By Graham Peterson
The media is, as a matter of facts and regardless your opinion, one big stereotype machine. Why is that? Holding constant zany theories of economic and classed hegemony, or brainwashing pace Noam Chomsky, let’s explore it.
When one wants to reach as large an audience as possible, it makes perfect sense to speak a language everyone can understand—the “lowest common denominator”—to speak in over-simple stereotypes about enormous groups of people. It makes particular sense in an environment like midcentury television, or early 20th century movies, where fixed costs to production were enormous and one henceforth needed to sell a lot of units.
But stereotypes aren’t just a way for people to convey their nasty beliefs about other races to one another, they’re a perfectly rational way to distill the complexity of social groups, and to form mutually consistent expectations of one another’s behaviors. Without such systems of mutually consistent expectations, and social roles, social life would be chaos.
Our mission, then, seems to be to encourage people to move past the stereotype in any particular interaction, to gather more information about one another than a one-dimensional stereotype conveys.
And that is precisely what’s happening (and has always been) with the proliferation of new media. Because the technology to produce and distribute media has fallen like a rock (thanks, capitalism!), there is an exploding diversity of stories out there, and any one of those stories can clear its costs with smaller audiences. This means more complex stories, less ridiculous stereotypes about Cowboys and Indians. That’s a good thing.
The point, then, isn’t to browbeat one another for our feeble-minded use of stereotypes. We are constrained people, kinda dumb, and need them to cognate and socialize at all. The best we can do is to encourage the proliferation of an increasing diversity of groups and attending stereotypes. Indeed, that is precisely what the post 1960’s diversity mantra, in combination with progressive capitalism, is getting us.