Recently, I heard someone say, “that’s solid.” The person was referring to a the “Hippie Dippie Weatherman” routine by George Carlin. It’s a very funny routine that’s considered to be a classic. I found the statement, that’s solid, rather interesting. It reminded me of the meaning of the word, “stereotype.” The literal meaning of stereotype is “solid-kind” when viewed from its Greek roots, but we normally interpret it to mean, “solid impression.”
Now, the “Hippie Dippie Weatherman” is a solid impression or stereotype. A solid impression of a weatherman who acts like he is a hippie. My dictionary states that stereotype is, “a widely held, but fixed and oversimplified image or idea of a particular type of person or thing.” A stereotype is nothing more than a short-cut or thought-saving device for our minds. It enables us to not have to think for ourselves.
The “Hippie Dippie Weatherman” is a pre-packaged image that tells us immediately about the character in question. The person is a hippie who is “dippie” and tries to predict the weather – a stereotype in the sense that we all can “see” the person without having any other information. A fixed and oversimplified image of a person.
Really, using a stereotype is allowing someone else to do our thinking for us. Many words that are considered loaded and negative are stereotypes. There are many examples and just to name a few, consider the fixed and oversimplified images that are formed in minds by the words: Liberal, Conservative, Geek, Nerd, Hippie, Wasp, Uncle Tom, Homer Simpson, Jewish Princess, Dykes and Blue Collar. These words don’t have to be stereotypes, but they do tend to cause stereotypical images in our minds.
Often, when we hear that someone is a hippie, we tend to conjure an image of someone whose values are rooted in love and peace. The person might be into communal living, drugs and liberalism. These are just a few of the ideas associated with the word hippie. The point is that hippie is definitely a “solid impression” on one’s mind. It is, for lack of a better term, a stereotypical word!
So, who uses stereotypes? Well, all of us do, now and then. I have used the words, country boy, when describing myself. I use country boy as a stereotype of who I am. On the other hand, I haven’t lived in the country for forty-five years. Am I really a country boy, or am I trying to quickly place a solid impression in one’s mind? Probably the latter.
I think people sometimes use stereotypes when trying to describe other people in a negative fashion. For example, consider how the Nazis described the Gypsies and Jews. Consider how the liberals talk about the conservatives. Consider how the conservatives talk about the liberals. Consider how the sexists talk about the gays. Consider how we often have a “one size fits all” word for a group that we are wanting to describe in some negative way.
When President Obama was running for president, he was incorrectly called a Muslim. When he was referred to as a Muslim, the people who did so were using the word “Muslim,” in a stereotypical manner. They were trying to do the thinking for those who listened to them.
Stereotypical statements are often oversimplified and overgeneralized statements that should be avoided, if at all possible. Very seldom are they appropriate. If you are a woman, then how do you feel if someone says, “I know what you think because you are a woman.” Ouch!
Humans are all unique and entirely too diverse for us to expect a stereotype to be appropriate.
Who uses stereotypes? Hopefully, not us!