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Challenging Stereotypes (Online discussions – for those in class Feb 17)

February 17, 2012

This is a continuation of today’s conversation in class (only available for those who were in class on Feb 17, 2012) — how can individuals and society challenge the dissemination of stereotypes; how can the circulation of images that normalize difference, that create the other, be challenge?  What sort of strategies do you see working in terms of those daily jokes (or with parties or Halloween costumes) or in terms of circulated images within the media.  Here are two examples that we can talk about as well [CONVERSATION ENDS MARCH 5, 2012]

Conversation ends Feb 26, 2012

  1. Danica Wixom permalink

    I’d like to address one way of dealing with stereotypes: in comedy.

    Jeff Dunham has utilized well-known stereotypes such as a scowling old man named Walter , a hyper purple “Woozle” from a Micronesian island, Jose Jalapeno On A Stick, Sweet Daddy Dee, and Achmed the Dead Terrorist, to rack up more than 100 million hits in one Youtube video and his own show on Comedy Central. I was recently shown a few segments of Dunham’s acts on Youtube and was reminded that he performed here at WSU not too long ago. I found his acts quite hilarious, especially a few scenes with Achmed the Dead Terrorist, and then I started thinking about what was precisely so funny about it, and I wondered how a Middle Eastern person in the audience would feel. Out of curiosity, I tapped into the conversation on the internet and found a VideoGum article (“The Jeff Dunham Show is the Worst Thing In The Entire World” ( that has apparently sparked a battle of words addressing very serious charges of being racist, homophobic, misogynistic, and anti-Semitic.

    An interesting article in defense of Jeff Dunham called “No Puppet to Political Correctness” begins like this:
    THE question: Is Jeff Dunham the most offensive person on television?
    The answer: No, not by a long shot.
    The real question: Why do so many people think Jeff Dunham is the most offensive person on
    The article’ main defense is that Dunham’s jokes are in the same tradition as (or sometimes quoting verbatim) many comedy TV Shows throughout history, and besides, Dunham’s acts are not nearly as offensive as some that have been broadcast through Comedy Central’s “South Park.” Another claim in defense of Dunham and his act has been repeated through many blog posts and Yahoo conversations, claiming that Dunham can’t be so racist because he also makes fun of whites with white trash and old white guy puppet-stereotypes.

    Other articles in Dunham’s defense report that Dunham himself found that making jokes through the puppets is the only way he could touch those sensitive subjects. He wanted the act to combat our pervading societal correctness by poking fun at stereotypes.

    I’m still weighing the arguments and trying to decide what I think about Jeff Dunham’s acts, and I’m wondering what our class thinks of it. How have you reacted to some of Dunham’s acts you’ve seen? What do you think about his strategy for combating political correctness and racism by poking fun at both stereotypes and their creators? Comedy in general seems to play off off stereotypes quite often.

    (Interestingly enough: “Jeff Dunham Show Is Cancelled” due to bad reviews and possible backlash for racist jokes:

  2. Josephine Vorenkamp permalink

    I think a good way to challenge the images that reinforce the “other” would be to have a strong opposing figure in the media. In some ways I think we have those figures, but they need to be praised more for their contributions. For example, I have a lot of respect for Tina Fey. She’s a comedian who (if you read her book and watch the television shows she writes for) is a feminist. She is very respected and people really like her sense of humor. We need to be more accepting of people like her in the to challenge stereotypes.

    I also think that in some ways, the jokes that comedians tell can be a positive thing. If people are offended by the material Jeff Dunham performs, they will talk about it. It kind of seems to me that it could be worth it to make an insensitive joke if in the long run it promotes discussion about social norms. It leads to people asking questions like, “Why is this offensive?” and provides a good opportunity for more people to learn.

    Another way we can challenge negative images in the media is by reacting to them. If we just ignore them, we aren’t fixing the problem. By voicing our opinions and saying that calling someone a “crack ho”, dressing up as a gangster and attending insensitively themed parties are not okay we can be heard.

  3. Amanda Fu permalink

    I really liked that we are discussing Jeff Dunham, because he is one of the only comedians I do know and I have really enjoyed all of his acts through the years. I never thought he or his jokes were very racist, but that could also be that all comedians use race jokes in their acts. I’m sure that more than once, George Lopez or Jim Gaffigan has also made fun of other races or even their own.

    I agree with Josephine! That even though some comedians seem to have extremely racist comments or jokes, they do open the discussion of race that people would regularly not want to begin because they are afraid to be labeled “racist”. But in order to change something, people have to talk about it, raise awareness and then make a change.

    Everyone’s a little racist, but we really can’t help it. Society has made it so that we believe in stereotypes and that those stereotypes are what we use to assume things about certain groups of people. If we could break out of those stereotypes and just see people as who they are then I think we’d be really be able to call ourselves a free, fair and multicultural society.

  4. Megan Grichel permalink

    I also agree that comedy is a way that people today can talk about race in a less serious manner. Race is a sensitive subject, sometimes just by mentioning it a person can be deemed a racist. Comedy gives a more light hearted opportunity to bring up the subject as displayed by Jeff Dunham who as previously stated believed he was only able to bring up the subject through puppets. But even through comedy, the audience can be offended by jokes and stereotypes.
    The video above “Stereotypes and White Privilege” addresses many common stereotypes. These ideas don’t just sprout from thin air, these stereotypes generate from true circumstances. One example is when the man said there is stereotype that Asians are studious. This stereotype most likely came from a person who knew Asians who were studious, but this example is mostly positive. Another mentioned stereotype was that African Americans like fried chicken. There is nothing wrong with liking fried chicken (people of many races also enjoy this food), but as one African American man stated in the video, he doesn’t like fried chicken. It can be offensive that assumptions are made that you behave a certain way or like a certain thing just because of your race or that they apply to all people of a particular race. These kinds of stereotypes are fueling the fire (of racism). Especially comments like the one made by a Fox news reporter towards Maxine Waters. He told her to “step away from the crack pipe” As we discussed in class, his comment was really inappropriate. He may have meant it as a joke, but he referenced a particularly offensive stereotype. Maxine Waters is a highly educated congress woman. She challenges the stereotype the news reporter used against her, yet he still says it. This is what makes challenging stereotypes so difficult, even when they obviously don’t apply to every person of a particular race, they are still used.

  5. Remember our definition of stereotypes, how they function as a filter; also can there be negative consequences of “positive” stereotypes or even the process of being generalized

  6. Danica permalink

    So far we have two ways an individual can challenge stereotypes:

    1. challenge the normalcy of the stereotype and get people talking about its (positive or negative) influence

    2. make light of the absurdity of a stereotype with humor

    I want to volunteer another:

    3. Make friends with people who are different than us. We will challenge each other to grow.

    4. Listen. Everybody has a story and we can’t assume to know it.

  7. Greg Wandro permalink

    I believe the only way we can stop the use of racial jokes is for you to be the change. I don’t think telling people to stop making racist jokes will work, but instead have the subjects of your jokes be about anything but stereotypes. The only reason people tell stereotypical jokes is because they think that their audience (friends) will respond positively to those jokes. If you don’t laugh at them or change your sense of humor, then your friends will see this and their sense of humor will probably change too. Then it is just a pyramid effect from there, where your friends’ friends will also change their humor because of your friends changing their sense of humor because of you.

  8. But what impact does it have on the surrounding culture; what if you are amongst a group who does laugh or amongst a group that doesn’t share the beliefs yet doesn’t intervene. How do these jokes provide a window into a broader frame?

    • Danica permalink

      I think the reason why we and comedians joke about stereotypes is that it’s the only socially acceptable way to voice our internal questions about race. We want to know what others think about a stereotype, and a joke is viewed as the only “safe” forum to do so. If the audience laughs, your joke-ful stereotype is validated for you. If the audience reacts defensively, you’ve got a defense too: “I was just kidding!” I think the only way to combat racist joking is to talk about it explicitly, that is, provide the joker with a truly safe forum to talk about race. Maybe bringing it up right in the moment and in a group of people isn’t the best solution: when emotions are strained, then the conversation is likely to be more detrimental than beneficial. Maybe the best way to confront is to let the humor pass you over in the moment, and then to bring it up later when you get the chance to talk to the joker one-on-one.

  9. Megan Grichel permalink

    There can be consequences of positive stereotypes because it is a “general” idea, it does not apply to everyone. Just this weekend I watched “The Voice” and there was a female contestant on the show who was Indian. Both her parents were doctors and she was going to college to become a doctor as well, until she dropped out to pursue singing. A common stereotype I have heard for Asians and Indians is that they are smart and parents are very strict when it comes to going to school and becoming a doctor, lawyer, or something that takes a lot of school and generally has a high income. When this is expected and someone such as this contestant is pressured her whole life to be a doctor, it can be hard for her to break the mold and follow her passion.

    She did well on the show and made it through to the next round and her parents were very happy for her.

    This is a specific examplestereotype and not all work the same.

  10. What does it mean to talk about a “positive” stereotype? Positive to whom? Who gets excluded in this process? Given that stereotypes work in relationship to other stereotypes how do those positive stereotypes operate in relationship to “those negative ones.” How do both operate in a larger system?

  11. Connor McGee permalink

    I feel that a positive stereotype could be a stereotype that is perceived as positive by those who use it – it may also be that the stereotype is a “good” thing in the eyes of whomever uses it. For example, what I would consider a positive stereotype that I have heard is the idea that “asian people are smart/good students”. Being smart is obviously a positive quality and a good attribute to have.. however, it singles out a particular group anyways. There are clearly no scientific facts to back this stereotype up, but it is common and used nonetheless. Positive stereotypes such as this most likely coincide with negative ones because they are both singling a group out based on a non-scientific reason that lacks proof. Stereotypes also forget to take into account the opinions of the groups they define.. for example, asian people may not consider themselves to be smarter than American people, but they are said to be so through the stereotype regardless. This is an unfair process of defining groups and trying to put people into metaphorical categories when we have no right to do so. I personally would not like to be grouped into a category without my consent, regardless of whether it is for a positive or negative reason.

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