Cartoons Communicate Stereotypes Too!

April 16th, 2012 | Categories: Stereotypes in General

Hello all and welcome to Media Monday at The Communicated Stereotype! Despite that I am hard at work proofing my new intercultural communication textbook titled Inter/Cultural Communication: Representation and Construction of Culture to which I have dedicated the last two plus years while working with 44 patient and wonderful contributors, my husband dropped me a hint that it’s been too long since my last blog entry and shared with me a cartoon that communicates stereotypes of Jews. Apropos of Media Monday at TCS, I thought I would take a breather and post it.

For some of you this cartoon will immediately evoke a laugh.

For some of you this cartoon won’t make much sense. It’s likely that if you don’t understand this cartoon and if you are in front of someone else, you might do one of two things. Either pretend to understand it or ask someone to explain it.

If you asked for explanation, you might hear one of two things. Either you would hear that the cartoon is supposed to be funny because the stereotype is that Jews are Cheap and the person offering shrimp is trying to assuage the person’s concern about the price of the shrimp*. Your response to this clarification about the meaning of the cartoon might be to say, “Oh, right. I get it.”

If you don’t receive such a detailed answer of explanation about the cartoon, you might instead receive an answer like, “Oh forget about it” indicating essentially the person is unwilling to share the reason it is funny with you, most typically perhaps giving the impression that “It wasn’t that funny anyway.”

This result is one of the most beautiful aspects of communicated stereotypes and is what happens with stereotypes communicated in an implicit way (Boss, 1979). The stereotype is hinted at but not stated. So, in order for the stereotype to be given its meaning, the person hearing the stereotype (or reading it) must demonstrate some acknowledgement that the meaning has been received. In acknowledging that the meaning has been received, whether you agree with the stereotype or not, you become complicit in the act of giving meaning to the stereotype. In doing so, YOU perpetuate the stereotype only you likely don’t realize that this is what you’ve done!

In the examples I just gave of how you might respond to the cartoon, you either laughed, pretended to understand the cartoon, or eventually said “Oh, right. I get it.” In all three cases you confirmed the stereotype as having meaning, making sense, and- in essence- being true, or at least being worthy of having been made into a cartoon.

The beauty of the implicitness of the stereotype gets even better. Wait for it…It’s like being on a scenic look out point on the side of a mountain and realizing there is one more corner you can look from and – BAM – an even more breathtaking view! Wait for it…

If you inquired about the meaning of the stereotype and were told essentially not to worry about what it means, you don’t participate in giving meaning to the stereotype (yeah!) though you do look ignorant or naive about common cultural stereotypes in American culture (boo-hoo!). But the best part is that the other person doesn’t contribute to the meaning either! In other words, the stereotype gets communicated with no one to blame (it’s only a cartoon after all 😉 ) or you equally participate!

If the stereotype was communicated in an explicit way, then you could yell at the cartoonist, the friend who provided the explanation, or even yourself if you repeated the meaning of the cartoon to someone else. You might say, “That’s so offensive.” “How can you say something like that?” But once people acknowledge the stereotype being communicated without placing immediate blame or taking immediate offense, then no one person can be yelled at. Instead everyone participates and the stereotype passes through the conversation as innocently as if someone said “Please pass the butter” at a Thanksgiving Dinner feast.

It’s not surprising to see cartoons communicating stereotypes in ways that promote stereotypes as true. But it is at times depressing. Just think about all that programming your kids are watching. Mine too.

Boss, George P. “The Stereotype and Its Correspondence in Discourse to the. Enthymeme.” Communication Quarterly 27:2 (1979): 22-27.

* Note that the humor in the joke is NOT related to the ignorance (or rudeness) of the person offering the shrimp who is unaware (or unconcerned about or outright mocking) Jewish dietary restrictions related to shellfish.

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