A stereotype is an oversimplified, stock conception of a person, a nation, an ideology, etc. The use of stereotypes in propaganda, however overt or subtle, reinforces the general prejudices towards that entity. The focus is usually on a trait that the target audience finds particularly horrendous, although it can also be comical.
Example of Propaganda: In this cartoon in the Star from September 1935, in the wake of Italian aggression in Ethiopia, Mussolini is lampooned as an impetuous child who will not be appeased until he has his ball (the whole world). This impulsiveness and hotheadedness of the leader is viewed in this and in many cartoons as a common, incorrigible characteristic of the Italian people.
Feisty. Seductive. Intelligent. Used to describe individuals, the preceding adjectives pose no particular problem. Used to describe groups of people, however, these same adjectives may constitute stereotypes. What is a stereotype? Stereotypes are qualities assigned to groups of people related to their race, nationality and sexual orientation, to name a few. They generalize groups of people in manners that lead to discrimination and ignore the diversity within groups.
While all stereotypes are generalizations, not all generalizations are stereotypes. Stereotypes are oversimplifications of people and groups widely circulated in certain societies. In the United States, for example, racial groups are linked to stereotypes such as being good at math, athletics, dancing and so forth. So well-known are these stereotypes in the U.S. that the average American likely wouldn’t hesitate if asked to identify which racial group in this country is known for excelling in basketball. In short, when one stereotypes, one repeats the cultural mythology already present in a particular society.
What is the Assignment?
Your task is to choose a film. It can be a feature film, or an episode of a television show. Using the reading from class, you should be able to hone in on a few scenes where the filmmaker is relying on oversimplified stereotypes of a people (race, class, gender) to convey who that character supposedly is. Stereotypes can be negative or positive, but they are always oversimplified depictions of a person/group. Popular film relies heavily on stereotyping because it is a short cut to characterization and because uncomplicated characters are often found in entertainment.
Art tries to subvert the existing prejudices of an audience, to challenge the audience to perceive the world with more subtlety and complexity than they would have otherwise. Entertainment is the…