Media stereotypes do more harm than good

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Media stereotypes do more harm than good

Tai Van Dyke, staff writer

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The appeal of fiction is not just the intriguing plots and the alternate worlds, but also in characters. Like a real person, a good fictional character often has goals, beliefs, interests and his or her own personality.

However, not every piece of media treats its characters with this amount of depth, especially when relying on stereotypes to represent groups of people.

“The more the media portrays characters by a certain stereotype, the more [the stereotype] is going to be reinforced,” senior Cody Delfava said.

A stereotype at its core is cognitive scheme, which creates an image of a group based on basic observations. They can be based on many traits, including gender, sexuality, race, religion and occupation. Though stereotypes may not always shed a negative light, their effects can still be detrimental.

“I can speak for my husband that because he is Asian, it is often presumed he is Chinese,” English teacher Melanie Huynh-Duc said. “Stereotypes reinforce that all Asian people are ‘Chinese’ even though there are many more different ethnicities.”

Humans learn by example. If a certain trope is played over and over again, it can become easy for people to make assumptions based on that.

Delfava, who is gay, feels he doesn’t meet the expectations of the stereotype.

“Based on how LGBT people are portrayed in the media, [people] don’t really expect me to be a member of that community,” Delfava said.

At its worst, a reinforced stereotype could provide the basis for discrimination. Take for example, comic relief characters. Often characters that are overweight, gender non-conforming or of a different cultural background tend to be the subject of jokes in many shows and movies.  Thus, it is implanted in the public subconscious that it’s acceptable to mock these people, rather than to accept them as individuals.

“I feel like [a stereotype] would make you feel trapped; even if you didn’t fit it, that’s how people would see you,” freshman Emma Fagerberg said.

Not all stereotypes in the media are potentially misleading or harmful, but they are lazy. It’s much easier as a writer to simplify characters and reuse old tropes. A writer who perpetuates stereotypes might not have any malign intentions, but may instead be aiming for convenience.

“Tropes are way too overdone and very few people seem to know how to subvert them or to break out of them,” senior Jacob Schott said. “Often [certain characters] are there either as a joke or for the writer to be like, ‘Oh, look. I’m so progressive.’”

Overall, as long as it is human nature to simplify information, stereotyping will continue to exist. Nevertheless, people can be more aware of what is being presented in the media and how it affects others.

“I try not to let stereotypes influence how I look at people,” Delfava said. “Each person is different and should not be confined to a single view.”

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