Saturday, August 26, 2006

Talladega Nights and Stereotypes

My sister recently moved with her husband to Alabama. I briefly worried for her as I watched Will Ferrell in Talladega Nights—The Ballad of Ricky Bobby (TN). How will she find her niche in such a place? Of course the movie provides no real data for answering the question, since she moved to Birmingham, not Talladega. And the Southern folks that populate the film are drawn as comic stereotypes, not authentic characters.

The question floated out of my head by the time the Bobby family is shown gathered around gallons of Powerade and mountains of trademarked food while debating the proper invocation of Jesus during grace. Ricky calls upon the 8 ½ lb. Christmas Jesus in gold fleece diapers. For the Bobbys, God, like a heavenly Pizza Hut, addresses our culture’s obsession with a variety of choices by providing bearded Jesus, ninja Jesus and even well muscled acrobat Jesus. The stereotype of consumer culture was hilarious.

I questioned why I thought that scene was so funny and wondered if it had something to do with a clever use of stereotypes, a subject our pastor Mike has been talking about. Stereotypes portray a diverse group of people as having only a small number of recurring, typically extreme characteristics. Comic stereotypes do this with humor that is either good-natured or biting, depending on your point of view.

Of the people stereotyped in TN; including the aforementioned self-obsessed consumer Christians, NASCAR fans, gay men, and French people; only small groups of Christians picketing the movie are visibly offended. I was surprised to hear about them. It seems they believe the movie makes fun of Christ and his followers. I didn't feel that way, mind you. Personally, I thought the only people who should be offended were those who treat God like a shopping mall.

Then it dawned on me, a certain segment of our population doesn’t understand that stereotypes aren’t real. I know that relatively few gay guys try to kiss guys they know are straight, pat their partners on the behind in public or own gay horses; therefore the movie’s stereotype of gay guys was funny to me.

But if you don’t know that stereotypes are false, you likely use them as a basis for your perception of at least one group of people. Or if you are the one being stereotyped in a comic setting, you become incredibly offended because you believe this is what people actually think of you. If the latter rings true, you should probably check to see if you aren’t also guilty of the former.

As 21st century comedy emerges everyone trades on the ludicrous traits of the most “other” of “others”. It used to bother me, but now I think I’m starting to understand that as long as the setting is comedic and everyone is free to receive and deliver the brunt equally, it’s okay. If the context is political or news oriented, stereotypes take on a wholly different tone. Perhaps the folks who are offended by TN see everything through those lenses these days, even goofball comedies that while not technically perfect provide more laughs than one might expect.


Anonymous David said...

This has nothing to do with "Talladega Nights and Stereotypes" but I love your new glasses and love the "natural" contacts look also.
P.S.-I'm just doing this because no one has commented and I feel sorry for you.

1:56 PM  
Blogger Citizen D said...

Good comments on the movie. I agree.

2:16 PM  
Anonymous Marcie said...

I can't wait to see it after hearing that Karen loved it. I fall prey to stereotypes sometimes and have to smack myself because as you said, they are not real.

I hope to be seeing you and Jon soon at church - we have been such sinners this past summer, but are hoping to go soon now that the wedding season is over! YAY!

5:57 AM  
Blogger juliebelle said...

How's Claire?

1:13 PM  

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