Stereotypes and Popular Culture
Stereotyping has become a significant reason for concern in modern society due to its adverse effects on the behavior of the impacted population. Despite the efforts aimed at addressing it, the issue persists to this day. The following paper explores the mechanisms behind stereotyping in an attempt to determine whether it is possible to minimize its adverse effect and which approach is the most viable for the purpose.
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Before we proceed with finding ways to address the issues created by stereotypes, it is necessary first to outline the mechanism of their emergence. The host of negative effects associated with the phenomenon of stereotyping has led to a widespread belief that the entire concept is fundamentally flawed. Nowadays, once anyone encounters the term, there is a good chance that it is used in the pejorative context.
However, it is necessary to understand that stereotyping is an important trait of an individual member of society. Humans are exceptionally social creatures, and in order to function effectively within their social environment, they need to obtain and utilize a tremendous amount of information, which becomes an increasingly challenging task as the pace of society’s development increases. In order to cope with the challenge, people seek shortcuts that allow them to bypass the lengthy analysis of each situation encountered on a daily basis. Stereotyping is one such shortcut, offering a canned, “one size fits all” solution intended to work in the majority of situations.
The more accurate a stereotype, the more useful it is and the fewer problems it can create. While such insight does not by any means justify the practice of stereotyping, it provides an explanation for why it is so common. In fact, it would be reasonable to expect their ubiquitous presence as an essential component of the social environment rather than treat them as an anomaly.
We encounter stereotypes routinely throughout our normal lives. More importantly, we participate (either passively or actively) in their creation and propagation, mostly through our behavior and statements we make. Most of them are harmless and can be helpful, such as the ability to recognize threat based on the observed behavior of the people we encounter, and can thus provide us with the possibility of avoiding risks.
Others, such as the infamous racial stereotypes, serve no purpose and have no effect other than offending someone. In addition, some part of the stereotypes inevitably enters the popular culture, at which point it reaches an unprecedented proportion. Despite our best efforts at critical thinking and responsible decision-making, every individual is susceptible to a range of cognitive biases, including the appeal to authority. Thus, when we hear something on TV or read on our favorite web resource, it is almost certain that it will strengthen the belief to some degree.
Next, due to the fact that some stereotypes have been around more than the others, it would be reasonable to expect that they will be more difficult to overturn. To further complicate the matters, the length of exposure seems to also affect the awareness of stereotypes’ existence. As can be seen from the article by Stretten (2013), the entire school population can fail at comprehending the simple concept of the inaccurate depiction of Native Americans being offensive to someone.
The most probable reason for this is tradition – the Native American imagery is fairly common in the sports domain, which makes it perceived as a non-issue. Fortunately, the described effect seems to be reversible – the time spent on bringing the issue to the light of public awareness has an equally positive effect on the stereotype’s recognition among the public.
For example, it is almost impossible to imagine a similar situation where an equally offensive stereotypical depiction of Africans used as a team’s mascot would produce no counteraction on its own, let alone after being pointed to by one of the representatives of the impacted population. The likely reason for such difference is the amount of time dedicated to the issue by human rights advocates and the resulting public familiarity with the issue.
The permeating nature of stereotyping creates a situation where it is virtually impossible to avoid escaping their influence without cutting off the source of information. As noted by Hanes (2011), even if the parents would be able to successfully limit their children’s screen time to control their exposure to the sexualization of women, the girls still remain vulnerable to the massive amount of encounters via advertisements on radio, in printed sources, on billboards, and even in product packaging.
Considering the information above, it is possible to state with relative certainty that we cannot hope to eradicate the phenomenon without disrupting the most basic principles of the modern society, such as the freedom of information and freedom of personal choice. Hanes (2011) lists several possible solutions, including the decrease of screen time, the organization of activist campaigns, and addressing the issue through adjustment of policies and regulations, neither of which seems to provide the definitive solution. However, the cumulative effect of exposure to the criticism of the issue mentioned above looks like an optimal solution.
First, it is demonstrably effective as shown by the case of offensive imagery. Second, it does not violate any of the established social principles. Finally, it does not introduce any restrictions and can be achieved via educational means since it is based on critical thinking.
Stereotyping is an inevitable part of the social aspect of human activity. Because of its omnipresent nature and usefulness, it cannot be discarded or eradicated without major disruptions of our social environment. However, its acknowledgment and comprehension can yield visible improvement and should thus be perceived as a preferable solution to the issue.
Hanes, S. (2011). Little girls or little women? The Disney princess effect. Web.
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Stretten, A. (2013). Appropriating Native American imagery honors no one but the prejudice. Web.