Executive: Well, I guess you could say they extend to when the Angles met the Saxons.
Herbert: Or in other words, when white met bread!
The White Anglo-Saxon Protestant, or WASP, is a largely American trope that today is used to describe the stereotypically "white" (and mostly upper- or upper-middle class, as the term is usually not applied to working-class poor whites associated with Deep South stereotypes.... even though they technically fit the definition) person in American culture.
The term originally referred to New Englanders, New Yorkers, and Tidewater Southerners from wealthy, Anglo-Saxon (English) backgrounds, generally either Congregationalist or Anglican/Episcopalian doctrinally, but eventually came to be applied as well to inland Southerners, Midwesterners, and Westerners as well, regardless of income level or sect. It also came to be roughly synonymous with "Protestant", so that even Protestant Irish, Scandanavians, Dutch and Germans were eventually called WASPs. "White Protestants" wasn't as snappy a term as WASP, so usage of the term has hung around. The stereotype might be extended to upscale (or not) Catholics or Jews who either intermarry with Protestants or internalize Protestantism as the standard for "normal" Americans.
It became important in the mid-20th Century to point out the features of this group as a social reality. Generally WASPs were in positions of privilege and power, and could discriminate against those who were not white and not Protestant. Ethnic minorities (which may no longer be minorities in the New Millennium), non-Anglo Europeans, Jews and Catholics in particular suffered discrimination and exclusion. Critics pointed out how WASPs would see themselves as the "true normal" of the cultural world. This, ironically, led to the "generic and bland" stereotype that so many WASPs are now desperate to shed. It can easily be conflated with the Boston Brahmin, First Families, Secret Masters of the World stereotype. They (the two stereotypes) share a core characterization, but WASP is a straight-up acronym of a demographic label, a thing you might find in a sociology text, not having any of the Old Money, Secret Masters baggage.
Strictly speaking, it is hard to generalize about WASPs. Since a majority, albeit a slim majority, of Americans are both white and Protestant, WASP covers a lot of demographic ground. They can be either liberal or conservative politically (socially conservative but culturally liberal being a frequent combination), and fill any socioeconomic niche. This trope is primarily for figures who meet the most stereotypical WASP criteria: affluent, generic, bland personalities, usually with a little bit of stuffiness inherited from their British ancestors and a preoccupation with keeping up appearances. These days, much of the WASP characteristics can be found ironically enough, in the non-WASP Irish-American community, especially in Boston. Thanks to ethnic succession with Irish Catholics being the first immigrant waves, they have integrated and assimilated strongly into the WASP hegemony, with John F. Kennedy's election being a symbol for the acceptance of the Irish Catholic community into the mainstream, and Kennedy being, alongside Barack Obama, the only non-WASP President of the United States.note
The Hays Code had this effect on classic Hollywood cinema. Although written by two Irish Catholics, the Code was enforced mostly by Midwestern Protestants, and the films under its jurisdiction cut according to their biases which in turn reflected the biases of America's conservative ideology of that time. American characters in movies from the 1930s and '40s do tend to all look and talk the same, with only minor regional differences. Non-Anglo/Nordic Americans don't tend to show up - and when they do, they are "conventionalized" as much as possible. Not until the 1950s would the existence of "ethnic" whites be openly acknowledged. Many of the classic Hollywood actors weren't WASP themselves but became WASP to fit in with the values of the time. Hispanic-American Rita Hayworth is a famous example, as are a number of Jewish-origin actors who changed their names to better fit in (Lauren Bacall for instance). This ended in the New Hollywood era with The Godfather with its Italian-American setting and cast, marking the start of greater on-screen diversity and largely ending the age when actors needed to alter their ethnic make-up or personal names to pass as WASP. In fact, nowadays the opposite will often be the case, at least in fiction: Suddenly Ethnicity is used to "spice up" an otherwise "ordinary" protagonist, especially if this person does not otherwise conform to WASP stereotypes.
Japanese people might be viewed as the Asian counterpart to this trope, given their stereotypically stern work ethic and obsession with tradition and good manners; while Chinese people and other Asian nationalities might fill in for Catholics (more colorful, festive, and "spiritual"). And within China, there is a similar divide between Confucianism (middle class and socially conservative) and Daoism (more earthy and countercultural, and roughly akin to some "ethnic" flavors of Catholicism), with Buddhism viewed as exotic and associated with foreigners (so, analogous to Judaism or Islam in the West).
Compare and contrast with Christianity Is Catholic. See Irishman and a Jew for a similar ethnic fault line, with Jews (usually) filling the WASP niche. Other associated tropes are Upper-Class Twit, Rich in Dollars, Poor in Sense, Jerk Jock, Seemingly-Wholesome '50s Girl, Stepford Smiler, Granola Girl, Bourgeois Bohemian, and Valley Girl. (More positively, they may be associated with The All-American Boy or the Girl Next Door.) May be found in Everytown, America and Suburbia (especially the Stepford Suburbia variety). See also American Accents for more variations and stereotypes associated with them.
- Flash Gordon, a Yale man and champion polo player.
- Bruce Wayne AKA Batman uses an Old Money WASP persona as a convenient cover. Bill Finger who designed his Secret Identity wanted him to have Patrician heritage, so he named him after "Mad Anthony" Wayne, a Revolutionary-era war hero (another WASP icon, Marion Morrison would also be renamed after the same figure as John Wayne). Incidentally, recent comics, have implied that Batman's mother, Martha Kane, might be Jewish so that would mean, that Batman is technically Jewish, albeit Bruce has never quite taken that identity (or for that matter any other identity) in the comics. Both of Batman's creators (like most Golden Age creators) were Jewish incidentally.
- Marvel Comics managed to avert this by bringing in more diversity and greater social realism in their comics (such as Irish-American heroes: Spider-Man, Captain America and Daredevil). But they have also played it straight, with Tony Stark being originally WASP as well as Reed Richards, Susan and Johnny Storm (Ben Grimm being the exception for being Jewish).
- X-Men is interesting in that it transitioned from being Marvel's most WASP-y title to its least WASP-y title.
- The original X-Men group has the patrician Professor X, Charles Xavier, in spite of his Spanish-sounding namenote . Also Warren Worthington III, better known as the Angel, a scion of the American aristocracy. Most of the X-Men in the early days were largely WASP, including Jean Grey, daughter from a suburban middle-class family of academics, as well as Hank McCoy with Scott Summers being an orphan from Alaska, and a poor-WASP. Only Bobby Drake averted this, being Irish-American and Catholic.
- Chris Claremont's run with John Byrne brought in a much more diverse bunch of X-Men, largely by bringing in individuals from multiple nationalities, such as the German Nightcrawler, the Kenyan Ororo Monroe, the openly Jewish Kitty Pryde/Shadowcat (while also making the famous villain, Magneto, Jewish), the Cajun Gambit and the Southern Belle Rogue, the Russian Colossusnote . And of course, the most famous of all X-Men, the Canadian Wolverine. Incidentally, Wolverine's later origins revealed him to be an immortal whose family came from Canada's patrician colonial gentry, complete with the Preppy name of James Howlett. So Wolverine is technically Canadian-WASP but he comes across as an anti-establishment bad boy.
- Subsequent generations of students have contained relatively few WASPs, with characters such as Native Americans Danielle Moonstar, Warpath, and Avalanche; African-Americans David Alleyne and Christopher Muse, Nigerian Idie Okonkwo, Japanese-American Noriko Ashida, Latin-Americans Julian, Sofia, Hijack, and Goldballs in their place.
- In the Jem fic Once Upon a Time was a Backbeat, Rapture mentions that her racist and religious parents used to forbid her from playing with kids who weren't also WASP.
- The Yellowjackets, Chip and Muffy, in Antz are a parody. They speak like a New England couple who look down on the two ant protagonists.
- Played with in Mississippi Burning: The phrase is used word-for-word at the not Klan meeting. This is after said meeting's speaker had repeatedly called the US government things like "atheist, Communist, Jewish, nigger-loving", among other things. Earlier in the movie the speaker had also essentially given a detailed explanation about why the county was so racist, doing things like the "Jews are all bankers in a moneymaking conspiracy" conspiracy theory and various other crackpot pieces of garbage like that. Paradoxically, then, the Klan's attitude here is partly rooted in resentment of wealth, which of course could also be applied to WASPs; the speaker was obviously arguing in an ethnic/religious vein rather than a class-based one. note
- Pretty much everyone on the "snobs" side of Caddyshack. And in their natural element (the golf course) to boot!
- Gordon Gekko in Wall Street tells his protege Bud Fox that he bought himself a seat on the board of the Bronx Zoo because, "One thing you gotta learn about WASPs: They love animals, but can't stand people."
- William "Bill the Butcher" Cutting in Gangs of New York, based on the real-life William Poole, the leader of the anti-immigrant pro-WASP "Know Nothing" movement. His "dignified" WASP exterior is naturally only skin-deep, making him a Psycho Supporter of more traditional WASPs.
- In Scent of a Woman, the very upscale and exclusive prep school Charlie goes to in New England is absolutely packed with rich WASP kids, (very much Truth in Television) and they have all the attitude and snobbery that goes along with that.
- American History X: When prompted to go on a diatribe about his skinhead beliefs, Danny Vineyard announces that he hates everyone who isn't a white, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant.
- Tom and Daisy Buchanan in The Great Gatsby. They look down on the title character, a Teutonic Midwesterner whose real name is James Gatz.
- Grizzly Tales for Gruesome Kids, although a British series, has a few characters in its stories like this, such as Lord and Lady Blunderbuss, a posh couple that moves next door and hunts a neighbours' fox in "The Urban Fox"; Anthony St. John-Smith, the snobbish athletic schoolboy-hero from "Athlete's Foot" who has a double-barrel surname and is a stuck-up snob to everyone (narrators on audiobooks even give him a Received Punctuation accent); and the Crumpdump family from "An Elephant Never Forgets". The Chipper Chums gang from "The Chipper Chums Go Scrumping" is a downplayed group of WASP kids, since we never find out how rich they are, but they are a parody of Enid Blyton stories that had characters similar to WASP culture, and act no different to the other WASPs from other Grizzly Tales stories.
- These turn up in Chapters 2 ("Creepy Kids") and 4 ("Real Estate Nightmares") in Paperbacks From Hell: The Twisted History of '70s and '80s Horror Fiction.
- Greg Montgomery and his parents, Edward and Kitty from Dharma & Greg. They know that they're Protestant, but they're not sure which denomination. Edward thinks they're Lutheran. Kitty reminds him that they're Episcopalian.
- Charlotte of Sex and the City is delighted to learn what a WASP is and that she is one.
- In an episode of Scrubs, J.D. and Dr. Cox have a very reserved, patrician patient who sends his wife out of the room for the dirty talk. He confirms, when J.D. asks, that he and his wife are, in fact, WASPs. This makes his passionate declaration that when he makes love to his wife, he's closer to her than any other time and only then can he truly express his love for her all the more effective.
- Charles Emerson Winchester III from Mash, played by David Ogden Stiers with a full-on Boston Brahmin accent. Winchester has occasionally shown distaste for Catholic ethnicities, in one episode being heartbroken at the news of his sister getting engaged to an Italian, remarking to the (Irish) Catholic Father Mulcahy, "at least she's not marrying an Irishman".
- Mulder of The X-Files is implied to have grown up this way; his family owned homes in Martha's Vineyard and in Connecticut and his father worked for the government. His parents don't terribly fit the stereotype "WASP" usually seen, but then we don't see much of them at all in terms of personality, so who knows? His portrayer, David Duchovny, is actually from a mixed Jewish and Scottish background.
- David Webster from Band of Brothers comes from a stereotypically WASP family, which sets him apart from most other members of Easy Company, who are of working-class and/or immigrant backgrounds.
- On Copper the Morehouses are rich white Methodists and are a distinct contrast to the rest of the characters who are predominantly poor Irish Catholic immigrants or free blacks.
- Andy Bernard on The Office (US) has all the hallmarks such as a loud "preppy" fashion sense, privileged upbringing, and prestigious education (i.e. Cornell).
- Bryan Fuller's Wonderfalls centers of the Tyler family, which while not explicitly stated to be WASP, demonstrates the culture and interaction style that is associated with them, especially in the pilot.
- Chavo Guerrero Jr.'s suburban, golf-playing alter ego, "Kerwin White."
- The preps in Bully. Preppy dress sense, faux-Transatlantic accents, exclusionary attitude, swanky off-campus living, and of course the game is set in a private boarding school.
- In Fallout 4 we meet the Cabot family, still living comfortably in their pristine mansion 200 years after a nuclear apocalypse. There are also the Croup family who have all been turned into feral postnecrotic humans. The Codmans living in the upper stands of Diamond City also count - with the snooty attitude to match.
- In Family Guy:
- An episode contained a one-off Cutaway Gag in which Peter and Chris observe "a wasps' nest". The camera pans out to show that he's observing a WASP family having dinner.
- Lois's parents, Carter and Babs Pewterschmitt, are about as rich and WASP-y as you can get. One of the many reasons her father hates Peter is because Peter is Irish Catholic. That and he's a poor, fat, drunken, rude, idiotic slob. Later subverted when it is revealed that Lois' mother is Jewish. Carter is then shown treating Babs pretty much exactly the way you would expect him to treat any non-WASP.
- Also, Mr. Bottomtooth, complete with Tidewater/"Posh" accent (though it's distorted by his comically-exaggerated lower jaw).
- The Simpsons
- Played up in "Scenes From the Class Struggle in Springfield": the Simpson family (who are of French, American Indian and Black descent as well as Anglo-Saxon) trying to work their way into the high society of Marge's "preppy" high-school friend and ultimately deciding that lifestyle isn't for them.
- Charles Montgomery Burns. Truth be told, different episodes of the show have provided wildly conflicting backstories for him. Originally he was from a clan of stuffy New England snobs (Monty himself being a Yale graduate), but then the episode "Rosebud" hinted that he was Jewish, the older brother of comedian George Burns (although that was obviously a Cutaway Gag, and not to be taken seriously). More recently, it's been mentioned (in "The Color Yellow") that he is the son of a Southern slaveholder. The Simpsons Wiki claims he's of Scottish descent, though a wealthy, American-born Scot would probably be lumped in with WASPs in popular perception, especially if his family is Protestant.
- Actually averted by the white residents of Springfield much of the time, who are more likely to be ethnically Irish (politicians and cops), Italian (the mobsters), Polish/Russian Jewish (a children's TV clown), vaguely Slavic or Hungarian (the bartender), or of Dutch/German/Scottish/whatever descent and low-income more often than not. The town's founder, Jebediah Springfield, could be considered the 19th-century frontier variant of this trope: earnest, morally righteous, and stiflingly wholesome. note
- In "The Father, the Son and the Holy Guest Star", Marge has a brief Imagine Spot of Protestant Heaven being full of these types. In contrast, Catholic Heaven is a lot more ethnic (and lively).
- Futurama brings us Judge Whitey, who only likes the "pore" people who do his pores at the spa, and has declared poverty a mental illness, and there's also Ms. Astor from the revival episode "The Mutants are Revolting", who is a typical posh, rich, old woman who likes to grant generous donations to those less fortunate than her, but still looks down upon them (such as the sewer mutants).
- Jay's parents on The Critic fit this trope perfectly. Extremely wealthy, they throw a debutante ball for their daughter where they try to set her up with a boy so WASPy that he has literal blue blood. Franklin is too much of a Cloud Cuckoo Lander to show many of the character traits beyond a Locust Valley lockjaw accent and a penchant for alcoholism, but Eleanor has the blatant classism and "proper" demeanor to the point of coldness; she remarks once that she would cry if not for the fact that tear ducts have been bred out of her family. There's also Republican Vice Presidential candidate, Rich Dullwasp.