Follow TV Tropes



Go To

"The problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete."

Whenever you see, hear, or taste something, you can only tell so much about it based on what you sensed. This often isn't enough, so we make assumptions about what the rest of the thing is like — when people hear "bird", they probably think of something that is fist-sized, flies, and sings, even though none of these things are true about every single bird. See prototype theory.

When a set of such assumptions about something becomes Common Knowledge, it forms a stereotype. Most of the time, nobody notices, as in the case of birds. This is very useful when you're writing fiction, because it lets you save a lot of space and time that you'd otherwise have to spend describing something in detail, when it isn't really important to your story.

The term refers back to older printing presses. When each letter had to be individually set, a common phrase would often be cast as a single block piece called a Cliché (after the sound it made); the blocks were also called stereotypes. Such ease of use ended up with authors over-utilizing them to save on costs. The term came to mean the readily available phrase itself before broadening to include any overused element.

Stereotypes at their very best are a small grain of truth about some people in some groups that are most often taken from Small Reference Pools (and very rarely from generalities drawn from group norms as observed by outsiders), and then erroneously applied to everyone in the group/people/culture/ethnicity/etc, never mind that cultures have a wide variety of differences, and individual people within them can be even more varied, and even at that very best are often still tokenization (even when "positive"), fetishization, or objectification.

At their worst, they are entirely and inherently reliant on Unfortunate Implications, the definition of the Propaganda Piece and even precursors to genocide via the route of demonization and dehumanization.

A Trope is a stereotype that writers find useful in communicating with readers. Some stereotypes that originally developed outside of fiction lend themselves readily to use as tropes, and some tropes turn into stereotypes outside of fiction. Some such tropes are: