Allison's Book Bag

Stereotypes and a Multimedia Challenge

Posted on: April 22, 2013

Last Monday, I shared about how since taking a course last spring in intercultural education I have become interested in reading books on the topic. Indeed, one of my current reads is a book that I obtained from a box of give-away items: The Children are Watching or How the Media Teach About Diversity by Carlos E. Cortes. At the time of last week’s post, I had only half-finished that textbook. Now that I’m done, I have more to share from it.

In last Monday’s post, I indicated that parts of The Children Are Watching are academic. While I mostly skimmed those sections, I did find of particular interest a chapter on stereotypes. According to Cortes, stereotypes need to be distinguished from two other concepts:

  • Generalizations: Some people would argue we should never generalize, but Cortes points out that generalizations are a necessity. We create categories of items, actions, or ideas, and then we generalize. That’s how the world works. He gives the example of a light switch. No matter where we are, most of us know how to operate one due to having generalized our knowledge of them. He then proceeds to point out that everyone generalizes when it comes to multiculturalism too. If he and his wife talk about a restaurant to visit, they will talk about the types of cuisines and the kinds of items they’re likely to find. However, they haven’t stereotyped the restaurants, because they are not dismayed if an ethnic restaurant is missing an expected item or if its includes a previously unlisted item.
  • Labels: Some people would also argue we should never label, but Cortes points out they’re inevitable. To refer again to his example of a light switch, Cortes notes that he can say “Please turn on the lights” and few would question what he means because most of us share that common label. He then notes that everyone, including the groups themselves, labels when it comes to multiculturalism. For example: National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
Cover of "The Children Are Watching: How ...

Cover via Amazon

After defining generalizations and labels, Cortes returns to stereotypes and how it happens in media. In his opinion, while the media may not regularly stereotype, they often can unintentionally contribute to it through four stages:

  • Reality: Media treatments of societal groups and their individual members often have some basis in reality even when that treatment may not reflect the majority in the group. For example, some Whites can’t dunk a basketball, some Asians are good in math, and some Jews are skilled in business.
  • Seminal Treatment: Media sometimes create a trend-setting, highly influential depiction of a group, simply by drawing on selected aspects of that group’s reality. Case in point, The Godfather invigorated the theme of Italian American organized crime.
  • Imitation: Television series and movies often become imitative of a seminal story. Returning to the example of The Godfather, in its wake rose a slew of minor flicks on the same topic.
  • Humor, Parody, and Caricature: Once stereotypes about a group have been internalized, the stage is set for media to derive humor based on that learning. Cortez refers to Italian Mob parodies as an example, including the most notable one of the HBO hit series The Sopranos.

In last Monday’s post, I also indicated that parts of The Children Are Watching are personal. To conclude this week’s musing, I’d like to challenge you to keep a short-time (up to a month) personal media journal. How? By keeping a record of and reaction to multicultural teaching that you encounter in your normal media consumption. Cortez, who himself kept such a journal, emphasizes the word normal. He stressed that one should pursue their normal media habits, but with the added dimension of making note of it in a journal. His media journal include examples of newspapers, radio surfing, and television and movies. If you take up the challenge, please share your results in a comment on this post.


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I am focusing this year on other commitments. Once a month, I’ll post reviews of Advanced Reader Copies. Titles will include: Freddy Frogcaster and the Flash Flood by Janice Dean, One Two by Igor Eliseev, Incredible Magic of Being by Kathyrn Erskine, Dragon Grammar Book by Diane Robinson, and Wide as the Wind by Edward Stanton.



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