Stereotypes of British people  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

This article discusses the various stereotypes of Europeans/Whites present in Western societies. This article primarily discusses European/White stereotypes present in American culture, but the same or similar stereotypes are present in many other Western societies as well. Stereotypical representations of people of European heritage are often manifested in a society's media, literature, theatre and other creative expressions. They at times have very real repercussions for individual White Americans in daily interactions and in current events.


By region

Stereotypes of Americans, stereotypes of British people, stereotypes of French people, stereotype of Germans, stereotype of Irish people, stereotype of Scottish people, stereotype of Russian people

Stereotyping of Whites regardless of nationality

White people are stereotyped in terms of various factors, such as their gender, nation, class, sexuality and/or ability etc.

Also, in many urban comedies, whites are portrayed as exaggeratedly nerdy, tense, rich, vapid, unstylish suburbanites. The trend is often cited as having been popularized with Eddie Murphy's experimentation with Whiteface, which itself was based upon earlier comedians, including Richard Pryor. Younger whites are also stereotyped as heavy metal, rock, or country fans, with older whites stereotyped as fans of Big band, or opera. In some stereotypes, whites are depicted as all liking "light" music such as Smothers Brothers or New Age types of music. Also all whites are stereotyped as having an appetite for pancakes, apple pie, pizza, and barbeque.

Conversely, whites are portrayed as white trash on certain occasions, in movies like Gummo and The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things. Or sometimes they are portrayed as hopelessly typical people, such as in Can't Hardly Wait.

Good and bad whites (in various different media genres), are often separated through color-coded iconography, such as by means of their eye, hair and skin color and/or their clothing wear. Good whites are mostly visually depicted as being lighter, while bad whites are mainly portrayed as looking darker, in reference to some or all of the prior factors. However in cases such as the Da Vinci Code , bad whites are portrayed as extremely light skinned, the plot device know as the evil albino or albino bias .

When interacting with non-white individuals (of the opposite sex)

In many Westerns (for example), the white male explorer is represented as having to guard himself against the "temptations" of the "black woman abroad," i.e. the supposed dangers and allures of "darkness". The "white woman at home" on the other hand, is a symbol of the safety of what is known and familiar. For the white male, a partnership with the latter is also a way to avoid any kind of interracial relationship with the former, that would especially result with "mixed" children and thus supposedly degrade his "bodily spirit" to that of "earthly matter".

The white female on the other hand, is at times depicted as being able to exercise power over both non-white men and women. Because of the "privilege" of her whiteness, she may become the "civilizing center" of a narrative, but only in the absence of her white male counterpart. Such representations are most common within individual European colonial texts.

However, one could also argue that white characters and personalities are represented as "... individual and/or endlessly diverse, complex and changing" within the North American media. The same can't be said for non-white individuals, who are mostly portrayed through a limited scope i.e. as objects that are oppressed, amusing, sexual and/or dangerous. Furthermore, in Western/North American media based representation, "... [w]hite [people] are overwhelmingly and disproportionately predominant, have the central and elaborated roles, and above all are placed as the norm, the ordinary, the standard."

Stereotypes of white males seen recently in black media are as sexually repugnant beings; indulging in such acts as playing with or tugging on their partner’s hair for enjoyment or having sexual intercourse through the open fly of their pants or boxers (much to the dismay of their normally black partners). Blacks and Whites are often considered polar opposites in terms of stereotypes (blacks are portrayed as more lively in comparison to the conservative white stereotype); as such, white males are often shown as having smaller or "below-average" penises compared to the "well hung" black stereotype. The worst of these stereotypes may portray white men as having a dominating hold over their non-white partner, in a slave/master-esque manner.


The English people are stereotyped as inordinately proper, prudish, & stiff & as having bad teeth.

It is increasingly commented in the British media that, in recent years, American films have portrayed white British characters as 'baddies', or given English accents to evil characters. A prominent example is that of the Imperial Officers in the Star Wars movies, most of whom had British accents. Such reports often neglect to mention that "goodies" Obi-wan Kenobi and C-3PO also had English accents. The latter character also exemplifies another 'use' for British actors in the American media: that of Butler or Gentleman.

Disney has given a number of villains and undesirable characters English accents. A few examples are Judge Frollo (although the character is French, he is voiced by Tony Jay, a British actor), Jafar, Maleficent, Professor Ratigan, and Lady Tremaine (Cinderella's stepmother). Scar, the megalomaniac lion from The Lion King also has an English accent. Other examples from children's films (not necessarily Disney) are Count Olaf, played by Jim Carrey in an adaption of Lemony Snicket's A Series Of Unfortunate Events, and Mrs Trunchbull in Roald Dahl's Matilda.

Characters in movies set in historical periods are often given English accents, even if the story doesn't take place anywhere near Britain. This stems from an American stereotype that the British have a high regard for propriety. In some cases, British men are portrayed as so proper that they are considered prudish. A popular Family Guy sketch portrays a British couple where the man says "You know we could have sexual intercourse right now... but let's not!" Family Guy also features Stewie Griffin, a Rex Harrison derivative, who speaks eloquently and despises most women. This distaste for vulgarity is often connected with homosexuality in American media. One could argue that characters like Henry Higgins, C-3PO, and Stewie Griffin represent a prudish, if not gay stereotyping of British men, but this theory, among many others, is challenged by the popularity of James Bond movies.

Many of the most popular villains in cinema are British, or played by British actors (e.g., Hannibal Lecter; Emperor Palpatine; Hans Gruber etc. It should be noted, however, that none of these characters actually were British; Lecter even had an American accent. Gruber was German, while Palpatine naturally had no Earthly nationality at all.)

British characters in popular cinema are often English upper class, with cut glass accents (Hugh Grant for example). Frequently they are portrayed as being callous bordering on the sociopathic (Greystoke, The Patriot, Gallipoli). Many of the myths that surround the Mutiny On The Bounty, in particular the conduct of Captain Bligh, originated from the various Hollywood films on the subject.


French are usually characterized as being snooty, upper class, effeminate cowards, wearing berets, cravates, and onions around their necks. Also, French are stereotyped as "giving up" in competitions or duels as (or before) they start. This view likely comes from France's surrender to Nazi Germany in World War II and is summarized in the statement by Groundskeeper Willie on The Simpsons, who referred to the French as "cheese-eating surrender monkeys."


In cinema Irish men are often shown as ruddy-haired alcoholics and abusers who "love to fight". They are also often portrayed in American cinema as police officers.

Although "Irish" is seen as a nationally or ethnicity by most people today it was once viewed as a grouping on par with distinctions now made between races. An analysis of nineteenth-century attitudes by Mary J. Hickman and Bronwen Walter showed that the 'Irish Catholic' was one viewed as an "other" or a different race in the construction of the British nationalist myth.

In 19th century cartoons, Irish immigrants were shown as ape-like and as racially different. During this period of high levels of immigration, Americans were beginning to consider the theory of evolution. Scientists, such as James Redfield, argued that "facial angle" was a sign of intelligence and character. When they studied the "physiognomy" or facial structure, or Irishmen, they detected animalistic qualities. The fact that such caricatures of Irish people existed, and were once considered to be "scientifically accurate" shows how much racial definitions can change. Few people today think of Irish people as "not white"or "racially primitive."


The Scots have been stereotyped usually as large, angry, very cheap, uneducated men. Usually with ginger hair, bagpipes and a tartan kilt. Some examples include Groundskeeper Willie from the Simpsons and The Scotsman from Samurai Jack.


Russians are usually portrayed as wearing heavy fur coats, with great beards, and a good taste for vodka. They are sometimes portrayed to be communists and/or Russian Mafia members. Generally a Russian male character will be very jolly but not too bright; females are usually cool and quite a bit smarter than their male counterparts, and are often sexually promiscuous.

Recently, Russian women (new immigrants) had often been connected with "Mail-Order Brides". Russian women are generally taller and thinner than American women; thus often more desirable to some men. This often generate some envy (and envy often lead to hatred) toward them. One example would be on the reality show "America's Next Top Model", when some of the female models commented on Natasha (a Russian national) on being a Mail-Ordered Bride (because she spoke broken English with her husband, rather than Russian).

An older stereotype of Russian women is the belief that Russians are more hairy and bigger (in stature).

See also

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Stereotypes of British people" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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