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Miscellaneous - Stereotyping

  by Mark Rowland

published: 13 / 3 / 2012

Miscellaneous - Stereotyping


Mark Rowland in 'Rock 101' looks at the media's habit of pushing everyone into different categories

Stereotyping, irritating and potentially damaging though it can be, is human nature; a biological throwback from a more dangerous stage of our development. It exists in almost all walks of life, but particularly within the media. Us journalists make judgements and assumptions based on stereotypes and reinforce them on a daily basis. Within our mainstream press, the world is a very simple, two-tone place. But what makes the human race and its collective endeavours great is its shades of grey – the fact that nothing is ever as simple as it first seems. Music and its listeners are particularly vulnerable to stereotyping. When people think of certain types of music, its listeners are conveniently pigeonholed into a certain way of dressing, acting, thinking. Since the 1950s and the advent of ‘the teenager’, this stereotyping has gone through a life cycle: Dangerous and Subversive (A.K.A. Cool New Thing), Accepted Subgenre/Absorbed by Fashion Designers, For Old People, Niche Interest (unless of course, said genre is set for a ‘revival’). Within this cycle, the genre is picked apart by the next generation, who take its genes and mutate it into something new. This, of course, is a massive generalisation in itself, the stereotypical progression of a musical genre, which is sort of ironically fitting, don’t you think? So, let’s take rock ‘n’ roll. At its emergence, it was deemed – you guessed it – subversive and dangerous, corrupting kids across the world. By the 60s, a pop-ified version dominated the charts. By the 70s, the Teddy Boys was approaching middle age and desperately clinging to his youth. By the 80s and 90s, rock ‘n’ roll, in its original form, was the subject of special interest conventions and festivals, with modern bands looking to recreate the specific sounds of the 1950s. Punk rock went on a similar journey, although it does seem to be more ‘revival’ friendly than some other genres, holding on to that precious ‘cool bygone era’ tag that can keep a genre wheezing along for a surprisingly long time. It’s certainly no longer ‘dangerous’ in any shape or form; an accepted part of our musical history, absorbed by the mainstream. And it does have its ‘revival’ nights. When it comes to the fans of these genres, the stereotypes attached to them are almost always negative: satan-worshipping goths/metalheads, violent gangsta-wannabe hip hop fans, vicious gangs of Teddy Boys, acid-dropping, free-loving psychedelic rock fans, boring, beard-stroking prog rock fans, idiot, lager lout Britpop fans, unwashed, heroin addicted grungers – need I go on? Usually, there is something – either a specific figure within the genre, lyrical content, even the sound of the music – that these stereotypes are drawn from. Once they’re established, they stick like super glue. There are certain genres, no matter how far along the acceptance scale they are, that are stuck tight to their labels. Despite being over 30 years old, goth can still generate the odd headline – stories of kids killing themselves or others and listening to goth music, ludicrous stories of people acting like vampires. The same goes for metal and hip hop, both of which will never lose their ‘violent’ tags. These genres appear to have skipped the acceptance stage, despite purveyors of these genres achieving mainstream success (though of course, the truth is probably more complicated). There are a couple of things that link these genres: all are very popular without a widespread compromise of the sound, the typical ‘looks’ of these genres were anti-fashion from the start, so they were never embraced by the fashion industry and as genres go, they are probably a little more ‘Marmite’ than many others – despite their popularity, people that don’t get them pretty much cannot stand them. Ironically, the fans of these genres tend to be the exact opposite of how they’re depicted; the vast majority are very nice, laid back people (this is, of course, a stereotype). The truth of the matter is, these genres are most likely enjoyed by a varied group of people, some quiet, some outgoing, some uptight, some laid back, optimists and pessimists – people then, in all their varieties (of which there are many). It’s incredibly tempting to box everyone into specific categories, to assume that person one is XY and Z because he or she looks or talks a certain way – as I say, it’s human nature. But sometimes we need to remind ourselves that they mislead us.

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