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True Fact Alert!

[whitespace] The sad truth about stereotypes

By Mad Dog

IT'S HARD NOT TO categorize people. I'm sure you've heard the stereotypes, if not uttered them yourself: Italians are gangsters, Mexicans are lazy, Arabs are terrorists, feminists are men-haters, loners in Montana are militiamen, yuppies are scum, presidents lie, politicians care only about re-election, and TV programmers live to insult our intelligence. But, as rational human beings, we know that not all the people in a given group fit the stereotype.

Well, except for presidents, politicians, and TV programmers.

While we know it's not good to stereotype people, we do it anyway, largely because it makes us feel superior, since as a rule stereotypes aren't flattering. Sure, there are exceptions to this, like Brazilian women are beautiful and Asians are exceptional in math and science, but how many more can you think of?

We also stereotype people because, well, sometimes it's true. The French, for example, are generally regarded as being rude, arrogant, and smelling bad. It turns out they are.

Before you get your pate in an uproar, the proof comes from the highly regarded French newspaper Le Figaro (Motto: "Sure, we're named after an Italian opera written by an Austrian composer, but we're so arrogant and rude we can get away with it"), and if they don't know, who would? Among a batch of recently published surveys, the newspaper revealed that fewer than half of the French take a bath or shower every day, 40 percent of the men and 25 percent of the women don't change their underwear daily, and only half of the French bother to use deodorant.

Besides demonstrating that their national cleanliness is nowhere near anyone's sense of godliness, this lack of basic personal hygiene also proves that the French are indeed rude and arrogant, since they obviously don't care what the rest of the world thinks. They figure that if we'd stay away from their country and leave them alone we wouldn't have to smell them, so that makes it our fault.

Their neighbors in Germany, on the other hand, have a different set of stereotypes to battle. Like being neat-freaks. This also turns out to be true, as borne out by those same surveys that found that the Germans use twice as much soap in a year as the French. They're so obsessed with being neat, in fact, that some of them have banded together to form (True Fact Alert!) Messies Anonymous, a zwölf-step program designed to help the 10 percent of the population who are in danger of being ostracized because they're vacuum cleaner-challenged, miss appointments, misplace their belongings, have a messy house, or inadvertently smile in public, especially to a foreigner.

HERE IN the United States we have out own stereotype problems. People around the world think we have a poor work ethic, we eat lots of junk food, and we're all rich. Well, it should come as no surprise then that they're pretty close to the truth, since unscheduled employee absenteeism is at a 7-year high, breakfast cereal turns out to be the main source of vitamins and minerals for children, and Bill Gates just bought the rest of the world, which will teach them to laugh at us again.

Luckily, there are still stereotypes that we can believe in, like the sanctity of mom, apple pie, and the Mouseketeers. Well, two out of three ain't bad. Yes, I'm sorry to have to break the news, but the image of Mouseketeer as Purity is dead.

I'm sure you remember the Mouseketeers. They were those happy, bubbly, impossibly clean-cut kids who starred in the "Mickey Mouse Club". The first batch started in 1955, followed years later by some impostors--I mean new members--in 1977. The original shows can still be seen on the Disney Channel. The New Mickey Mouse Club can be seen only in your worst acid flashbacks.

Now it turns out that original Mouseketeer Darlene Gillespie, who broke as many hearts --though not as many box office records--as Annette Funicello, has single-handedly blown the Mouseketeer stereotype by being convicted of stock fraud, mail fraud, obstruction of justice, perjury, and conspiracy. And she wasn't even an elected official! She'll be sentenced in March, but it's a safe bet they'll strip her of her ears, digitally erase her from the tapes of the show, and make her stand guard over Walt's frozen body until she learns to behave.

By now your head is probably spinning as fast as a Whirling Dervish, since all this makes it very difficult to know whether to believe a stereotype or not. So the safest thing you can do is what you were taught growing up: don't stereotype people. Well, except for presidents, politicians, and TV programmers. Everyone knows they lie, care only about re-election, and live to insult our intelligence.

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From the January 7-13, 1999 issue of the Sonoma County Independent.

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