Stereotyping, Richard Dyer

Examples of stereotyping are everywhere in the media. We’ve discussed how gendering the commodity audience can mean pigeonholing a certain viewership and interpolating for them their expected behaviors and lifestyle choices. We also know from everyday experiences that stereotypes are often combatted with dismissal of both the idea and the holder of this belief. Richard Dyer goes a step further in his essay “Stereotyping” that this “righteous dismissal does not make the stereotype go away. It tends to prevent us from understanding just what stereotypes are, how they function, ideologically and aesthetically, and why they are so resilient in the face of our rejection of them.” He specifically mentions examples of overt heteronormativity in the media and entertainment landscapes. Homosexual relationships, on the other hand, have historically been stigmatized in both portrayal of individuals and language to describe such groups. Dyer explores a deeper understanding of the nature of stereotypes, saying that categorical identities help define a cognitive schema. In fact, the basis for stereotyping goes further than focusing on the “other,” but it also serves the function of defining the in-group by clearly identifying the out-group.

The television series Sex and the City is an unlikely example of this, but Rebecca Brasfield makes a good case for it in her piece “Rereading Sex and the City: Exposing the Hegemonic Feminist Narrative.” The authors states that in the show portraying the lives of four privileged white women, a hegemonic feminist narrative enables the social stratification of others based on race, gender, sexual orientation and class. In her studies, she notes that the few characters of color on the show were minor roles and primarily in service sectors of the protagonists’ lives. Transgendered individuals were in one episode portrayed as less than human, championing one of the lead roles and her ability to tolerate their behaviors. The show also includes the stereotypical trope of the gay best friend that has been popularized through entertainment media, and all of the characters are wealthy women living fairly glamorous lives in Manhattan. Although Sex and the City challenges some notions of patriarchy, the show’s exclusion of progressive portrayal of other social groups is detrimental to the viewership. Brasfield says, “The presence of female subjects on television does not equate with the presence or vision of a liberatory feminism, which rejects racism and ethnocentrism; sexism and patriarchy; heterosexism and homophobia; and class exploitation.”

The exclusion of the marginalized other is far from exclusive to the media, however, and it spills over to how the public reacts to social influences throughout daily life. In the past decade, the number of occasions continue to rise in which people of even the most vague resemblance of Middle Eastern heritage have been targeted with violent stereotypes. In a recent example from last November, a Gap ad featuring a Sikh model was vandalized with racists comments alluding to his being a terrorist. Just a few months ago, rapper Joe Budden tweeted a photo from an airport security line of a an Indian Sikh man with a caption also alluding to his being a terrorist. These kinds of aggressions have been met with resistance with more awareness being spread via the social media channels through which they were brought to light. However, the function of stereotyping in general still exists in which the dominant order is sustained by marginalizing the other. Even beyond just creating categories in which to define social life, these stereotypes trace back to political order and the hegemony that sustains these beliefs.

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