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The Role of Stereotypes

Richard Dyer begins his essay stating “the word ‘stereotype’ is today almost always a term of abuse.” We create our own stereotypes with feelings, and “it is the guarantee of our self-respect; it is the projection upon the world of our own sense of our own value, our own position and our own rights,” therefore making it necessary in everyday speech and the media (Dyer 245). In reviewing “The Role of Stereotypes,” Dyer proves stereotyping to be ‘wrong’ in a sense that it is based not on reality, but representation and order.  Although based on a small amount of truth, stereotypes are still necessary to help keep boundaries and categories within society.  The roles of stereotypes are represented as not only negative, but beneficial. Stereogypes are used to project society’s views as a culture and in the media to help organize and simplify society, and to convince society of a certain representation.

Dyer distinguishes the interests that stereotypes serve in our confusing society and is used with forms of representation and categorization of persons to make sense of society and the order in the world (246).  He quickly states the points of Walter Lippmann’s work of stereotypes in Public Opinion, as a short cut, therefore allowing society to see only a phase or aspect of the real world. Society’s visual perception is limited with the use of stereotyping and organizationOur society views stereotypes to be used to maintain class, structure, and organization within our culture. They are characterised by a few recognizable traits that do not alter or change, therefore being the small amount of truth stereotypes are based on, that allow society to define more groups of people by these recurrent features of one person, and form our own opinions and views. Whether it is gender, race, class, or age, stereotypes play a role in determining who or what goes where in society.

Mass media constructs ideas of novelist characters in advertising, news, film, etc. in order to convince the rest of society to follow certain stereotypes.  The distinction between what is normal and what is “beyond the pale” is hard to tell.  He states that this “is the most important function of the stereotype: to maintain sharp boundary definitions, to define clearly where the pale ends and thus who is clearly within and who clearly beyond it” (249). Walter Lippmann states that for the most part we do not first see, and then define; we define first and then see.  Society does not want to waste time to determine who or what may be right for a certain purpose.  Organization, representation, and stereotypes pave ways for people to think and perceive what is considered right in society.

Society categorizes groups of individuals for explanation and reason, but as Dyer explains Lippmann’s notions, “stereotypes are a very simple, striking, easily-grasped form of representation…” that can be used by everyone, yet “are none the less capable of condensing a great deal of complex information” therefore, not used because it implies underlying knowledge of an individual (247).  A person cannot tell just by categorizing something, that it is ‘normal’ and should not confine us to one certain type of person. “The role of stereotypes is to make visible the invisible” therefore allowing us to have an idea of what is to come, although not restraining us from them. Society projects the view of stereotypes in the media to represent the everyday life and the rights of the people into representations.

Francesca Massey
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