Sunday, August 31, 2008

The Role of Stereotypes by Richard Dyer

Summary: The Role of Stereotypes by Richard Dyer

Towards the start of Dyer’s chapter 3 in his book, The Matter of Images, I find it unsettling when he quotes Walter Lippman, an American writer and journalist, in reference to stereotypes: “Stereotypes are…highly charged with the feelings that are attached to them. They (stereotypes) are the fortress of our tradition, and behind its defenses we can continue to feel ourselves safe in the position we occupy” (Dyer, 11). Thus, as Dyer interprets, it is not the stereotypes that are at fault, it is the individual developing those biases who has complete control over their own prejudices and thoughts about a specific social or racial group. In relation to media images, this means that we have a responsibility to interpret images we may view in media without prejudice, and if we interpret those images in a biased way, we can only blame ourselves. Dyer continues to argue a few characteristics relating to stereotypes. First, Dyer argues that stereotypes “order” data that we receive from the world around us. Stereotypes represent and categorize individuals. Dyer states that this ordering provides an inescapable way for societies to “make sense of themselves” (Dyer 12). Secondly, Dyer points out that a stereotype may give us an easy way of representing a specific group of people which in turn helps to easily make sense of a mass amount of information regarding that group. Dyer continues to state that the success of a stereotype depends on how effectively it conjures an agreement among a mass amount of individuals. Towards the end of his chapter, Dyer concludes that stereotypes function to “make visible the invisible” (Dyer 16). He says that stereotypes represent issues in society that are reality and which are present in today’s culture.

Dyer, Richard. "The Role of Stereotypes." The Matter of Images. New York, NY: Routledge, 1993. 11-17.

Media Image: Stuff White People Like

I first encountered this book this summer. It's entitled: Stuff White People Like: A Guide to the Unique Taste of Millions. Written by Christian Lander, part of the description of the book states in reference to "white people":
"They love nothing better than sipping free-trade gourmet coffee, leafing through the Sunday New York Times, and listening to David Sedaris on NPR (ideally all at the same time). Apple products, indie music, food co-ops, and vintage T-shirts make them weak in the knees."
Basically, this book pokes fun at the young contemporary generation of hippy Wes Anderson film-loving individuals that I so often find myself wanting to be a part of because I think it's a cool "image." The book directly hones in on the stereotypes related with this group of "white" individuals. From unique coffee shops to sushi to foreign cinema, this book basically shows that the stereotypes related to this group of people are in fact, reality. Throughout this book you can take a quiz to find out how "white you are" and it was amazing to me to find out that first of all, I'm not as unique as I thought I was, and second of all, that a lot of individuals I know fit right into these stereotypes.
In response to Dyer's chapter, these stereotypes portrayed throughout this book definately categorize individuals (individuals I know, atleast) and somehow make sense of the way in which people conduct their lives. It is also disappointing to me personally, but not surprising, that I am not as unique as I may have thought I was at one time. I believe it takes a large group of people who are all acting in a similar manner to bring about a specific stereotype and this book reveals that I fit right in, and that the stereotypes are true.
Not only is there a book dedicated to this "white person" stereotype but there is an entire website. You should definately check it out and laugh at a lot of it (mostly because you'll probably find yourself relating to a lot of the stereotypes described on the website).



Katie said...

hey jeriah,
I love your example of the book you read this summer- that's pretty weird to think that when we are trying to be interesting and unique, we are actually placing ourselves in a stereotype that already exists

Bro K'Mansky said...

Some people brought the website in for "show and tell" during the Images in Media class last semester. Pretty funny stuff.

Interestingly, this book about "white people" is really only true for a fairly significant subgroup of white people. I can't imagine this book striking as much of a chord in some Bible belt town in Kentucky or even in a local Philly suburb like Upper Darby or Coatesville. I guess the book more or less self-selects a reading audience that will find its observations true!