From Jersey Shore to Zoey 101, stereotypes practically make up reality TV. Whether the stereotypes are offensive to people down South or showing the “expectations” of what different genders should look like, they are dangerous and unfair. Stereotypes are simply a fixed belief that all people with a certain characteristic are the same. When people are put under a label, certain decisions are made that can affect them in harmful ways. Recently, a study was done by Professor Michael Inzlicht on the reactions of people when put into negative stereotyping situations.
Inzlicht said, “People are more likely to be aggressive after they’ve faced prejudice in a given situation. They are more likely to exhibit a lack of self control. They have trouble making good, rational decisions. And they are more likely to over-indulge on unhealthy foods” (Kemick). Making irrational decisions in school or work creates problems when working with others or working on a demanding project, like being unable to focus or concentrate. Obviously, eating unhealthy foods after people are put into these situations creates an unhealthy lifestyle which can lead to problems in their future.
Therefore, as teenagers and adults watch reality TV they are put into situations where they feel labeled or stereotyped, causing the above issues. Teenagers and adults are living proof that when stereotypes are placed on people regarding race, home state, and gender they are extremely harmful to their everyday lives. A very common type of stereotype is disrespecting a certain race, such as black men being thugs or asians being smart. Many black male actors play the role of a ‘thug’ or another type of criminal in reality TV or movies.
The amount of black men playing these roles creates the stereotype that black men are dangerous and more likely to participate in illegal activities. Nadra Nittle, a Race Relations Expert, says that “racial profiling make(s) black men targets of the authorities” (Nittle). Saying this, the young black men’s lives are now in jeopardy. Whenever a person of another race sees a person of color on the streets that person will most likely feel threatened by them, which does not necessarily have to be true. If everyday people believe this, authorities will too.
This means if they see someone of color on the streets, even unarmed, they will not hesitate to question. In the 1998 movie Belly, two black guys ‘Sincere’ and ‘Buns’ live off their lifestyle of drug dealing and robbery. Younger teenagers or even adults watching this movie can be easily persuaded to think every black male lives a life of drugs and theft, which can be harmful for their perception of other people. Another race affected by stereotypes are Asians, and the fact that most people associate Asians with being smart. Hearing this, it sounds like a good stereotype, right?
It is not the stereotype name, it is the way it alters the mind of other people. Jin Wong says, “.. when an Asian person accomplishes something in STEM, their accomplishment gets attributed to their race, and some people will even say that they were only able to do that because they are Asian” (Wong). The praise that Asians receive when they succeed is much less because it is ‘expected out of society that they will excell. Some people think it may even be rigged because of the stereotyped smarts given with the Asian race. In the children’s TV show Zoey 101, the asian character ‘FireWire’is the smarts of the group.
He is basically shown as a science and tech nerd that is very intelligent and likes to show it off to others. This stereotype is drastically presented in this TV show, which is a popular show for children. This stereotype is being put into children’s minds even at a young age. Some children of a non-Asian race may hold back from doing their best because they think they cannot be as smart as someone that is Asian. Zoey 101 isn’t the only show with this stereotype, in fact, “Many Asian Americans also complain of being stereotyped by the industry, noting that they are often cast as doctors,evil asterminds, or martial-arts masters”(“Race and Ethnicity’).
Doctors and masterminds are extremely smart, extending this stereotype in other movies and TV shows. Racist stereotypes are harmful to the everyday lives of those pointed at by the stereotypes and those around them. Children cannot control which state or place they are born; therefore, they should not get stereotyped for it. A popular wretched stereotype is that all Southerners are poor or in poverty. “These stereotypical depictions are insulting to those who live in the region and know that a more diverse South exists” (Cox).
In the reality TV show Sweet Home Alabama, the character Mandy acts as if she is a “hillbilly” or “white trash”, while wearing extremely Southern clothing and talking in a thick accent. “White trash” is basically referring to a poor person, usually living in the South. These stereotypes can be harmful to individuals in the South who are affected by these insulting labels. In the TV show Dukes of Hazzard, they live in a small, run down farmhouse which makes it pretty clear they are living in some type of poverty. Although some people in the south struggle with money, a majority do not and are happy, successful people.
People watching these everyday TV shows see the stereotypes and immediately apply them to the Southerners without much thought, therefore endangering their perception of the South. Those affected may feel disabled from interacting with people from other places for fear they will be stereotyped or perhaps from going for a job interview in fear they will get denied because of where they are from. The effect it has on their lives is a serious problem, especially when the focus of the stereotype is mostly uncontrollable. Usually, when people think of the ‘perfect woman’, most people think of a beautiful, thin woman.
In reality TV and media, most women are portrayed at this and to even more extremes. The effects it has on women, especially young girls, as they grow up and feel as if they have to look and act like the women in the media, is an obvious issue. “As we progress through school, these attitudes are reinforced by our classmates and peers” (PsychAlive). This further exaggerates the fact that young children are getting this stereotype in their mind. The reality TV show America’s Next Top Model is basically a competition to determine which woman is the prettiest to be the next ‘top model.
There really is not a more obvious stereotype out there. When young girls or even young adults are watching these shows and seeing all these women dressing up and acting the way they are, they feel less of themselves when they are not the same. It is not only offensive to all the women that are not models, it is unfair that women tend to compare themselves to the models. This causes a serious sadness in women when they believe their appearance is not enough. Yet, women are not the only gender affected by stereotypes. An unfair stereotype towards men are the fact that all men are supposed to be extremely muscular or fit.
A majority of magazine covers “often contain images of what the media defines as masculine” (“Unexpected Social Pressures”). Men reading these magazines have the same effect as women when they think that magazine cover is the image they must live up to. In the reality TV show Jersey Shore there are many stereotypes but a main one is how they portray the men. Every man on the show has an extremely fit and muscular figure. A male character in the show, says his daily routine is “Gym, Tan, Laundry” and “If you don’t go to the gym, you don’t look good. If you don’t tan, you’re pale. If you don’t do laundry, you ain’t got no clothes” (Klein).
Most guys do not carry out these things everyday therefore they may think their daily life is wrong or they will not be as good as the people on the TV shows. Gender stereotypes are an unfair label that should not be a disrupter in people’s everyday lives, especially when shown and put into people’s minds on reality TV. Although some people believe stereotypes are funny and they cannot possibly offend someone, they simply do not understand. These people claim stereotypes are comedic and fun to watch on TV so they cannot be harmful; however, many media stereotypes are extremely unfair or disrespectful towards someone’s lifestyle, looks, etc.
People also claim that all stereotypes are true, so they are harmless. However, most stereotypes say that all people that share a race, gender, etc. have the same characteristic such as thugs, unintelligent, or muscular which is usually false. It is less than likely that every person that shares a characteristic is the same. After all, any stereotype that portrays negative feelings for a group of people is going to be offensive. Whether the stereotype is labeling someone based on race, home state, or gender, they are disrespectful and harmful.
Every person is different; therefore, labeling a certain group of people as the same, is simply incorrect and unfair. Most stereotypes are harmful when they affect a person’s decision making or self confidence, they make people feel they are not good enough unless they look like the models on the magazine covers. Erasing all negative stereotypes simply will not be possible, but certainly anyone can ignore the stereotypes and refrain from saying them. After all, the stereotypes on reality TV are affecting young children and could affect the generations ahead.