As long as we have fiction, we will continue to have stereotypes.

I know. That’s a pretty bold statement to start off a Monday. I’m basically saying that we will never stop judging and assuming one’s character based on certain traits and characteristics and mannerisms. Well, as long as we keep writing books anyway.

X drove a Mercedes. When you read that sentence, what does the word Mercedes bring to the story that car doesn’t? Wealth, privilege, debt, flash?

If I said X drove a Mercedes, wore a pinky ring and Italian leather loafers what do you see in your mind?

I I said X drove a Mercedes, wore a Swiss watch and donned bright white tennis sneakers, what do you picture in your mind?

If I said that X drove a 1972 Mercedes, wore birkenstocks and no jewelry, what would that tell you?

If you thought gangster, WASP and hippie are you stereotyping? Are you assuming the final tally based on the digits, even though I never used the words gangster, WASP or hippie?

Are you an old fashioned stereotyper? Or are you just deciphering clues?

Is the whole process of show not tell an exercise in how to stereotype?

I watched a medical drama last night. The character in the hospital bed said “Girl, you have to see the Doctor, He fly.” If you read that line of dialogue in a book, would you make any assumptions about the character? Would it be stereotyping if you made an assumption about the speaker of that dialogue?

When we read fiction do we make assumptions based on description? I wrote in one of my passages last week “couch with welcoming back support”. I was, as someone said, trying to denote that the speaker was at least in middle age. Young people never look at a piece of furniture and wonder about it’s comfort, or how easy it will be to get in or out of it…but some older people do. Not every person of a certain age thinks about the comfort of a chair…but some do… Is it wrong to guess the character I was describing was oldish?

So, do we rid our lives of fiction so that we can lead a life with no judging others based on characteristics?

Or do we just learn to deal with the fact that humans stereotype, always have stereotyped and always will?

60 thoughts on “Stereotypical Fiction

  1. Abolishing fiction wouldn’t get rid of stereotypes – fiction as entertainment may reinforce and spread stereotypes, but as long as we encountered people in our lives who are not identical to each other we would categorise (or stereotype) them. So, to really get rid of stereotyping, we’d have to get rid of individuality.

    Stereotyping in itself isn’t bad, it’s just that we’re used to bad examples. It’s interesting that here you’ve focussed on what are not inherent traits – the thing we have the most issue with stereotyping. It’s far less egregious to make an assumption about someone based on what they wear than the colour of their skin. Part of how you dress actually is about telling the world who you are, inviting them to judge you.

    I suppose it really is mostly about picking up on clues, but the real issues begin in stereotyping when you’re too sure of your deductions. It’s one thing to say “he looks like a hippie so I can probably guess some things about him” and another to say “he looks like a hippie so I know everything about him.”

    P.s. had to look up WASP, though I had an equivalent idea in my head – my other guesses were gangster and hippie. Go me!

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    1. You’re right…stereotyping isn’t all bad. I think there’s something to the effect that we stereotype to protect ourselves and sense out danger, which makes sense to me.
      Of course, stereotyping based on ethnicity or gender or sexual orientation is bad. But is that really going to go away? I think it’s a nice story we tell ourselves, but I think everyone of us will continue to do it.
      My daughter sent me a picture of her and her friends at a party…seven young women all in white sneakers, medium fade jeans, black tank tops and apple watches with light bands. When you walk around in a uniform of sorts, is it wrong to stereotype them as middle class college students at an east coast college in America?

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      1. I personally don’t think it will go away, all that’s happening recently is that people are being “encouraged” not to give voice to stereotypes, but we continue to form them in our head. It really is just ingrained in us, an extension of the pattern recognition we apply to everything else in life. I expect security is a major part of it but it can also be helpful socially, in that it’s easier to keep track of social dynamics using broad categories.

        I had that exact idea in mind writing my first comment. We do basically adopt the uniforms of whatever (sub)culture resonates most with us.

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  2. We are born and grow up in a certain culture. So, certain beliefs, mannerisms, and accents will always accrue to a cultural influence. Even an enlightened being will retain at least some of these influences. Ergo, I’m agreeing with you and everyone else who has commented so far. Stereotyping is here to stay, and it’s not necessarily a bad thing. And, beyond stereotyping, each of us manages to manifest his or her own unique individuality. We see it in fiction and in life.

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      1. I think there’s a difference between negative stereotyping and descriptive writing that conjures up a stereotypical image. While we do need to be aware of blatant stereotypical bigotry, just describing people can create images that can be perceived in a negative manner. I think awareness is key. What is appropriate In a stereotype changes as social values change. Read an early Agatha Christie mystery. The bigotry, (racism and anti-semitism) is blinding. And in Sherlock Holmes adventures ethnic slurs were thrown about wildly without regard . So while we continue to create new stereotypes to identify and classify our peers, hopefully we become more enlightened in our tolerance of one another.

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      2. Ok. I’m reading a book written in I think 2019. The character talks about Jews in a stereotypical way. Is it acceptable because it’s supposed to reflect how a character thinks, and is therefore a good way of showing a mindset, or is it just wrong to do because it shows a group of people in a negative light? Or does it it matter how the book is written, like it’s trying to show us a lesson?

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      3. I’d have to read how it was written to decide. If a character comes across as sounding bigoted to show that a particular character is racist then I would assume it’s for plot purposes. I’d have to read it to make a judgement call. If I personally found it offensive then to me it shows the book was not written well. An author should be able to tell a story without offending its readers. But, If the author comes across as a bigot then that is offensive. If a character in a story comes across that way then it’s usually just one character. There is normally a greater goal by the author.

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      4. The problem is, any reader can read something in a particular way, regardless of the authors intention. It might not offend you, but could offend me…

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      5. Very true. And that happens all the time. Each of us has our own triggers that get to us. But, in recent years it seems that in some ways we are more cognizant of one another’s feelings and yet in other ways we are now so super sensitive that we let everything bother us.

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      6. Exactly my problem. And then we think…we’ll if X is going to be offended by Y, then I’ll be offended by Z…it’s this vicious loop that doesn’t make anything better…and often worse

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  3. I think stereotyping is in our nature – I think it’s made worse by mindless media consumption but it does serve a purpose. Education helps us to look through/be wary of those stereotypes.

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  4. Stereotyping will never disappear. While it can be “wrong” in some ways, in other ways it’s just a reality for certain cultures, personalities, and beliefs. Not every stereotype is true for every person. But it doesn’t detract from the overall truth in some areas.

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  5. When I lived in Palm Springs we had tons vacationers from Los Angeles. A few years ago, every woman wore a flowery skimpy dress and the guys all wore the same fedora hat. I couldn’t help but laugh that they were so into being “different” and “trendy” yet all the hipsters wore the same uniform. And they went to the same restaurants and stayed in the same hotels. Yes, I stereotyped them. I couldn’t help it.

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  6. I don’t think it only comes from reading, stereotypes could also come from observations. If you watch a certain set of people and most of them act/speak etc., in a certain way you could stereotype from those observations. I’m sure not all Italians “speak with their hands” but if you see someone gesticulating a lot when they talk, you might think they were Italian. I think it matters what you do with the stereotyping. Are you judging? Gesticulating = Italian = mobster (or whatever bad thing you think about Italians – being one, I can’t think of any – LOL)

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  7. As writers we depend on stereotypes as a way of connecting with our readers. We’re hoping they will be able to form a picture of the character by our description and/or get a sense of their personality by their actions/reactions to specific scenarios. It’s our livelihood as if Popeyes muscles, or the Flying Nuns habit! 💕C

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  8. Hmmm. Good question. I think stereotypes and biases are socialized into us during childhood/school years. Thus, no matter how much we read or don’t read, these stereotypes and biases operate nonetheless. However, we can learn to interrogate and disrupt them, if we choose. I do, however, think that without awareness of our own internal biases, which are then transmuted through stereotyping, we can, unintentionally, codify them more by consuming large amounts of any kind of media. No más for now…great post, LA.

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    1. Very true. But fiction, really…show not tell is literally having us stereotype…it’s giving little clues without naming something. While it’s good writing…it’s not necessarily good for anything else…that being said…I still love fiction

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  9. Yes, we will always stereotype. The new generation of kiddos do it right to each other’s faces, then they laugh about it. With us, there is so much bad history behind the stereotypes, so we tend to be a little more sensitive. However, if we can find a way to laugh about it, maybe it will become a minor issue.

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  10. I can see where this would derive, however people have always been stereotypical. Fiction is not the culprit here lol. Fiction was created to test and push the imagination, to encourage to write in detail, you know to be descriptive in order for the reader to visualize as if they were voyaging a movie. Since time has began unfortunately there has always been levels! Levels of wealth, levels of standards and so forth. Because of these levels unfortunately people have developed a certain demeanor depending on that status or level. It also has a lot to do with upbringing and what you have been taught. Ex. You see a person, dark clothing, hood or a mask! You think to protect yourself or he/she is up to something right? I could go on but hopefully you get me but we will just have to deal with the fact the we all have a piece within.

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  11. Why do people feel like they can judge each other. I’ve walked on both sides of life. One side sugar coats and the other survives. And they judge each other unjustly. By living on both sides I learned to not judge, but accept. My kindness is not a weakness. My generosity is not a handout. And my loyalty is not for sale. Neither is my love, friendship or hospitality. Every morning I wake up with my integrity intact.

    Take a blank piece of paper and lay a pen on it. That blank paper is a cumulative list of what the world owes you. Now take that pen and write down every name of every person you have wronged. That is the cumulative list of what you owe the world.

    Only your god can judge you. I’m in no way perfect. Not even close. But a group of people made my life hell for a long time. I’m not mad, I guess they had their reasons. Maybe I had to pay my earthly karma bill. It’s not my place to judge or discredit anyone. I just have to say, my integrity is intact, and ask them if theirs was worth it.

    I find stereotyping quirky. I’m my own person. Break out friends. If your walk of life says you have to be a total prude, say shit, get laid and wear thongs. And smile while you do it. It’s fun stepping out of the box. If people talk about it, and you, then you have a fan club.

    Try not to judge anyone. Accept people for who they are. Be the best friend, daughter, son, mom, dad, husband or wife that you can be. Stay safe and stay free.

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  12. I have difficulty stereotyping on the basis of cars, as I never pay any attention to them. I guess fiction authors have the power to subvert stereotypes by introducing the unexpected… the young person who prefers comfort to speed for instance… and this reminds us to use shortcuts to judgement with care, in life.

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  13. There are stereotypes to almost everything, in and out of fiction. I wouldn’t call stereotypes all bad nor all good, though assuming something about a person based off what they’re wearing or what their religion is can be hurtful. You do make a valid point though, show not tell really is just us using stereotypes lol.

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  14. What a great topic. I think we’ll always these things and they are about characterization and almost becomes methods of us as writers communicating to readers. We can as writers break stereotypes on the characters and surprise them with unique or maybe really just beneath the surface facts about them though. Great post!

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      1. Hmm 🤔, I think to not use details it would have to be purely in the dialogue and actions of the character. This person rolling up in a Mercedes, would have to be a least a supportive character, definitely not a one or maybe even two scene character. Excellent food for thought though. I agree it is impossible to eliminate all stereotypes in writing at times.

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      2. I had a writing teacher who said to be wary of details we give in dialogue because it can (not always) be a lazy way of giving description. I think using it in dialogue is hard to do organically. I know you van state an opinion in dialogue which clearly gives you a look into the type of character but it needs to be backed us, blah blah blah. Then there’s people’s inherent belief system. If someone dies X they’re automatically Y…I see it often as I’m an urbanite. People make assumptions about me all the time based on where I live

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      3. Omg me too! @ urbanite lol …. Good advice, I think for dialogue has to be ‘showing’ it but it’s still can get you but so far. I’ve seen people react to characters who show so many other traits but they pick just one based on their own, like you said, inherit belief systems to judge them on. A shame for writers trying lol but hey…

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