Hollywood’s Soft Spot For Stereotypes

Hollywood has been complaining about sinking revenues and a public that’s growing less interested in what they have to offer. Of course, there is no one single cause of Hollywood’s woes. The blame could certainly be cast on horrible sequels (The Legend of Zorro, anyone?), terrible remakes of old classics (The Manchurian Candidate, The Stepford Wives), and poor judgement (Did anyone besides Oliver Stone think that Alexander, perhaps the greatest conqueror in history, should have been portrayed as an effeminate prattler with mother issues?)

However, may I suggest an alternative theory? Hollywood has become enamored with a number of stereotypical characters that are not only trite, as if that wasn’t bad enough, but actually patronizing to the movie-going public.

For example, there are…

Evil Businessmen: Do almost all businessmen who appear on the Silver Screen have to be greedy, ruthless, polluting Robber Barrons who’d be thrilled to sell poisoned bubble gum to orphans if they could make a couple of bucks on it? Big corporations provide jobs, pay huge tax bills, chip in countless millions of dollars to charities, and usually bend over backwards to make sure their products don’t hurt anyone and comply with the law (out of fear of lawyers and government regulators, if for no other reason). Yet, if you formed an opinion of businessmen from watching films, you’d think the average corporate CEO had the same ethical standards as a Mafia Don. Isn’t it time for that to change?

Deranged, Trigger Happy Soldiers: Almost every American has family and friends who’ve served in the military, which is why it’s more than a bit annoying to see our soldiers so often portrayed as kill-crazy thugs with mental problems who’d happily kick their own grandmothers down the stairs if they got an order to do so. If anything, soldiers tend to be some of the best of us, which is what makes the way they’re so often treated on film such a shame.

European Terrorists: We’re in the middle of a world wide war against Islamic terrorists and yet, what do we see at the theaters again and again? European terrorists. That makes about as much sense as making movies about British redcoats threatening America during WW2. Come on, Hollywood, don’t let political correctness keep you from doing movies featuring the least sympathetic villains since the Nazis. What better enemy could there be for a hero to fight?

White People Who Want To Be Black: Back in 1975, the Jeffersons popularized the idea of mocking the middle-aged white guy, Tom Willis, who wanted to be black — and it was funny. Thirty years later, the joke is just tired and stale. Show me a movie featuring some 50 year old white guy posing like he’s on the cover of a rap album or a bunch of old white people trying to dance like they’re on Soul Train, and I’ll show you a movie that most people will avoid the same way Ted Kennedy avoids liquor stores…wait, that wasn’t such a good example. But, you get the idea.

Evil Priests: For most Americans, the worst sin they’ve ever known their preacher to commit is to deliver sermons that are overly long and a bit too dull. Yet, how often has Hollywood featured a lecherous, murderous priest behind the scenes orchestrating some evil plot? If this only happened a few times, it might make for an interesting plot twist, but when you see it over and over and over again, you have to wonder if there’s an issue with religion there.

Smooth Super-Hackers: Hackers are usually portrayed as these suave wizards who can break into banks and credit card companies by hitting a key or two on the computer. But, having talked to a few hackers in my time, I can tell you that they’re computer geeks who spend hours every night listening to techno music, eating Cheetos, drinking Mountain Dew and looking through pages of code so they can break into a website and write “l33t haxors rool!” on the front page. The movies make it look so exciting, but for most people what hackers do on a day to day basis would be about as thrilling as doing algebra homework. So, maybe a little less glamorization of hacking might be in order.

Genius Kids: Judging by the number of really smart kids in movies, Hollywood seems to think we have a lot to learn from the children. Newsflash: kids don’t have any magical insights about life because kids are dumb! Your kid? He’s dumb! You and I when we were kids? We were dumb! It’s part of being a kid. You start out dumb and if you’re lucky or inquisitive and the adults around you are sharp enough, you get smart over time. That’s how it works in real life and movies would be better if they were more like that as well.

Ignorant And/Or Dangerous Country Folks/Southerners: As someone who has actually lived in the country, let me tell you the difference between country folks and city folks: country folks are nicer, friendlier, and considerably more polite. On the other hand, country folks do tend to have a low level of tolerance for snobby Yankees who think they use outhouses and secretly have KKK robes in their closet, which probably encompasses an inordinate number of people who work in Hollywood. Maybe that explains the way Southerners/Country folks are so portrayed in the movies. Some big shot Hollywood script writer stops at a diner in Tennessee, makes some joke about inbreeding, gets told to go take a flying leap, and then he gets them back by writing a movie that features a bunch of ignorant, buck-toothed Southern hicks. Then, he’s puzzled about why the movie bombs in the South. It’s not a mystery to everyone, bub.

Of course, there are plenty of other stereotypes out there, but you get the idea. Come on, Hollywood, get some fresh ideas!

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