Parody and Propaganda: Stereotypes on TVPosted: May 11, 2011
stereotype |ˈsterēəˌtīp; ˈsti(ə)r-|
1 a widely held but fixed and oversimplified image or idea of a particular type of person or thing.
a person or thing that conforms to such an image.
2 a relief printing plate cast in a mold made from composed type or an original plate.
— Dictionary application on my MacBook
Television writers and producers use stereotypes when creating characters for their programs – shocking news, I know. Despite being “widely held,” the use of stereotypes are largely denied because, well, “judge not, lest ye be judged” and all. But as functioning human beings in a multicultural society the bottom line persists; we all subscribe to various stereotypes, it’s how we take in and evaluate the world around us. Television is no different. When we sit down in front of our LCD flatscreen’s, laptops or iPads we expect a fictionalized version of reality to appear before us, but our understanding of that reality functions in the same way as it does while we’re sitting in the corner of Starbucks, we still see people in the same basic lights. For a television program to appeal to an audience it must, on some level, fit into our perception of reality.
Stereotypes are necessary on television; the differences between good TV and bad TV, positive stereotypes and negatives, harmless and hazardous, is a tricky line to walk (and perhaps even harder to find).
I feel that ultimately it is the show’s ability to successfully portray a character that audiences understand while simultaneously taking steps past the stereotype in some way, that separates the good from the bad.
In the following series of posts I will attempt to define some of these differences, to point out the positives and the negatives and justify my argument that we need stereotypes in entertainment.