Stereotypes in Entertainment: Comedy or Tragedy?

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Entertainment is ripe with stereotypes: the geek, the pretty blonde, the fat guy. There is probably at least one of those in every other comedy we watch on TV. They’re familiar, they’re funny, and I think they have to stop.

The most common stereotype I’ve seen is the geek. If we look at Ross from Friends, the guys in The Big Bang Theory, and even at some treasured movies there is often a geek. Usually a male, they are considered very smart yet awkward, acting in unusual yet funny ways that make the viewer excuse their behaviour and laugh at their incompetence. But while we’re all laughing at them, none of us want to actually be them. These stereotypes ridicule genuine interests people have and encourage viewers to laugh at their insecurities, not making geeks cool, but making them a joke instead. And the way they treat the opposite sex is just a little creepy, to be honest.

Another massive issue of entertainment is the stereotypical portrayal of women. Some films and shows have raised the bar lately in this respect, with strong female leads in active roles and not at all being picked out for their gender (Game of Thrones, How To Get Away With Murder, Grey’s Anatomy are only a few examples). However, plenty of others feature that pretty, slightly dopey character who seems to often wear that well-known bemused face. That character who looks far off into the distance as they try to work out what’s been said. Think Karen from Mean Girls, Britney from Glee. This character is always funny, often stupefied, often Barbie-like, and of course, usually a girl. I’m not saying remove the character, but switching it up a little wouldn’t be a bad idea at all. Even if we have characters like Zach in The Big Bang Theory, the dopey male, they’re just not common enough, and Zach’s stupidity is nowhere near as centre stage as Penny, the notorious dumb yet pretty blonde.

But why are stereotypes so important? Surely they’re just tropes, funny characters that appear onscreen but don’t really exist. I’d argue the opposite, though. Stereotypes are sparked and propelled by things viewers find familiar, they represent society the way it currently is, which means they don’t break barriers or don’t change social norms. As a woman in Computer Science I know that social norms are often meant to broken, so how can we encourage this while TV is just confirming the way things are? In The Big Bang Theory the only woman who is an actual physicist is Leslie Winkle, cello player, blunt and downright strange Leslie Winkle who is most definitely not a ‘cool’ character. We’ve seen female detectives and doctors showing how professional and smart women are, but why then do we have the ‘not going anywhere and okay with it’ waitresses? Why can’t smart and hard working characters be shown to be cool rather than victimised?

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I am a third-year computer scientist. As a lover of fantasy and massive bookworm, when not behind a screen I can be found with my nose in a YA novel or attempting to write something. I'm a tragic cook but a pretty keen coder. Can be found on Twitter @hannah_dadd .

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