An Introduction To Stereotypes In The Media

September 4th, 2011 | Categories: Stereotypes in General

Welcome to Media Mondays.
Today’s topic is an Introduction to Stereotypes in the Media

If stereotypes are as bad as political correctness would have us believe, then why does the media use them so liberally? After all, it’s only a couple of minutes into a Will and Grace, Jersey Shore, or The Office episode before you start laughing and perhaps for a fleeting moment think, “This is wrong; I shouldn’t be laughing at this.”

Using stereotypes in the media is not new. Consider that My Fair Lady (1964) won eight Academy Awards including one for Best Music, Scoring of Music, Adaptation or Treatment. Presumably that award was given because and not despite of a song titled A Hymn to Him with lyrics like:

“Women are irrational, that’s all there is to that!
There heads are full of cotton, hay, and rags!
They’re nothing but exasperating, irritating,
vacillating, calculating, agitating,
Maddening and infuriating hags!”

and another song titled I’m An Ordinary Man that gives equally stereotypical, though much more positive, treatment of men with lyrics like:

“Let them buy their wedding bands for those anxious little hands…
I’d be equally as willing for a dentist to be drilling
than to ever let a woman in my life, I’m a very gentle man,
even tempered and good natured
who you never hear complain,
Who has the milk of human kindness
by the quart in every vein,
A patient man am I, down to my fingertips,
the sort who never could, ever would,
let an insulting remark escape his lips.”

Some of these same stereotypes are perpetuated today. For example, Disney makes a tremendous amount of money from incorporating stereotypes into their animation. My son’s favorite Disney movie Mulan won 14 awards and grossed $120 million in its first six months with songs like these:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B6KQYJc7ngk

Some would counter that the media also wields their power to criticize stereotype use and do their part to dispel stereotypes even if they otherwise perpetuate them. MSNBC argued that females were better drivers than men, that ethnic stereotypes were inaccurate, and that stereotypes of geeks have a downside. 20/20 even aired an entire segment on the topic of stereotypes hosted by John Stossel.

The expression that people in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones seems apropos in relation to the use of stereotypes by the media. Their seemingly hypocritical criticism of stereotype use begs the question, if the media can use stereotypes to make money then why shouldn’t Tom, Dick, and Harry use them for their own benefit?

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