Around the world, people are raised not to stereotype others. Nevertheless, they often define their own cultural identity by stereotyping themselves. Not only do the stereotypes provide the behavioural model that individuals seek to emulate, they also provide a sense of commonality that makes people feel that they are part of a community. For example, in China, the website ww.index-china.com described Chinese people as:
It is not only the Chinese that like to self-stereotype. The Italians self-stereotype themselves as having great style, the French as having elegance, the Japanese as being hard workers, and the Spanish as being lovers of life. The stereotypes are picked up by outsiders and in turn proliferated, particularly in travel guides where budding travellers are eager to know something about the kind of culture they are about to visit.
In Australia, there are some individuals who can likewise appreciate the benefits of a cultural identity and who have subsequently created stereotypes to affirm that identity. One such Australian is Peter Cosgrove, ex-Chief of the Army. According to Cosgrove,
It is impossible to ascertain the accuracy of Cosgrove's stereotype. Certainly not all Australians volunteer to fight fires, guard beaches, join the army, work in a Salvation Army store, or pick up rubbish. However, even though a stereotype may not be true in practice, it may be true in myth and for this reason belief in the stereotype is a fact in itself. Furthermore, when evoked in certain circumstances, the stereotype can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Individuals who believe it may conform to the positive social identity that the stereotype promotes. A myth of behaviour can then become a fact of behaviour. In other words, the stereotype becomes a guide about how to act and conforms people in the process.
Social Identity Theory (Tajfel and Turner 1979) proposes that although individuals conform to stereotypes, it is usually only for a short time. Once the need for a social identity passes, the individuals exhibit their unique character traits once more. For example, an Australian may get drunk on ANZAC Day and value mateship on Australia Day because such behaviours are stereotypically associated with the days. On all other days, the Australian may refrain from celebrating mateship and may also avoid alcohol. Likewise, Australians may show great compassion for others after a bushfire because such behaviour is stereotyped Australian behaviour. On other days, the Australian becomes self-interested again.
It is silly to use the individual’s usual behaviour to argue that group stereotypes are not accurate. The stereotypes are only applicable to the individual when the individual decides to make them applicable by adopting a social identity. This is not 100% of the time. For most people, a social identity only matters when a different social group is encountered or a one-off event occurs.
Because individuals often act in conformity with stereotypes, advertisers often define stereotypes in the hope that the target audience will conform to them. For example, the lamb industry has often promoted the stereotype that there is something very Australian about eating lamb, (sheep are actually eaten all over the world.) The campaign has been picked up by other businesses, such as McDonalds, which has also exploited the stereotype that as well as eating lamb, Australians put beetroot on hamburgers. For McDonalds, the stereotypes help build a localised affinity that makes the fast food chain appear less generic. Vegemite is another product that is stereotyped as something that true Australians consume. Compared to lamb, it is perhaps a better product to create the Australian stereotype because it is a uniquely Australian product (made from beer yeast) and most people from other countries can’t stand it.
According to McDonalds, Aussies love lamb and put beetroot on hamburgers.
Whereas many Australian marketers have exploited stereotypes to build an affinity between their products and the Australian public, many Australian entertainers have created caricatures of Australian stereotypes that can be laughed at and belittled. These caricatures can be thought of the Australian equivalent of America’s “black face” tradition where whites would blacken their face and act in socially demeaning ways. The fictional character of Les Patterson, created by Barry Humphries, is one of the most famous examples of the caricatures. Patterson is a conflation of stereotypes that propose that Australians are obese, offensive and unrefined. The caricature gained great popularity in Britain where the local audience wanted to laugh at Australians.
Although Patterson never gained the same popularity in Australia, many other Australian entertainers have created caricatures based on negative Australian stereotypes. Sometimes the caricatures aim to be funny, but at other times, they have prejudicial elements that reflect social divisions within Australian society. For example, left wing political cartoonist Andrew Weldon created a "funny" comic strip proposing that Australian traditions involve generalising, deindividualising, stereotyping, distrusting, being prejudiced, and making assumptions in the name of humour. Ironically, his humour was based on prejudice, generalising, de-individualisation and stereotyping so in a way, his work demonstrated the Australian characteristics he sought to distance himself from.
The use of derogatory stereotypes is also a feature of Australian movies. A very notable example of such stereotyping was The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (1994). Directed by Stephan Elliot, Priscilla was created as a homosexual "correction" to Paul Hogan's Crocodile Dundee (1986). It followed the story of gays bringing some sophistication to the outback Australia, which as stereotyped being home to racist, vulgar and intolerant people. In one scene, Elliot showed outback men watching a Filipino woman shoot ping pong balls out of her vagina. The scene aimed to build a stereotype that outback men were uncultured, racist, lewd and intolerant and that Asian women were crude sluts. The stereotype proved contagious and many film critics had trouble differentiating fact from stereotypical fiction. One of these film critics was Paul Byrnes, who wrote of the movie as if it were reality:
Media campaigns by Australia's academics have also shown a strong manipulation of ugly Australian stereotypes in order to achieve a political objective. One such campaign was run by Dr Tanja Dreher, the University Technology Sydney Shopfront Research Manager. Dr Dreher actively went searching for examples of the fair-go stereotype being inaccurate so that she could then publicly deconstruct it, and replace it with negative stereotypes regarding Australian intolerance and ignorance. Dreher's evidence to support her stereotype was that in the two months after September 11 terrorist attacks, 248 reports were made to the Community Relations Commission for a multicultural NSW (CRC), which had set up a telephone hotline to receive calls relating to perceived racial discrimination. According to Dreher, most of the reports were made by Muslims. Subsequently, Dreher released a press-release that concluded:
To put things in perspective, at the time there were 340 000 Muslims in Australia. For Dreher, evidence that 1 in every 1500 Muslims in Australia felt they had been discriminated against was a sufficient figure for her to construct a stereotype that Australia had become an intolerant and ignorant nation.
Political parties, such as the Australian Greens, have used a particularly interesting case of stereotype manipulation which has involved constructing negative stereotypes of their opponents while while ensuring stereotypes of themselves are neither confirmed nor denied. In the advertisement below, non-Green voters are stereotyped as banana eating patriots stuck in the 1950s. The Australian flag is proudly displayed on the woman's chest. Simultaneously, Green voters are caricatured as frog hugging, tree loving, muesli munching, and café loving. The advertisement is quite clever in that it doesn’t dispute the truthfulness of the stereotypes of Green voters, either by contradicting them or providing an alternative of what a Green voter actually is. In this way, Greens are self-stereotyped as victims of insulting stereotypes that may or may not be true. In other words, the advertisement allows the Greens to stereotype themselves as progressive victims who may or may not love frogs while stereotyping their opponents as backwards hicks.
Because different groups have spent a great deal of time building negative stereotypes about other groups in Australia, many Australians have developed an aversion to national stereotypes that would combine the groups and make them stand as one. Although it may be a stereotype, most Australians simply reject Australian stereotypes.
Questions to think about
Stereotypes of Aborigines in Australian movies
Compare the portrayal of Aborigines in two movies; Crocodile Dundee (1986) http://aso.gov.au/titles/features/crocodile-dundee/clip2/ and Priscilla Queen of the Desert (1994) http://aso.gov.au/titles/features/priscilla/clip2/
Curator’s notes on Crocile Dundee by Paul Bynres:
Curator’s notes on Priscilla by Paul Byrnes
From Chester Wilmot "Tobruk 1941" Angus & Robertson, Sydney
1) UTS Experts Making News October 2005 -www.uts.edu.au/new/experts/media/2005/october.html
2)What Lies Beneath: Postgraduate Conference 2003 - The University of Melbourne
4)Stephen Gibbs, Wannabes and ethnicity, Sydney Morning Herald April 26, 2005