I came across the YouTube video Rachel Rostad – “To JK Rowling, from Cho Chang” through two different avenues in the past week or so. First, I noticed it in an article by Diana Lee on Henry Jenkins’ blog. Then only a few days later, someone posted a link to the video on my book club’s Facebook page. We had recently discussed the lack of diversity in the books we were reading and the authors who had written them, and this video was a jumping-off point for a discussion about the inclusion of minority groups but only as caricatures.
Taylor (2005, p. 14) warns that caricatures like this “can transmit simplistic and erroneous ideas about people and perpetuate social prejudice and inequality.”
Firstly, as a fan of the Harry Potter books, I was a little embarrassed to admit that I hadn’t noticed this when reading the books myself. Then, I started thinking about the stereotypes in other forms of popular culture – not just racial stereotypes, but those of gender and sexuality as well. I very recently finished reading the Belgariad and Mallorean series of books by David Eddings (they were published in the 1980s and early 1990s, so I’m a bit behind the times). While I enjoyed the stories, I was frustrated by the stereotypical way in which the female characters were portrayed. Was this due in part to the world in which the stories were set, or the time in which they were published? Or is this type of stereotyping still prevalent in today’s popular culture? Apparently it is, and adults are not the only ones who are noticing it. The recent film The Avengers features Black Widow, who is anything but a female stereotype – but when it comes to marketing the franchise, the stereotype of “superheroes and comics are for boys” is perpetuated. In the following video, six-year-old Riley shares her frustration that she is unable to find an action figure in the toy stores for her favourite Avenger, Black Widow.
Similarly, in a study of stereotypes in children’s picture books, Hamilton, Anderson, Broaddus, and Young (2006) found that modern children’s picture books continue to reinforce the idea that boys and men are more interesting than girls and women.
As teachers wishing to incorporate popular culture into the classroom, this kind of stereotyping is something we need to pay attention to – and it can make for valuable teaching opportunities. Hall (2011) explains that through using popular culture in the classroom, students learn to question and examine ideas put before them.
In the same way that the Cho Chang video was a springboard for discussion about discrimination and stereotyping among my book club on our Facebook page, using popular culture texts in the classroom can be a discussion starter for students. According to Taylor (2005), discussions in the classroom about minority representations in media can help kids to examine their own attitudes and biases, and encourage them to become smarter media consumers and users.
What are your thoughts?
The examples I have given here are just a few of the incidences of stereotyping in popular culture. What stereotypes have you noticed? Do you think stereotypical portrayals of minority groups are less common now than in the past, or just as prevalent?
Hamilton, M., Anderson, D., Broaddus, M., and Young, K. (2006). Gender Stereotyping and Under-representation of Female Characters in 200 Popular Children’s Picture Books: A Twenty-first Century Update. Sex Roles, 55, 757-765. doi: 10.1007/s11199-006-9128-6 Hall, L. (2011). How popular culture texts inform and shape students' discussions of social studies texts. Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy 55(4), 296-305. doi: 10.1002/JAAL.00036 Taylor, A. (2005). Portrayals of Race in Popular Culture. Teacher, 44(1), 12-14. Retrieved from http://www.ctf-fce.ca/documents/Priorities/EN/pd/racism/PortrayalofRace_PDP_Summer2006_6-3_EN.pdf