Saturday, 9 February 2013

The Danger Of Stereotypes

America, we have a confession to make.

When I say 'we' I mean most of the rest of the world.

I've appointed myself spokesperson.

I'm sure this will cause no problems whatsoever.

Anyway, America, here's the thing.

We kind of don't think of you as real.

I mean we know you exist, it's kind of hard to pretend you don't what with your citizens who travel and all the stuff you do and produce but it's the producing thing that's kind of got us screwed up.

You make a lot of movies.

And TV shows.

Most of the movies and TV shows.

And because of this your country kind of seems like a giant living movie set...

You drive on the wrong side of the road - just like in the movies.

You have diners with drip coffee and a bewildering selection of pies - just like in the movies.

You make fun of each other's states and accents and the various wide range of communities and lifestyles.

And this is problematic for some of your citizens because, well, you typecast them.

People with certain features or specific Americanised genetic backgrounds are cast in the same sorts of roles and then their real world counterparts have to deal with being seen through that lense.

Some of the stereotypes people are fond or proud of, others not so much.

People from one part of the country only know what hilarious accented sidekicks or ominous accented villains have taught them.

That's kind of goofy and funny for us foreigners until we realise that our ignorance about what the people of Louisiana or Minnesota are actually like is an ignorance shared by many of their countrymen* and women.

When we were travelling in Europe my brother and I met an awesome writer from Texas who reacted with suspicion to our curiosity and enthusiasm to know what being from Texas was really like.
She was used to people from her own country slapping 'Yosemite Sam' type assumptions over her and then being jackasses based on those stereotypes so it took us a while to convince her we were genuinely interested.

The amount of times we spoke to people from different parts of America and were told 'We're not actually all gun nuts in my state**' or 'Yeah, we're not all a bunch of tightly wound prudes where I come from' was fascinating.

You get some of the same lack of representation of people with stronger regional accents in most countries, there are some accents you just aren't going to hear on national broadcast radio or TV in the UK for example.

But it just seems like given the size of America and the size of the population that this phenomenon is much more pronounced***.

It's that very size that leaves many people operating under the influence of these stereotypes as they have a finite amount of time, brain space, and in many cases damns to give about such a broad range of communities and their traditions.

I suppose what I'm saying America is that, even though we can often catch ourselves out here thinking of you as a giant movie set, sometimes it feels like you treat parts of yourself like they aren't real either.

So while we as a global community are working on making sure there is a more representative array of people of different genders, races, sexualities and religions in TV shows, movies, books and on radio; you could make an effort to toss some people from your less represented states into bigger roles and just make them normal people expressing their differences without comedic effect or self-consciousness.

I know it'll take a bit of effort but I figure it'll be worth it for the kids who get to say 'Hey, that person sounds like me and they aren't getting laugh-tracked out of the room every GD time they turn up! Hooray!'

And then the rest of us will get to learn more too and even if we're still staring at you like slightly creepy weirdoes because holy crap, you're actually real and not just on my DVDs! we'll at least be more accurately staring at you and you'll be more accurately staring at yourselves.

[I am sure there are quite a few shows where people from different states get to roll along, contributing to the show without having to fulfil a special extra purpose but speaking as a casual viewer of a selection of comedies, dramas, crime shows and movies, there aren't as many of them as would be helpful. Feel free to recommend some good ones to me though!]

*What's a gender-neutral term for that that doesn't sound clunky as hell? Co-nationals? Yeesh

**This lad qualified his statement with 'There are quite a few gun owners but we grew up respecting guns, that trigger happy bullshit is not tolerated'.

***Or at least we see a lot more of it because you make so many of our TV shows and movies and books.

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