Saturday, October 15, 2011

Propagating Stereotypes

The Consumerist's Worst Ad in America 2011 is accepting votes through the weekend, and their category  "Trend That Needs To Stop Being A Trend" inspires this topic of discussion.


"Asian Accents Are 'Hilarious'" and "Men Barely Tolerating Their Wives & Girlfriends" are two of the nominees in this category, and I wish they could both win.

Stereotyping and prejudicial thinking may not be legal crimes, but they certainly can be moral crimes, social crimes, and legal crimes.  And our economic system depends upon stereotyping and prejudicial thinking.

In Alan Cooper's well-received The Inmates are Running the Asylum, he discusses his strategy for developing personas to design products for, "Stereotypical personas are more effective if the stereotyping lends more credence to the persona. My goal here is not to be politically correct, but to get everyone to believe that my personas are real."
 Cooper goes on to discuss some unnecessary stereotypes.  In a critical reflection of this book's "Chapter 9: Designing for Pleasure," I insisted that "when [Cooper] asserts, 'Stereotypical personas are more effective if the stereotyping lends more credence to the persona,' he seems to be ignoring the equally true inverse: that the persona lends more credence to the stereotype. I don’t think that 'a statuesque, 5-foot-11 inch beauty who went to Beverly Hills High . . . [and] is a computer technician' or a male who is a nurse would 'confuse everyone,' but I do think that systematically rejecting these non-stereotypical personas will reinforce the stereotypes themselves."

Regardless of my documented stance against using stereotypes in marketing and development personas, stereotypes tend to be how these personas are designed.  Even in the event that research is done to create an amalgamated entity, stereotypes tend to seep in; people naturally think in stereotypes.  Since marketing research is costly in terms of both time and money, however, I suspect many personas are developed using stereotypes alone.  These personas are then used by companies to create our wants and needs, our problems and solutions.  This is in free-market capitalism.

Communists don't seem to have a better solution.  I don't even have an inkling of how to start fixing this problem.  The problem is so innate that we'll have a hard time of socially outgrowing the issue, but I'm optimistic that we will.

In the meantime, I'll keep supporting boys who paint their toenails pink and commercials for female-specific hygiene that are as raunchy as commercials for male-specific hygiene.  What else can we do?