Saturday, June 2, 2007

Redefining Stereotypes

"The people complained as the nudists strolled down the beach."

Stereotypes are great, aren't they? At the mention of a single word, you get all sorts of ideas and emotions that stem from your knowledge of that word. This makes communication much easier since you don't have to describe all the details, but instead convey a general concept. Once key words are spoken, people can make all sorts of assumptions about the topic. These assumptions sometimes get validated, and the stereotype becomes stronger.

Despite the usual definitions, I consider a stereotype to be the extra baggage that comes with a word. This extra baggage varies from person to person, because it is formed from experience. For example, police officers might see college students as troublemakers, but professors see them as smart, creative, and powerful future leaders. (Or smart, creative troublemakers at the very least.) Everybody should have unique stereotypes based on their unique experiences, however, far too many of them share one form of input -- mass media.

Even though there are hundreds of TV channels, magazines, and radio stations in the US, they don't offer much diversity for stereotypes. Part of the reason is because they are mostly all owned by only 5 companies. The other part of the reason is because stereotypes are used as shortcuts in the plots. Smart people are always nerdy looking, jocks are always dumb and wearing sports shirts (or carrying equipment), and everyone always looks picture perfect. Of course, there are many many more. If any type of media goes against these stereotypes, it takes some extra effort on the part of the writers to explain why. Sometimes, this is even the basis for the entire film or TV show. (ex)

So the media has stereotypes and uses them as shortcuts -- how is this a problem? It's not, unless you happen to be an exception of the stereotype. Are there people who are not picture perfect? Or non-nerdy smart people? Smart jocks? Perhaps almost everyone is an exception with stereotypes like these, which makes me question why the stereotypes exist in the first place. It's because they have always existed, since they were first observed, by a feedback cycle that confirms itself with every true instance. That girl did something stupid, and she happened to be blond, so that reinforces the "blond" stereotype. (If her hair was another color, she probably would've been ignored.) With reinforcement like that, the "blond" stereotype will never go away unless all blond girls become geniuses. The same is true with the typical "nudist" stereotype, as long as there are perverts occasionally found near nudists. And sex sells, so the media is more than willing to reinforce this one. The reinforcement cycle for stereotypes is a tough one to break!

The stereotypes tied to medical terms have always bugged me. When someone says they have [insert medical term], others always seem to think that they are "broken" somehow and need medical attention. This isn't so bad with serious illnesses, but now there are medical terms for anything slightly abnormal. We don't seem to understand that people are all different. I have nyctalopia, transient insomnia, border-line scoliosis, some pectus excavatum, and many more -- feel sorry for me yet? You shouldn't, it means that I can't see well in the dark, sometimes can't sleep, and look a little different. The point is that the medical terms strike up thoughts of me being ill or handicapped, when I'm not; I'm merely different. Sometimes an illness pushes people to be better than most, like Lance Armstrong and many others. Do you think people confuse terms like "nudist" with some sort of illness? Perhaps people think that nudists have a mental condition (Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder?) that makes them want to commit the perversion of being naked. Maybe I should've added "nudism" to my list above.

Using the terms "nudist", "naturist", and "nudism" only strike up good thoughts with people who practise them and know them well. To outsiders, these terms make us appear slightly abnormal and possibly even ill. For this blog, I intend to fix this issue by using alternative terms that have different stereotypes attached, so that any type of reader gets the correct idea:
  • Person (and People) -- The natural form of a human. No clothes, no accessories, and without unnatural modification. This renders the phrase "naked people" obsolete, since people are by default naked. If people happen to be wearing clothes, then they are "clothed people".
  • Textiler -- People who have a compulsive desire to wear clothing, and expect that everyone else also wear clothing. (This may be linked to OCD or garment fetishism?)
  • Beach -- A place with water and sand where people like to go to relax. A beach is by default a "nude beach" simply because beaches cannot wear clothing. The textilers can go to the "textile beach" if they so desire.

"The textilers complained as the people strolled down the beach."

Thanks to the stereotypes attached, the first quote (at the top) makes us think the nudists are the abnormal ones. The revised version makes us think the textilers are the abnormal ones. Which do you think has the favorable impact?

Update 2/13/2010: I didn't follow through for very long using these terms. Should I? A few months down the road I was using the typical language again.


Anonymous said...

I would agree with your various definitions. To take the distinctions a step further, however, I would add that textilers, as you call them, make a distinction between being dressed and undressed, considering that dressed is the normal state and undressed is not the normal condition. As I would be considered to come under your definition of a person,i.e., no clothes a good deal of the time, I make the same distinction using the words naked and unnaked; naked is the normal condition, unnaked not the normal condition. When I have to go out into the world, I get unnaked. When I am in a place where clothes are not necessary, I quickly become naked.

Anders said...

Thanks for a new favourite blog about nakedness!