In modern usage, a stereotype is a simplified mental picture of an individual or group of people who share a certain characteristic (or stereotypical) qualities. The term is often used in a negative sense, and stereotypes are seen by many as undesirable beliefs which can be altered through education and/or familiarisation. Stereotypes are common in the world of drama, where they are often used as a form of dramatic shorthand.
Common stereotypes include a variety of allegations about various racial groups (see: racial stereotype and racial profiling) and predictions of behavior based on social status and wealth (See social stereotype).
In literature and art, stereotypes are clichéd or predictable characters or situations. For example, the stereotypical devil is a red, impish character with horns and a pitchfork, whilst the stereotypical salesman is a slickly-dressed, fast-talking individual who cannot usually be trusted. The Italian Commedia Dell'arte was known for its stock characters and stock situations, which could be considered drama stereotypes. Throughout history, storytellers have drawn from stereotypical characters and situations, in order to quickly connect the audience with new tales.
The word 'stereotype' originates from the world of printing; it was originally a duplicate impression of an original typographical element, used for printing instead of the original. Over time, this became a metaphor for any set of ideas repeated identically, en masse, with no changes.
Common stereotypical characters in the world of drama
- In Western films, the villain typically wore black clothes, with a waxed moustache, whilst the hero dressed in white;
- The Texan who wears a cowboy hat everywhere, even with a suit or a tuxedo;
- The sophisticated, well mannered, Latin womanizer;
- The lazy, cowardly, servile and/or uneducated Mexican, African American, Polynesian, etc;
- The short-tempered, portly wrestler;
- The "hard-boiled" or tough private eye;
- The aging absent-minded professor, a schlemiel (sometimes speaking incoherently);
- The wealthy miser living a poor life to save money;
- The ditzy, busty blonde woman ("brain-dead blonde");
- Also: The attractive, blonde teenage cheerleader
- Also: The popular, mean-spirited teenage girl who all the geeks want
- The cool black guy teaching the nerdy white guy how to be cool
- Other stereotype: White people can't dance
- The dowdy librarian (who becomes instantly attractive when she takes her glasses off);
- The nerdy scientist (with black wiry-framed glasses, black bowtie, white coat, speaking in technobabble);
- The peg-legged pirate with an eye patch and parrot who's obsessed with finding a buried treasure;
- The overweight, doughnut-eating cop;
- The picky chef with his toque and piquant French accent;
- The effeminate homosexual male who sings showtunes and works as an interior decorator;
- The man-hating butch lesbian who sees male chauvinism everywhere;
- The peaceful, nature-loving Indian who always speaks in cryptic riddles;
- The inebriated Irishman;
- The tight-fisted Scot;
- The exaggeratedly masculine Australian, often called Bruce;
- The wise and otherworldly African-American or Native American who communicates in exaggeratedly philosophical conundra;
- The demure, subservient Asian woman.
- The Asian/Eastern mystic;
- The greedy Jew;
- The terrorist Muslim wearing a turban and a long beard;
- The Mormon man with his many wives;
- The uneducated hick (American) Southerner, a white trash redneck, playing the banjo in a rocking chair on the porch next to a rifle and with a big Confederate flag hanging in back of him;
- The Frenchman with striped shirt, beret and onions - see Onion Johnnie;
- The fat German wearing a green pair of lederhosen, a bowtie, and a jaunty hat with a feather, carrying a beer stein in one hand and a frankfurter in the other (or possibly an accordion), who may also yodel;
- The smart, hardworking, quiet Asian American - see Model minority;
- The fat American sitting at McDonald's with a Big Mac;
- The Italian chef;
- The Arab terrorist;
In computing, a stereotype is a concept in the Unified Modeling Language, where it is used to encapsulate behaviors. Thus, a stereotype is used as a vehicle for communicating software requirements and designs, and lacks the negative connotation present in general usage.