Stereotypes & Representation

Response to:
Jones, “Psychological Mechanisms Of Prejudice: Stereotypes”

I have stereotypes. We all have stereotypes. I believe it is impossible for us, as humans, at this stage in human development, to not have them. I believe that the only way to not let these stereotypes control our judgment is by recognizing them, not being in denial of them (similar to whites denying or being defensive of white privilege–it doesn’t make it go away), and, most importantly, allowing ourselves to be proven wrong by them.

This is why some of the things in Jones’ list of “possible reasons that stereotyping is a problem” (165-7) rub me the wrong way. Not only does this list seem to turn stereotyping into an evil thing that must be eradicated (which, as stated, I don’t believe it inherently is), I also see some of the statements as downright false. Number four on the list is: “Those who hold stereotypes are irrationally resistant to new information that contradicts the stereotypes.”

I completely disagree with this, based on my experience with my own stereotyping. One of my main prejudices is of “girly blonde chicks”, to phrase it in my judgmental way. My immediate reaction to a young woman who fits that description (“blonde” often being an optional variable) is that I cringe and try my best to avoid her.

I did this for years before realizing, hey, you know, not all woman like that are like the ones that made my life miserable in school. Not all of them are the way the media portrays them–superficial, arrogant airheads obsessed with their appearance.

And from then on, when I had these reactions, when I saw myself stereotyping, I stopped letting that keep me from talking to these women. I found that it was very easy to rid myself of my first impression of them based on just one conversation, when their humanity was revealed to me. I have become good friends with some of these woman whose first impression upon me was less than favorable, based on my stereotypes.

My tendency to stereotype is still very much there, but now I realize that I do not have to let it interfere too much with how I interact with people. In fact, I look forward to being proven wrong.

Response to:
S. Robert Lichter & Daniel R. Amundson, “Distorted Reality: Hispanic Characters In TV Entertainment”

I enjoyed the Lichter/Amundson, because it fused psychological academia with one of my favorite things and an area of intellectual comfort for me–television.

I grew up watching shows like “In The Heat Of The Night”, “The Cosby Show”, “The French Prince Of Bel Air”, “Roc”, “Welcome Back, Kotter”, and less obviously diverse shows like “Mr. Belvadere”, “Who’s The Boss?”, and “Small Wonder” (hey, if robots aren’t a measure of diversity, I don’t know what is). I grew up assuming I had a pretty racially diverse experience in tv land. It wasn’t until reading this article that I realized that that diversity only hit the black-white dichotomy. The closest exposure I had otherwise was with “Welcome Back, Kotter”–which I will argue was a pioneer for diversity in popular media. (Although, though I did get a bit defensive while reading the article, I do tend to agree with the author on what it lacked–“Barbarino’s Italian heritage added ethnic color to his machismo image, while Epstein’s ethnic background was contrived for comic effect” (383).)

I also got defensive when it came time for “I Love Lucy” to be critiqued. On multiple levels, this show was revolutionary. A strong woman lead? Who wasn’t objectified? (And was a redhead?) A biracial couple? A show after my own heart. (And their co-ownership of Desilu Poductions? Ball was the first woman to head a production company; I’m not sure if Arnaz was the first Latino, but it wouldn’t surprise me.) [Note: He was.]
How their social identities were dealt with in the show was usually very sensitive, considering the time period (though that could easily extend to now): their “non-dominant” identities were not stereotyped or sensationalized, nor were they awkwardly ignored to make the show more “acceptable”. When they were showcased, it was usually for comedic effect, though in ways that (to me) were perfectly unoffensive. If the show “did little for Hispanic characters” (378), it was because the mainstream tv-watching public wasn’t ready for such a progressive notion. (One could argue the show “did little” for female characters, for the same reason.)

And then there was “All In The Family”. Another show I grew up with. I agree with Lear’s intention of the show (“the show ‘holds up a mirror to prejudices…. We laugh now, swallowing just the littlest bit of truth about ourselves'” (381)), and believe he achieved it. Largely because it was true. A middle-aged working-class family man in 1970’s Queens? I hate to generalize (though lord knows I do), but it’s a fairly accurate representation of that archetype. (And–and I feel I can say this with some authority, since Queens is my occasional home–it hasn’t changed too much.)

Additionally, I believe that the best way to challenge people’s own prejudices and preconceptions–in a way that will actually make them listen, and not just get defensive and shut down (which many valid yet a-bit-too-zestful attempts do)–is to sneak in the back door. Archie Bunker is not someone most people can dismiss as “not like us”. He is like us. Which is why we like him. And laugh at him. While cringing. And then, true to Lear’s intention, the awareness of our likeness to him “sits there for the unconscious to toss about later” (381).

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