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Caricature of an obese manIllustration: Gargantua and Pantagruel by François Rabelais, illustrated by Gustave Doré in 1873
Caricature of an obese man
Illustration: Gargantua and Pantagruel by François Rabelais, illustrated by Gustave Doré in 1873

"What’s heaven? Heaven is where the police are British, the chefs are French, the mechanics are German, the lovers are Italian and the bankers are Swiss.

So then, what’s hell? Hell is where the police are German, the chefs are British, the mechanics are French, the lovers are Swiss and the bankers are Italian." [...]

"An idea is always a generalization, and generalization is a property of thinking. To generalize means to think [...]."-- Hegel

"Reel Bad Arabs (2006), The Slanted Screen (2006) and Inventing the Indian (2012) criticize racism and racial stereotypes in cinema."--Sholem Stein

"[Through Aesop] [...] we acquire certain opinions of the several animals and think of some of them as royal animals, of others as silly, of others as witty, of others as innocent." --The life of Apollonius of Tyana by Philostratus

Ill-Matched Lovers (c. 1520/1525) by Quentin Matsys, illustrating the stereotypes senex amans and the gold digger
Ill-Matched Lovers (c. 1520/1525) by Quentin Matsys, illustrating the stereotypes senex amans and the gold digger
Caricature of a black man Source: cover of the brochure of the "Entartete Musik exhibition
Caricature of a black man
Source: cover of the brochure of the "Entartete Musik exhibition

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Stereotypes are generalized ideas and representations about members of particular groups, based primarily on membership in that group. They may be positive or negative prejudicial, and may be used to justify certain discriminatory behaviours. Some people consider all stereotypes to be negative. Stereotypes connect with stock characters, clichés and tropes and are contrasted with individuality, originality and unicity.



Stereotypes are assumed characteristics based on a large group of individuals whose beliefs, habits, and actions are perceived to be similar.

Stereotype production can be based on

Stereotypes are seen by many as undesirable beliefs imposed to justify the acts of discrimination and oppression. It is thought that education and/or familiarization can change these misbeliefs. Other negative effects are:

  • justification of ill-founded prejudices or ignorance
  • unwillingness to rethink one's attitudes and behavior towards stereotyped group
  • self-fulfilling prophecy for both stereotyping and stereotyped group (white people treat black people in a more hostile way because they are afraid of them; black people accordingly react more aggressively, thus confirming the stereotype...)

Unhealthy stereotypes can be negative or positive, even for the same group: Black men are generally supposed to be good musicians and basketball players, but at the same time seen as aggressive, prone to lives of crime, and likely to be on drugs. The effects of stereotypes can have positive and negative effects: Students who were implicitly made aware of their gender behaved as the stereotype suggested:

Asian-American women performed better in math tests when being aware of being Asian, and did worse when being reminded of being women.

Stereotyping can also be created by the media, showing an incorrect judgment of a culture or place.

Often the terms stereotype and prejudice are confused:

  • Stereotypes are a generalization of characteristics; they reduce complexity, provide stability, and offer opportunities to identify oneself with others.
  • Prejudices are either an abstract-general preconception or an attitude towards individuals.

Role in art and culture

Stereotypes are common in various cultural media, where they take the form of dramatic stock characters. These characters are found in the works of playwright Bertolt Brecht, Dario Fo, and Jacques Lecoq, who characterize their actors as stereotypes for theatrical effect. In commedia dell'arte this is similarly common. The instantly recognizable nature of stereotypes mean that they are effective in advertising and situation comedy. These stereotypes change, and in modern times only a few of the stereotyped characters shown in John Bunyan's The Pilgrim's Progress would be recognizable.

In literature and art, stereotypes are clichéd or predictable characters or situations. Throughout history, storytellers have drawn from stereotypical characters and situations, in order to connect the audience with new tales immediately. Sometimes such stereotypes can be sophisticated, such as Shakespeare's Shylock in The Merchant of Venice. Arguably a stereotype that becomes complex and sophisticated ceases to be a stereotype per se by its unique characterization. Thus while Shylock remains politically unstable in being a stereotypical Jew, the subject of prejudicial derision in Shakespeare's era, his many other detailed features raise him above a simple stereotype and into a unique character, worthy of modern performance. Simply because one feature of a character can be categorized as being typical does not make the entire character a stereotype.

Despite their proximity in etymological roots, cliché and stereotype are not used synonymously in cultural spheres. For example a cliché is a high criticism in narratology where genre and categorization automatically associates a story within its recognizable group. Labeling a situation or character in a story as typical suggests it is fitting for its genre or category. Whereas declaring that a storyteller has relied on cliché is to pejoratively observe a simplicity and lack of originality in the tale. To criticize Ian Fleming for a stereotypically unlikely escape for James Bond would be understood by the reader or listener, but it would be more appropriately criticized as a cliché in that it is overused and reproduced. Narrative genre relies heavily on typical features to remain recognizable and generate meaning in the reader/viewer.

In movies and TV the halo effect is often used. This is when, for example, attractive men and women are assumed to be happier, stronger, nicer people.

Stereotypes of groups

Common stereotypes include a variety of allegations about groups based on age, ethnicity, gender, nationality, dis/ability, profession, sexual orientation, race, religious belief, size, physical appearance, social class (see social stereotype). Stereotypes can also be based on individual impairments.

By region

ethnic stereotypes

See also


Examples of stereotypes

Cultural and ethnic
Sexuality related

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

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