I’m enjoying AMC’s series, The Walking Dead, but last night’s episode took its first misstep for me. It wasn’t enough of a misstep to make me abandon the series, but it will make me a little more cautious about the show. That misstep was introducing a standard-issue racist character. Let me see, the character is big, white, southern, male, lacks self-control, loves guns and violence, hates folks that he addresses with the “N” word, and is crude to women. Are there people who meet that stereotype? Probably. There are people who meet just about every stereotype. But I consider it a problem in a TV show, or in literature, when you can hear the first words out of a character’s mouth and instantly deduce everything about them.
The stereotypes in Avatar were a problem for me with that movie, especially the blue-skinned “Native American Noble Savages.” And that movie had its share of human racists too, the main one being the military commander, who was big, white, apparently southern, male, and in love with guns and violence.
This is not to say that written fiction never does this sort of thing. I like to read pulp stories and you can sure find the stereotypes there, inscrutable and evil “Orientals,” oily and criminal “Italians,” murderous heathen “Indians,” simple obsequious “darkies,” etc. Or you can read a certain brand of modern thrillers with their stereotyped Nazis and Islamic terrorists.
To a certain extent, I can tolerate stereotypes, although much less with main characters than with secondary characters. I understand that writers have to sketch some secondary characters quickly in order to get on with the plot, and stereotypes let the reader do a lot of the work of defining such characters. I can tolerate stereotypes that appear in fiction from a time period like the 1930s, 40s, and 50s. I can also tolerate stereotypes better if they are neither hateful nor overly positive. I’m mostly OK with the bookish librarian, the absent-minded professor, the football jock, the overly bright kid, but my patience quickly wears thin with the Noble Savages, the white racists, and the black crack dealers.
I believe I’m seeing fewer of the blatant stereotypes in both movies and literature these days, and I’m glad for that. I don’t see as many black urban youth gangbanger crack dealers on TV as I once did. I don’t see as many weak women victims who can’t outrun their male tormenters even though the villains are “walking.”
But certain stereotypes still seem pretty common, and the white male, southern, gun lover racist one is particularly prevalent. I will admit that I’m probably sensitized to this one in particular because I’m a white southern male who owns guns. However, I’m not very big, not crude to women, and though I dislike plenty of people I dislike them on their own merits or lack thereof and not on the color of their skin.
Am I right that the white male southern racist seems a particularly common stereotype today, or am I only noticing it more because of who I am? Am I right that many other blatant stereotypes are decreasing in entertainment? What other blatant ones are left? Any examples?
And, in other news, David J. West has a kind review of Swords of Talera up over at his blog. Thanks, David. Glad you enjoyed.