actions when, in fact, it was a singular conspiracy).

Conspiracy and paranoia, which is the cultural symptom that tends to arise in response to a conspiracy, rest at the core of countless Huxtable narratives. Throughout the series, the Huxtables take great delight and satisfaction in conspiring against each other for either the purpose of teaching others within the narrative (usually the Huxtable children) some sort of “lesson,” a lesson that most always aligns, of course, with the intrinsic ideals of the Huxtable hegemony, or in order to gain and maintain some sort of political foothold within the Huxtable hegemony or, for that matter, gain some measure of delight or satisfaction that is itself forbidden in accordance with the very tenets of the Huxtable hegemony.

The Huxtables, Cliff and Claire in particular, conspire, as conspirators tend to do, on behalf of what they feel to be true and right and in accordance with whatever hegemony they have come to accept, just as their children conspire against them in order to challenge and usurp the Huxtable hegemony itself. For example: In “Cliff’s Birthday,” (episode 1.24) the Huxtable clan actively conspires against Cliff in order to keep him from discovering what his birthday gift is, an activity all members of the family delight in; in “Denise’s Friend,” (2.11) Denise conspires with her friend Michelle in order to keep Michelle’s out-of-wedlock pregnancy (something which is intrinsically forbidden by the Huxtable hegemony) a secret from both of their parents; in “Theo and Cockroach,” (2.15) Theo and Cockroach conspire to pass a test on Shakespeare’s Macbeth (which, itself is a text packed full of conspiracy that has a tremendous influence on various aspects of the Huxtable narrative) without actually reading the play; in “Theo’s Holiday,” (2.22) the Huxtable family invent a simulacra of the “real world” within their home in order to teach Theo a lesson about living in the supposed “real world” that he is supposedly oblivious to; in “Food for Thought” (3.1) Cliff conspires against his family—and the Huxtable hegemony itself—in order to consume the very supposedly unhealthy foods that Claire strictly bans him from eating; in “Mother, May I?” (3.5) Vanessa conspires to wear makeup—and, herself, engage in a sort of act of simulacra— behind her mother’s back; in “Denise Gets a D” (3.9) Denise conspires to keep hide a low grade in a college English course from her parents; in “A Girl and Her Dog” (3.10) Rudy conspires to hide a dog she and “Fat” Peter find from her parents; in perhaps the most allegorical episode of the show, “Theogate” (4.1) Theo and Cockroach conspire to keep their parents from learning of how they mocked an obese girl in a fast-food restaurant; in “Bookworm,” (4.14) Cliff pretends, with great success, to read a book he has not read; in “Is There a Hamster in the House?” (5.11) Rudy’s friend’s hamster dies while under Rudy’s care it is quietly suggested that Rudy experimented upon and killed the hamster herself) and the Huxtables attempt to convince Rudy’s friend that the replacement hamster they purchased is, indeed, her original hamster (their attempt to do so, interestingly, fails, suggesting that the Huxtable family’s ability to conspire does not extend beyond the confines of their own home or narrative domain); in “Truth or Consequences” (5.12) Rudy conspires with Vanessa to keep Cliff and Claire from learning about a secret date Vanessa goes out on; in “The Lost Weekend,” (5.15) Theo conspires to keep his parents from learning of a house party—a house party which resembles the famous “lease breaking” house party thrown in Pynchon’s “Entropy” story—he throws when they are away; in “Day of the Locusts” (5.25) Sandra becomes convinced that she and Elvin’s mothers are conspiring to kidnap her children, which, in a manner, they are in fact doing; in “Off the See the Wretched,” (6.23) Vanessa conspires with her friends to sneak off to a concert they are all forbidden to attend; in “Claire’s Liberation,” (6.12) Cliff and Claire conspire, without any ostensible reason, to convince the family that Claire is suffering from menopause when she in fact is, though not to extent they believe her to be; and in “Warning: A Double-Lit Candle Can Cause a Meltdown,” (8.5) Rudy and her friends conspire against their parents to meet a famous rapper.

Interestingly, the Huxtables—Cliff and Claire, that is—rarely attempt to address, engage, redirect, discipline or punish their children in any sort of direct fashion (this, itself, suggests that they are readily familiar with the concepts behind Foucault’s Discipline and Punish). Being children, indeed, of the post-World War II generation, children who came of age and entered into adulthood in the wake of such massive American conspiracies as Operation Paperclip; The Kennedy, King and X assignations; the death of Paul McCartney; the reclusion of Thomas Pynchon; the public and secret wars in Vietnam and Cambodia; Watergate; and the October Surprise, Cliff and Claire Huxtable were taught, both directly and implicitly, valuable lessons as to the nature of truth and falsity (consider, also, how truth operates in respect to Cliff and Claire’s professions: he is a medical doctor and she is a lawyer; both of them operate within fields of knowledge, as Foucault and Thomas Kuhn demonstrate, in which fact and truth are always ((and to some degree overtly)) flexible and relative to a given historical, political and social situation) and learned that change, truly, comes only as a result of conspiracy and direct and in-direct manipulation of that which is designated as “truth.” Cliff and Claire, in many respects, respond to the horrors, abuses and mis-directions and redirections of the 20th century—and the 20th century, in these terms, is being considered itself as narrative—by becoming, themselves, active conspirators within their own hegemony. The narrative they establish amongst their household, the controlling ideas, the very story(ies) that serve to support the Huxtable hegemony, operate in terms of conspiracy, which in turn suggests that the Huxtable narrative itself is something of an allegory of mid to late 20th century Postmodern American political culture.

Even more interesting is how a close, critical viewing of the Huxtable narrative reveals a growing paranoia amongst the Huxtable children toward their parents, a growing sense over the course of the show amongst the Huxtable children that Cliff and Claire are always “up to something” and conspiring against them. The lessons implied by and through Cliff and Claire’s relentless and often purposeless manipulation of their children are, indeed, passed on through a sort of osmosis to the younger Huxtable generation, who begin, themselves, especially in the later seasons of the show, to actively conspire against their parents. Cliff, by the conclusion of the Huxtable narrative, becomes a man of profound paranoia who firmly believes and insists that his children and their spouses and offspring “want the house” (i.e. they want to control and the Huxtable hegemony) and are actively conspiring, through grand manipulations and veritable guerrilla war tactics, to gain possession of and agency over it. And with this, perhaps, one of the ultimate morals behind the Huxtable narrative becomes clear: that those who conspire, who dismiss the relevance of truth, who openly deconstruct and engage in simulacra for the sake of “the good” and “the right,” serve not to establish righteousness and good amongst their subjects; instead they only create further conspiracies and more conspirators and become, themselves, blindly or helplessly subject to such.