Peter G (sinetimore) wrote,
Peter G

Public Image Ltd.

Let's talk for a minute about two things, public image and stereotypes.  Seemingly separate elements, forever in an uncomfortable dance together.

Issues dealing with personal identity and its corresponding politics have a peculiar fascination with me.  It's a recurring theme in a lot of stuff I write.  I'm not wholly convinced of the Jungian concept of self, but use it as a springboard to understand other people.  One of the criticisms I heard about The Supremacy was how they couldn't identify with Pulsar, being reduced to Cruetzfeldt's pet.  I'm not sure if I just didn't explain it clearly enough, or if I just wrote it and miscalculated that the audience would get it.  For me, being completely beholden, not just in person but also in action, to someone else just because they like controlling you is a horrifying nightmare (seeing people so completely at someone else's mercy in movies or other fiction makes me really really uncomfortable.  Which I suppose is the reason I write female characters the way I do.  Any power gained over them is temporary, they are smart enough and determined enough, they WILL figure a way out of it.  Rhapsody in Sound Waves is a good girl, so it may take her a little while, but she'll get there.  Meanwhile, Holly in Stress Puppy will not only do it almost instantly, but make you sorry you ever tried).  The concept of dom/sub and the whole subgenre of erotic fiction dealing with mind control fantasies, I just can't take them.  They literally make me sick to my stomach.

Intellectuals like to kid themselves that the past twenty-odd years since the end of the Reagan Era, when ethic and sexual and gender jokes were told openly, that people have become more enlightened, and that discrimination along arbitrary lines like religion or ethnic background or whatever are being chased from the present and into history.  But that's a lie.  Discrimination still exists, it's just gone underground.  And not only will it still rear its ugly head, but some forms of discrimination are excused or even celebrated, even though it is still just as wrong.  Ever been dumped by a wonderful woman because her mother wanted her to marry "a nice Jewish boy"?  It ain't fun.

So, discrimination is only considered wrong within narrowly defined lines.  Outside those lines, it's seen as solidarity and leveling the playing field, not prejudice.  And this is where stereotypes come in to play.  As I have pointed out in Stress Puppy, how people react to stereotypes largely depends on what they get out of them.  If the stereotype results in some sort of status or bragging rights, they'll embrace it (blacks are sexual dynamos, for example).  In some subcultures, living up to a stereotype is a goal.

I don't watch MTV anymore -- I haven't since Daria went off the air.  So the vapid airheads on shows like The Hills, I wouldn't know them if they looked me in the eye and kneed me in the groin.  Apparently, MTV wanted the flip side of Beverly Hills living, and came up with Jersey Shore.  From what I can gather, it follows a bunch of self-professed "guidos" (which is normally an offensive slur for "Italians") living it up in a party house.  Drinking, sex, shallow pleasures, and you don't need the bucks the cast of The Hills does to live it.

Italian-American watchdog groups, who thought they could breathe easier with The Sopranos off the air, are pissed because everyone on the show is a walking stereotype that they are fighting to put down.  And these people on Jersey Shore aren't doing this to be outrageous, they genuinely like being guidos and acting the way they do.  No one can say they are trying to be provocative because they do that even when the cameras aren't rolling.  They see nothing offensive about what they are doing.

What right do people have to live as they see fit, and what responsibility do they have to present themselves and any subculture that intersects with them in the best possible light?  If we truly have individual liberty, we can't condemn such behavior, but if we don't, we risk people embracing it as normal instead of saying, "You're acting like idiots, knock it off".  Like it or not, we are socially judged by our associations (computer nut == unwashed, fat, neckbeard).  One group sees nothing wrong with stamping out a mode of behavior, the other sees nothing wrong with wallowing in it.

I've thought about this off and on for over twenty years.  I'm no closer to an answer now than I was then....
Tags: important life lessons, politics
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