In response to “An update on search terms,” Drewdog 2060 wrote, “I am finding it difficult to comment as my collar, freshly starched by my butler this morning, is restricting my air supply. Too many good dinners at the gentleman’s club in Pal Mal. I do not, of course subscribe to stereotypes.”
Which got me thinking about stereotypes a bit more—okay, I’m not going to say seriously, since I try not to take my seriousness too seriously here, but a bit more than I had been. Even though I was the one to raise the topic.
When I was a kid, my father would sometimes give voice to a character he called the Constipated Englishman. The CE was a kind of Colonel Blimp figure (more about him in a minute) who never managed any real words but harrumphed a lot and made my brother and me giggle.
Ah for those innocent days when you could insult an entire nationality and not have to wonder if it was a good idea. I offer you a verbal wince on my father’s behalf, because wasn’t a person to go in for stereotypes. He never made racist jokes and, with this exception, didn’t make jokes about entire nationalities either. But the English had been winners in the global poker game for so long, even though by then they were losing their chips, that they must’ve struck him as fair game. Besides, he had two giggling kids begging him to do the voice again, on top of which he probably saw the CE not as representative of the entire country but of a particular type of person it had given rise to.
I was too young to understand anything that subtle, so for years I more or less believed the entire English nation was male and upper class and constipated. And yes, if I’d stopped to think about that I’d have known it defied the laws of physics or probability or something else scientific, but that’s the thing with stereotypes—most of the time you don’t stop and think about them. They just drift around in your head like wisps of fog, obscuring one thing and leaving the rest clear. You can stop noticing that they’re there at all.
And here we should get back to Colonel Blimp, who was a cartoon character created by David Low as a result of overhearing two military men in a Turkish bath arguing that cavalry officers should be allowed to wear their spurs inside their tanks.
Um, yes indeed they should. Not to mention their swords. We can discuss the horses another time. I want measure the tanks they used back then before I give a definitive opinion.
Unlike the CE, who never even had a name, Colonel Blimp encapsulated the officers Low overheard so well that the entire type is now named after him. He was a character—particular and individual, even when he stood in for a group. You might want to argue that he was a stereotype, but it would be a harder argument to make.
All this is on my mind because when you write about the differences between cultures—and especially when you try to be funny about it—it’s easy to slide into using stereotypes and being, basically, a shithead. So if I cross the line here, I invite you to throw a rock. Or a cavalry officer’s spurs or a tank—whatever’s handy. Or better yet, a comment. It’ll annoy the hell out of me, and I’ll be grateful.
And in case you’re interested, the profound sociological, nonjudgmental reason that stereotypes are wrong is because they make the person who broadcasts them into a shithead.
Aren’t you glad I’m around to present these things dispassionately?