National/ Ethnic Stereotypes, humor, and whining

Based on some ongoing threads in GD, CS & the Pit, I’ve become overly aware of national/ ethnic stereotypes used for humorous purposes, and the people who whine about them.

On one hand, we have the French (stereotype: dirty, anti-semetic, self-loathing cowards who are only good at making wine(whine?) and cheese). One Canadian website is devoted to stamping out “French bashing” “racist” “Hate Speech”, including a Liquid PlumR commercial that depicts a drain clogging hairball being magically transported to fall on the heads of a French (or Quebecois) couple having a romantic dinner (Miquelon’s latest campaign- May 2nd). In their FAQ’s, they unironically state that

One of their own examples of this high-minded critique is

I don’t have a problem with this American caricature. I even used a similar one in GD (that I swear I made up before seeing this “Monsieur Sylvestre” character). I got quite a few chuckles out of reading most of the site, but a few things left me wondering “Do people actually think this way?”

The Free French Forces did liberate Paris, after (American biased view follows in italics): hitching a ride on American and British boats (the US, UK, and Canadian forces that captured the beachhead were done with them), and marching behind Patton’s 3rd Army to the outskirts of Paris. In order to set de Gaulle up as a hero, Eisenhower left the liberation of Paris to him. This set de Gaulle up to be a minor thorn in the side of the US later (not the first nor last time someone the US backed in one conflict caused us trouble later- Saddam & bin Laden come to mind- not that de Gaulle was the same sort of trouble, he rose up to be a mostly friendly rival, not an enemy). We also didn’t have any trouble cooperating with communists (does Stalin ring a bell?). The defeat of the Germans was a team effort. It maybe could have been doable (with a lot more Allied casualties) without the French (that’s a big “maybe” and a big “a lot more”), but not without the US (and it’s muscle), the UK (manpower and convenient base), or the Soviets (lots of manpower on a [strike]2nd[/strike] 1st front).

On another hand, we have the Italian-Americans (stereotype: mobster, and all that goes along with that). The New York State Commission for Social Justice (CSJ), Order Sons of Italy in America (OSIA) (new stereotype- can’t come up with a snappy name or acronym) has this little page with whines about “bias and bigotry against Italians, Italian-Americans and other ethnic, racial or religious groups” (Funny, they only include stuff about Italians and Italian-Americans; nothing is there about “other ethnic, racial, or religious groups”). Targets include The Sopranos (understandable, to a slight degree), and other mob-related stuff, from commercials to extremely minor characters in The Simpsons.

On yet another hand, we have Indians/ Hindus (stereotype: worship deities posessing more than two hands). That’s a joke… I’ll stop with the first two hands.

The two sites above seem to think their group is being unfairly singled out:



One doesn’t have to look past the Simpsons to see that just about every ox is gored: the Scots (Groundskeeper Willie), Indian Indians (Apu), American Indians (had to stretch for this one- everyone at the Indian casino “Caesar’s Pow-Wow”, including the entertainment “Carrot Scalp”), French (“cheese eating surrender monkeys”, Jacques the bowling instructor), Irish-Americans (Mayor Quimby), or even plain old Americans (just about every citizen of the All-American Everytown of Springfield, from Bart the juvenile delinquent, to Homer the lazy, drunken lout, to Barney the lazier, drunker lout, to Mr. Burns the scheming plutocrat, etc.). Sometimes, the “anti-defamation” activists are the target of ridicule and/or depictions of hypocrisy (in The Sopranos, the Italian-American anti-defamation activist ex-husband of Dr. Melfi, who complains of the violent vigilantee stereotypes perpetuated by her mobster patient is driven to want to perform his own violent vigilanteeism, after his ex-wife is raped and the prosecution bungled by the cops).

Up for discussion: [ul][]Is it racist (or any other “ist”) or hateful to use these sorts of stereotypes for humor and/or other entertainment? []Are people who chuckle at the use of these stereotypes just as bad?[]Are the people who complain about the use of these stereotypes oversensitive, humorless twits? []Is it possible to use these stereotypes and still think that every human is a distinct individual, worthy of respect and admiration based on their own behavior and qualities?Can one’s use of the stereotypes in a satirical way be used to poke fun at the stereotypes themselves, and those who take the stereotypes seriously (i.e., racists, anti-semites, etc.)?[/ul]Discuss.

Well, having ethnic stereotypes about other nations is a part of all nations’ shared cultural experience, so I don’t think we can really blame people for using them for humour and entertainment. And like most stereotypes, they are good “shortcuts” to facilitate communication. On the other hand, I think that they are usually not very “nice” or sensitive. But very often humour isn’t. Yes, I think that people can use such stereotypes and still believe that everyone is an individual, but only if they are used in moderation. After all, in times of war, stereotyping the enemy is a strategy used by nations to convince their populations that the war is just. Ethnic stereotypes can certainly influence some people’s ideas about another nation.

Also, I don’t think stereotypes should be used in a serious setting, such as a political debate.

I don’t know. Are Texans insecure, overfed, loudmouthed braggarts and racists?

I think everybody’s apt to feel a little more sensitive about stereotypes that apply to themselves and complacent about those applied to other people. I agree with severus that national/regional stereotypes are probably universal and, in moderation, pretty harmless .

Ethnic/racial stereotypes, on the other hand, have had some comparatively serious consequences. As a rule of thumb, I’d guess, the more disastrous (and recent) the effects of the prejudice, the less likely that members of the affected group will consider the stereotype amusing or acceptable.

And as your own post shows, even people who want to be easy-going and tolerant about stereotypes making fun of themselves are apt to protest what they perceive as errors of fact. I guess one person’s “oversensitive, humorless twittery” is another person’s reasonable objection; it depends partly on where you’re standing.

It can be, but I sure wouldn’t count on all your hearers immediately understanding that your intent was satirical and anti-bigotry. I wouldn’t try “using the stereotypes” in such a way unless I was prepared to duck pretty quick.

In general? No. Most of us aren’t overfed, and not all of us are racists. :stuck_out_tongue:

Actually, according to the Centers for Disease Control, more than one-quarter of Texans are so overfed as to be clinically obese, so probably most of you are indeed at least somewhat overweight.

Other than that, though, I’m sure the stereotype distorts reality. But you see my point—everybody wants to correct what they see as the unfair parts of stereotypes aimed at themselves, even if in principle they think the best response is good-humored tolerance of them.

In my opinion, it depends mostly on the intent and context. These stereotypes can either have an humorous intent (that might not be that humorous, actually, after the 157th rendition, though ) or be hurled as an insult. I’ve seen the classic (and old) “cheese eating surrender monkeys” being used in both contexts. When inserted in the middle of a long anti-french rant, it just hints at narrow-mindness and xenophobia.

So, I would advise to keep separate serious criticisms and “humor”. In the middle of a satire, it comes as (good or poor) humor. In the middle of a “why french/France suck” post it comes as an idiotic insult, the assumption is that you actually think french people are stinky cowards, and that your opinion is based on your ignorant prejudices and nothing more. You might have noticed this in this other thread, when after many comments about the greatness of english speaking countries, you added that my accent was likely laughable and irritating, in lieu of an actual response to my arguments in a serious debate. My thought reading this? : “Yet another complete jingoistic moron, who, unable to justify his prejudices, somehow thinks he will get a pass and appear witty by pointing at a funny accent and laughing. 5th grade material”. Did I envision it could be humor in this context? Not for an instant. At best, gratuitous mocking.

Though the content and tone matters too. Amongst the most common circulating items about France on the net, and refering to surrendering frenchmen there are :

  • the "warning to american tourists vacationing in France " , which despite including a mention of the “De Gaulle liberating France all by himself day” and others references to WWII (“customarily, France is invaded by Germany from time to time and surrender at once” or something similar, “new tunnel under the Chanel build in order to allow the french government to flee more easily to the UK” or somesuch, etc…) is clearly humorous because it pokes fun at many other french stereotypes (administrative organization, number of vacation days, etc…), and actuallly even at the american consular services in its less common complete form. It’s obviously a satire.

  • the similarily common “french military ineptitude” item containing nothing else than a cherry picked list of french defeats, without anything appearing to be humorous, nor in its content, nor in its tone. The stereotype in this case isn’t used for fun, but solely to bash France and french people, and the comments of people posting or e-mailing it generally show it clearly.

Up for discussion: [ul][li]Is it racist (or any other “ist”) or hateful to use these sorts of stereotypes for humor and/or other entertainment?[/li][/quote]

The answer to all of these questions is “it depends on the context.” When I see comedies that use stereotypes and the shows appear to believe or imply that the stereotypes are true, it really turns me off. It can still be funny sometimes, but the implications bother me and usually cause me to stop watching.
[li]Can one’s use of the stereotypes in a satirical way be used to poke fun at the stereotypes themselves, and those who take the stereotypes seriously (i.e., racists, anti-semites, etc.)?[/ul][/li][/QUOTE]

Of course it can.

I’m not sure how I feel about Apu being included on this list, by the way. The character obviously began as ‘the convenience store-owning Indian,’ but I’d always heard that he was one of the first depictions of an Indian-Americans on any American TV show. His character quickly gained depth and he’s one of the best-known secondary Springfielders. It’s a minor quibble, as they still do plenty of Hindu jokes.

We can say it’s satire and that some folks are oversensitive, but ask yourself (not the OP specifically) when you come in contact with any “other”, do you see an individual or do you see the stereotype? When you have a negative/unpleasant experience with an “other” do you attribute (assuming you are not to blame) the unpleasantness to that person’s own qualities or do you see it as exemplarary of that person’s ethnicity/religion/association?

There is definitely humor to be found within stereotypes, but it is possible that the prevalence of this kind of humor reinforces stereotypes. In a perfect world we could laugh at ourselves, our cultures and those of others equally, but there will always be someone, for whatever reason, who does not find it funny.

Are Muslims utterly humorless? Not at all. But many (not just Muslims) value respect for god, traditions and cultural history above satire, freedom of speech and criticism. Does my desire for a few yuks outweigh another’s demand for respect? Depends on who you ask I guess.