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An Opinion Piece on Stereotyping
“Stereotype (n): a standardized mental picture that is held in common by members of a group and that represents an oversimplified opinion, prejudiced attitude, or uncritical judgment.” Also known as -- completely useless. In society, I’ve noticed a strange hierarchy of judgment created for individuals to feel better about themselves by putting others down. It has forced us into boxes designed for each group: “You got your freshmen, ROTC guys, preps, JV jocks, Asian nerds, cool Asians, varsity jocks, unfriendly black hotties, girls who eat their feelings, girls who don't eat anything, desperate wannabes, burnouts, sexually active band geeks, the greatest people you will ever meet, and the worst. Beware of The Plastics.” But a question I’ve wanted the answer to for so long -- WHY? Is it a societal need for validation? A sociological need to prove ourselves? Or is it a selfish compulsion to put others down? No matter what it is, it is utterly useless.
That is in no way me saying that I am above this habituation of judgment, but more of me saying that we should try and be more cognizant of it. Take VSCO girls for example. All they are doing is looking cute in oversized t-shirts and using metal straws, but we as a culture have turned that into a bad thing. God forbid someone says “save the turtles” or twitter will lose its head. I mean seriously, what do we gain by seeing a guy drinking an energy drink and immediately assuming that he is just another redneck ‘Kyle’ about to do crazy things at a Home Depot with his Ford F150? We may get a laugh, but after that, all we have done is just further isolate society.
This phenomenon is especially popular in TV shows and movies, with the nagging theme of “You can’t sit with us!,” and “I’m a weirdo” monologues. It only sets these stereotypes deeper in stone. We as a culture have familiarized ourselves with this concept to a point where we do not even notice it anymore. I do not even think that I could count how many times I have seen these same dumb conventions pop up time after time. Because as we all know, the head cheerleader HAS to be controlling, and the shy art boy HAS to be another closeted gay kid waiting for his mystical prince charming. It is honestly very misleading. I mean I’m kind of mad at Zac Efron for leading me to believe that High School was some magical place where the theatre kids are actually popular and there is legitimately good lunch food... sorry SAGE. But I mean talk about a movie that validates my point, High School Musical literally has choreographed dance about how we should stick to our same dumb stereotypes. The flashy, singable, and quite unrealistic standards it sets on each individual are paralleled so closely in the real world that it’s almost scary. I rarely see the theatre kids not sitting with other theatre kids, and I rarely see the “popular” kids talk to anyone but their kind.
In some cases, albeit very few, these stereotypes can form a sort of sanctuary for people. Some examples of this phenomenon would be the LGBT+ community or religious-based communities. The problem is, however, that these conceptually good communities can be turned bad by a couple of bad people. Take the Westboro Baptist Church or James Charles: they were not chosen by these organizations as icons, but since they are the loudest in the group, people on the outside define the entire group as one example.
But sadly, when that example gets “canceled,” the entire group is put to shame. In an article from the 2018 New York times, canceling is described as a cultural boycott, and in some ways, that makes sense. The act of canceling is just another act to put a specific group or person down. In some situations, taking respect away from a person who has lost it is good, however in other situations, it can be very harmful. When one person does something that is widely perceived as bad, why should it be fair that said person’s entire group gets blamed for it. Just because the Westboro Baptist Church is harmful to the LGBTQ+ community, it would not be fair of me to say that ALL religious groups are the same way.
I realize that a world free of judgment can never and will never exist, as some judgment is necessary for day to day life, however, the act of poorly judging others for no reason needs to stop. That could just mean taking the baby steps and realizing that communities are filled with individuals and that one of those individuals does not define the community. We are all vastly different human beings with a common goal of getting through the day, day by day, every day. Every single one of those days is a different adventure, full of different people, and different opinions that ultimately mean nothing. We can attempt to say that we are better than each group because of XYZ, but the fact is, our judgments truly mean nothing if that person or community refuses to accept those stereotypes. Observations are the building blocks by which we live, and to put ourselves above them is foolish, but we can all work towards understanding that judgments can and should change over time.