Thursday, September 16, 2021

Are Positive Stereotypes Actually Negative?

Positive stereotypes are actually negative.  More gay stereotyping from SNL.

Further to my previous posting, it struck me that some racial stereotypes are deemed "positive" but are still used to marginalize minority groups.  In fact, these "positive" stereotypes may be even more damaging, as they are often used to portray a minority as threatening.

For example, the stereotypes about Jews might at first seem positive.  They are all wealthy, of course, and work in the professions - Doctor, Lawyer, etc.   And they are smart with money and are found in high places in the international banking system.  These initially all sound like positive aspects.  But if you scratch the surface, these were the same excuses the Nazis used to exterminate six million Jews before and during World War II.

If you portray a group as having to much power, too much wealth, too much control, it is all that much easier to perceive them as a threat - and threats need to be dealt with.  Even today, the stereotypes about Jews are used by the far-right to paint them as puppet-masters ruling the world.  And it isn't too hard to figure out what these folks on the far-right think needs to be done about it.

Asians are plastered with so-called positive stereotypes.  "They're so good at math!" people say, "and they are so hard-working!"   This latter "positive" stereotype, as we shall see, is quite damaging.   Of course, Asians are also portrayed as inscrutable and plotting.  Once again, a threat.  And on the world stage, we see how this stereotype about "Asian hordes" is playing out.  The "threat" of Asians overrunning the world has been around literally for centuries.   This is not to say that countries like China are not banging the drum (or gong - is that racist?) of war lately, only that this stereotype of "Chinese aggression" clouds the debate and our perception as to what is really going on.  And as recent events illustrate, our perceptions can be clouded to the point where we engage in pointless 20-year wars.

So yea, it worries me, that the same right-wing people who mutter things under their breath about Jews are muttering pretty much the same things under their breath about Asians - and the number of hate crime assaults on Asians has increased dramatically in recent months.  This is how it begins.

But I mentioned "hard-working" as a positive stereotype that is actually negative.   "Hard-working" is often a dog-whistle for "they took our jobs!" and is often applied to other minorities.  For example, Hispanics are often talked about as "hard-working" which many are, as they may be disadvantaged economically, and have to work twice as hard to get ahead.  "Hard-working" isn't a cultural value or a choice they made, but may be their only option, particularly if they are illegal immigrants.

If you think about it, it is kind of an insulting compliment.  I imagine back in the day, the slaves were said to be "hard-working" too - but again, not by choice.   In Living Color  did a series of skits about Jamaicans where they were stereotyped as "hard working".  "You have only three jobs?  You lazy mon!"  I am not sure, again, if this is a positive stereotype, or merely describes the plight of immigrant Jamaicans, who have to work multiple part-time jobs, just to make ends meet.  And this is particularly true in America today, where full-time employment is harder and harder to come by, as employers no longer want to pay benefits - something they can skip out on, for part-time employees.

So "hard-working" has an evil side to it.  Saying the busboy at the restaurant is "hard-working" isn't a compliment - it is how his life just is.  And by the way, saying an Hispanic person is "hard-working" is sort of a slight against other minorities, one minority in particular ("they're so lazy!").   You see how this works.

A friend of mine played the video above and thought it was hilariously funny.  Mark and I were less amused.  For one thing, we didn't get it.  A lot of SNL humor is like that - if you lived in a fabulous penthouse in New York City, maybe it makes sense.  For the rest of us, not so much.  The idea that you can give "two tickets to Italy and $40,000" to each guest at your wedding is not funny, it is just stupid.  If you have 100 guests, well, that just cost you four million dollars.  Yea, I know, it is exaggeration for the purpose of the joke.

But what is that joke saying?  It seems to be giving voice to a simmering resentment of gays, particularly successful gays.  Is this a thing?  Do straight people really feel intimidated by the gay?

What this stereotype is saying, in a eerie parallel to Jewish stereotypes and Asian stereotypes, is that maybe the gays have it too good - and they are intimidating their "straight" friends to the point where they seek anti-anxiety medication.  Maybe it is time those gays were dealt with.   After all, they all have high-paying jobs in the big city - probably have a hand in the international banking system as well!  They need to be taken down a notch!

But again, I wonder what the hell happened to Lorne Michaels to make him hate the gays so much.  SNL has a long, long history of going for cheap gay jokes, and it hasn't let up, even in recent years.

Of course, as in all comedy, the real offense is not being funny.  And that is the real issue when it comes to offensive comedy.  You may recall Michael Richards - the "Kramer" of Seinfeld fame, destroying his career with some racist rant at a comedy club.  "The white man is talking" he said.   It was offensive, yes, but it also wasn't funny at all.  And that's the number one rule in comedy - you have to be funny.

Racial humor and stereotype humor will always be with us.  Comedy is supposed to be edgy, and the best of comedians skirt this fine line in humor, and sometimes briefly cross it.  When done right, it isn't offensive - or not very offensive.  When done wrong, it is just bald-faced racism and bigotry.

It is like dropping the F-bomb in comedy.   In the right circumstances, it might be funny.  But it is too easy to over-do it.  Just getting up on stage and saying, "Fuck, Fuck, Fuck!" over and over again, isn't funny, just desperate.  As Jerry Seinfeld noted, gratuitous use of vulgarity is usually the sign of a weak comic.  I think gratuitous use of stereotypes works the same way.  It isn't funny, particularly if it isn't funny.

In this instance, it isn't funny.  Why?  Because the stereotype presented is idiotic.  Maybe if you live in Manhattan, all of your gay friends make millions a year at high-paying jobs in medicine, law, and finance (double that, if they're Jewish, amirite?).  And of  course they are all impeccably groomed and wear tailored Italian suits that they send to France for dry-cleaning.  Everything they do is perfect, and they are prefect people and - this is key - you just want to hate them.

That is it right there.  They are not human.  They are the other.  They are not one of us regular people.  And once you start thinking this way, it is all much more easier to stuff 'em in the oven - it's been done before, on a grand scale.  It will be done again, you can bank on that.

Of course, it is an idiotic stereotype.  Gays are just like regular people!  I know, this is hard to wrap your head around.  They are not "the other" or "them" or subhuman.   Most are just middle-class schmucks who go off to work every day and try to make a living and put a dollar in their 401(k) when they can.   Most face the same struggles everyone else is facing - the high cost of housing, saving for retirement, paying off student loans.  If you cut us, do we not bleed?

Our wedding was a little less ostentatious.  Just Mark and Me and Ginger, on the beach.  No one got nervous because we invited no one.  And no gifts, either!