The Meaning and Significance of Stereotypes in Popular Cult

The Meaning and Significance of Stereotypes in Popular Cult...

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Source: Jack Nachbar and Kevin Lause's Popular Culture: An Introductory Text . Bowling Green University Popular Press in Bowling Green, Ohio: 1992. The Meaning and Significance of Stereotypes in Popular Culture Several important characteristics of stereotypes are: 1. A stereotype is a standardized conception or image of a specific group of people or objects. Stereotypes are "mental cookie cutters"--they force a simple pattern upon a complex mass and assign a limited number of characteristics to all members of a group. While we commonly use the term as it is applied to human beings, it is quite possible to stereotype objects as well. In popular culture we can examine both types of stereotypes so that we often find people stereotyped around characteristics of age ("All teenagers love rock and roll and have no respect for their elders."), sex ("men want just one thing from a woman."), race ("All Japanese look and think alike."), religion ("All Catholics love the Pope more than their country."), vocation ("All lawyers are greedy weasels.") and nationality ("All Germans are Nazi warmongers."). Objects can be stereotyped around characteristics of places ("All cities are corrupt and sinful." "Small towns are safe and clean." "In England, it rains all the time.") and things ("All American cars are cheaply and ineptly made." "A good house has a large lawn, big garage, and at least two bathrooms."). Because objects are studied more rewardingly as icons, however, we will use stereotypes primarily as a tool to examine popular beliefs and values about people. 2. The standardized conception is held in common by the members of a group. Popular stereotypes are images which are shared by those who hold a common cultural mindset--they are the way a culture, or significant sub-group within that culture, defines and labels a specific group of people. All of us have many narrow images of people, places, or things which are unique to our personal outlook, but these are of interest only to psychologists and our immediate family and friends, not to students of popular culture. Our goal is to define the cultural rather than individual mindset, so we therefore must search and examine wide social patterns of thought and behavior, not their exceptions. 3. Stereotypes are direct expressions of beliefs and values. A stereotype is a valuable tool in the analysis of popular culture because once the stereotype has been identified and defined, it automatically provides us with an important and revealing expression of otherwise hidden beliefs and values. This means that stereotypes are especially useful in tracing the evolution of popular thought-- the way in which the beliefs and values associated with specific groups change over time. American attitudes toward Russians, for example, can be easily marked by the changing nature of the popular stereotype associated with them--from WWII ("fur-hatted vodka drinking comrades-in-arms") to Cold War ("Godless communists in an Evil Empire") to the break-up of the Soviet Union ("poor, hungry victims of a disorganized and self-defeating socialist system").
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  • Fall '12
  • JenniferMcGonagle
  • University Popular Press, Bowling Green University Popular Press

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