Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Nobody wants stereotypes (or do they?)

Tip of the Day: there's lots of amazing new shows on this season. Some of my favs so far: Flash Forward, Modern Family, The Vampire Diaries, and Glee.

When listening to complaints about the new show Glee, I've heard many TV critics point out it has stereotypical characters. The overly feminine gay character who enjoys dancing to Beyonce's Single Ladies. The overweight black female that likes to "riff" her music and is slightly violent in her behavior. The pretty cheerleader that's part of the Mean Girls trio and tries to break up Glee club, and her jock boyfriend.

Alot of people have stopped watching the show because of these stereotypes, despite the fact I think to some extend the show's purpose is going to try to break these down in future episodes and you'll ultimately get to see very different sides of these character that are hopefully less stereotypical. Including a previous episode in which we find out Kurt's character is good at football. And much of the appeal of this show lies in the music and uniqueness of the show, instead of it's characters.

But is there a fine line with stereotypes that you don't want to cross? And how do you avoid this in your writing?

In one of my current books many of the characters are from diverse cultures, and it gets tough to constantly push my own boundaries in trying to make these characters realistic without coming across as stereotypical Japanese, Italian, American, etc. One of the easiest ways to avoid this is to focus on developing the character fully and separate the character from the culture they come from. I'm an American and proud of it, but many of my traits don't fit typical views foreigners have of U.S. citizens. And the same goes for most cultures.

At the same time it's important for me to celebrate cultural differences in this book, because in real life I think it's important to recognize different cultures and appreciate them. So for that reason stereotypes have to come up, even if they come up because the characters are "shocked" by one of the other characters not fitting their own idea of a certain cultural trait, such as shy, flirtatious, good at dancing, always late, money-hungry, or any other stereotype you want to choose. Plus, I think it makes it more realistic if some stereotypes are in the book and are broken. Because as much as we don't like to admit it, that happens in real life to. So why try to hide that fact?

What do you guys think? And how do you deal with stereotypes in your own work?

--Emily, Miss Querylicious


Kate Fall said...

I think you have a very good analogy when you say that you probably don't fit a foreign assumption of a typical American. "Typical" is probably a bad word for a writer.

Last night, I noticed that when I write dialogue for one of my characters who is Jewish, he falls into speech patterns like my college friends from Brooklyn and Queens. So is that stereotypical or does it make sense that, in my book set in New York State, he'd talk more like his parents and grandparents? I don't want it to sound stereotypical, but it seems more like his family culture to me. I'm not playing it for humor.

Emily Marshall said...

Yeah, Kate that's why it's hard, because you want it to sound realistic without being stereotypical. It's tough isn't it?

DeenaML said...

This is a great post! Wow. I need to think about these things -- develop a character BEFORE deciding what their cultural background might be, then add pieces of the background back in... Hm....