4 Opinions So Popular You Don't Realize They're Stereotypes
We've come a long way in terms of being sensitive to other people (depending on your definition of "we"), but there is certainly always room for improvement. Just looking at half the things that passed as humor 20 years ago would make most people cringe.
While some might feel we've gone overboard in our sensitivity, others will say we haven't gone far enough. While mocking others for their heritage, ethnicity, or sexual orientation is generally frowned upon these days, it's not always clear where we draw the line. There seems to be a few holdouts in terms of things that are still OK to do and groups that are fair game for stereotyping and cultural appropriation. For example ...
Bashing Skinny People
Fitness enthusiast Maria Kang posted a photo to Facebook of herself in workout gear alongside her three little boys with the caption "What's your excuse?" The post quickly went viral, and not in a good way. She was criticized for fat-shaming and being a bully.
A few months later, Kang was temporarily kicked off Facebook for saying plus-sized models posing in lingerie were normalizing obesity. Kang's Facebook account was reinstated two days later, but her post wasn't and she received a warning that she better adhere to the community standards or face a possible permanent ban.
If you're asking why I don't have kids: it's just that I don't like them much.
What Kang said about plus-size models wasn't exactly nice or necessarily true, but a ban seems a bit much, especially coming from a site that has no qualms with letting users upload beheading videos. There's obviously pressure that women (and yes, men) feel to meet some kind of perfect standard, and that standard always seems to be changing. Which could be good or bad, depending on how close you are to the new ideal.
Thanks to celebrities like Jennifer Lopez and Kim Kardashian, the curvy backside has been enjoying a surge in popularity for some time now. So much so that three hugely successful pop songs about well-endowed bottoms were released in the span of just a few months last year.
In "Booty," J.Lo teams up with Aussie rapper/potential racist Iggy Azalea to sing the praises of, you guessed it, their big booties. The song is basically a PSA for loving your body and has a generally uplifting "feel good about yourself" vibe.
So that's nice! Next on the booty brigade is the catchy "All About That Bass," by Meghan Trainor.
For the most part, Trainor sings about loving yourself the way you are, and even when she calls out "skinny bitches," she does give the "just playin'" disclaimer. However, through the entire video a tall, thin brunette is being mocked for being a "stick-figured silicone Barbie doll" and unattractive to men.
Just pause for a second and imagine if Taylor Swift started singing about how boys prefer her awesome pert ass, while dancing around a chubby chick eating a cupcake ... the Internet would explode.
Nicki Minaj also has a booty-praising track. "Anaconda" takes Sir Mix-a-Lot's "Baby Got Back" and punches it up with lyrics from Minaj.
When Nicki Minaj raps:
Yeah, he love this fat ass
Yeah! This one is for my bitches with a fat ass in the fucking club
I said, where my fat ass big bitches in the club?
It sounds good, but then ...
Fuck those skinny bitches
Fuck the skinny bitches in the club
I wanna see all the big fat ass bitches in the muthafuckin' club
Fuck you if you skinny bitches, what?! Kyuh
Well, that escalated quickly. What's with the hostility? Attractiveness isn't a zero-sum game. There's room at the table for everyone. Size-shaming in popular culture is evident on both sides of the spectrum, but it seems to get a huge pass when "skinny" is on the receiving end of the scorn.
Assuming the Irish Are Brawling Drunks
The Washington Redskins have been facing lots of criticism for using a name and mascot many consider inappropriate. Even after the U.S. Patent Office revoked their trademark protection, deeming the name offensive, and in the face of some pretty damning comparisons, like the ones being made in this video ...
... team owner Daniel Snyder is digging in his heels. Instead of appealing the ruling, Snyder is suing the Native Americans who complained, and so far, the NFL has sided with him.
The NCAA is bit more proactive about weeding out potentially insulting team branding. In 2005, they instituted a ban on "hostile or abusive" nicknames or mascots, forcing several teams to part with questionable monikers and mascots.
When coming up with an appropriate team name, let South Carolina be your guide.
The University of North Dakota, not happy with the prospect of losing the "Fighting Sioux" as their mascot, filed suit against the NCAA. In their claim, they charged that if the ban includes all racial stereotypes, why is Notre Dame's "Fighting Irish" OK?
It is curious that "Fighting Irish" seems to not be a problem, even though their mascot is an angry-looking Leprechaun-like figure poised in a bare-knuckle boxing stance. The NCAA sidestepped the question with something along the lines of "because no one's complained yet," which sounds totally legit, and I'm sure has nothing to do with the millions of dollars Notre Dame funnels into the NCAA coffers.
The stereotype of Irish as drunken marauders goes beyond one sports franchise masquerading as a college. Soon, retail shelves will fill with typical holiday-themed/future landfill items, but these will be propagating the "Irish are drunks" stereotype, and few will give it a second thought. Stores like Spencer Gifts offer things like a shamrock adorned Drunk-o-Meter hat and a "Drink till you're fuck'n Irish" sippy cup ...
... for Plastic Paddies keen on celebrating Irish culture in the most boorish way possible.
Recently the Ancient Order of Hibernians, the nation's largest Irish Catholic fraternal organization, asked Walmart to remove shirts with phrases like "I may not be Irish, but I can drink like one" and "Blame the Irish for my behavior" ...
... and, most disturbingly, a shamrock-festooned maternity top emblazoned with the festive yet inappropriately mournful "Irish I could drink."
While the AOH desire to see "their culture celebrated, not used as an excuse for aberrant behavior" is an admirable one, their opinion appears to be in the minority and one definitely not shared by the world's largest retailer. This was apparent when Walmart finally responded to the complaints with the corporate version of "Erin Go Eff Yourself."
Appropriating Indian Culture
When a Victoria's Secret model showed up on the runway donning a traditional Native American-style headdress, the outrage was so intense that the overpriced underwear company cut that segment from their upcoming broadcast and quickly apologized.
Who could have seen that controversy coming?
This was around the same time Paul Frank threw a Native American-themed "Dream Catchin'" party to promote his fashion line. The ill-advised event described on the invite as a "Pow Wow to Celebrate Fashion's Night Out" prompted charges of insensitivity and racism against the designer. Paul Frank subsequently posted an apology on Facebook, and the images of guests in war paint and headdresses posing with tomahawks were pulled from the Internet, as if it wasn't already way ...
... too ...
... late ...
... for that.
The headdress has long been used by the hipster community as some kind of beacon signaling, "I like to express my quirkiness by wearing the same thing that everyone else is wearing to express their quirkiness." That also seems to be on the way out. A Canadian music festival recently announced a ban on wearing the headdress to be enforced by security guards, and the upcoming Glastonbury Festival in the U.K. won't allow them to be sold on festival grounds.
While everyone except the NFL seems to be getting up to speed on American Indian cultural appropriation, for some reason adopting the elements of South Asian Indian culture and Hinduism still seems to get a pass. Take, for example, Iggy Azalea's "Bounce" video.
Filmed in Mumbai, India, the video features Azalea as the Russian nesting dolls of appropriation: a white Australian girl rapping in a hokey faux hip-hop accent, dressed in a traditional Indian sari with a bindi on her forehead -- and yet even with 43 million YouTube views, she hasn't received near the level of criticism as Victoria's Secret or Paul Frank.
She's not the first pop star to use elements of the Hindu religion to shill music without much concern over the backlash. At last year's MTV Music Awards Selena Gomez performed "Come and Get It" wearing what she described as a "glam tribal" outfit and sporting a bindi on her forehead.
This is your fault, Slumdog Millionaire.
Hindu statesman Rajan Zed explained why her use of the bindi is upsetting:
The bindi on the forehead is an ancient tradition in Hinduism and has religious significance. It is also sometimes referred to as the third eye and the flame, and it is an auspicious religious and spiritual symbol. ... It is not meant to be thrown around loosely for seductive effects or as a fashion accessory aiming at mercantile greed.
But Gomez quadrupled down on her bindi-flaunting ways and donned the Hindu symbol for her appearance on the Late Show With David Letterman.
Depicting Italians as Mobsters or Idiots
Italian-Americans aren't all gangsters and buffoons, but you wouldn't know it from watching movies and television. Vito Corleone in The Godfather and Tony Soprano in The Sopranos are two of the most iconic fictional criminals ever created, and their popularity has helped propagate the Italian mobster reputation. Certainly every ethnic group has a criminal element, but Italians seem disproportionately represented in Hollywood when it comes to thuggery. A study analyzing films from 1999 to 2014 found that nearly 69 percent of the time Italians are portrayed in a negative light. Of those characters, according to the report, 34 percent are shown as "boors, buffoons, bigots, or bimbos" and the other 35 percent are mobsters. As for the positive portrayals that account for the remaining 31 percent? All Rocky Balboa.
Joking. Also a buffoon.
And this does seem to have an effect on how people view Italian-Americans. There was one poll taken that showed 74 percent of adult Americans believe most Italian-Americans have some connection to organized crime. While that seems like a ridiculous statistic, I have anecdotal evidence of a similar inaccurate perception. When I was in Israel, one of the girls living in my apartment building was heading to New York City for the first time, so she stopped by my place to get some travel tips. When she asked me in all earnestness if she had to be worried about the Mafia coming after her when she got to New York, it made me realize how much mobster mythos we've be exporting.
When Italians aren't being depicted as gangsters, they're often portrayed as boorish louts. From Vinnie Barbarino in Welcome Back, Kotter to Joey Tribbiani in Friends, the Italian as a loudmouth yet lovable dummy has been a popular stock character for years.
That trope certainly must've been near the top of the casting breakdown when the producers of MTV's Jersey Shore were looking for talent.
The reality show was criticized by groups like the National Italian American Foundation and the Sons of Italy for marginalizing and stereotyping Italian-Americans even before it made it to the air. After the first episode premiered and the world got a taste of MTV's version of an Italian by the shore, major sponsors including Dell and Domino's Pizza jumped ship.
They disrespect Italy plenty all on their own.
But the show proved so popular, the GTL juggernaut couldn't be stopped. Airing for six seasons, Jersey Shore was a cash cow for MTV and its cast.
There's no getting away from the fact that, thanks to critical and/or financial success, movies like The Godfather and shows like The Sopranos and Jersey Shore are so firmly entrenched in popular culture, dropping the Italian as gangster or buffoon stereotype isn't likely anytime soon. And because of this, sometimes even their staunchest critics eventually come around.
The late former governor of New York Mario Cuomo was hyper-critical of how Italian-Americans are portrayed in Hollywood, specifically when they're linked to organized crime. So much so that when he was invited by New York Mayor John V. Lindsay to attend a screening of The Godfather in 1972, he refused. He then proceeded to boycott it for the next 40 years, vowing to never watch the acclaimed Francis Ford Coppola film because of its focus on the Mafia.
He at least watched the horse head scene, I hope?
It was only after his 81st birthday, while attending a film festival at Fordham Law School, that he finally gave in and decide to see what all the fuss was about. So, after holding out on principle for that long, what did Cuomo think of The Godfather? According to the New York Times, "Somewhat grudgingly, he offered that 'maybe this thing was a masterpiece.'"
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