Mirror Essay: The use of Power, Redheads, and Stereotypes in Popular Culture Today
I have found that as I age, I don’t look in mirrors as much as I used to. The journey in searching for my true self has found its way within, and as much as I would like that to reflect how the world around me wishes to view me, sadly, I’ve learned that the way the world perceives people, a lot of the time, is through their exterior.
The Popular Culture Media outlets I focus on in this blog use their power of authority to capitalize on prejudices. I discuss how redheads are stigmatized by their peers, Popular Culture, and Popular Culture Media, and how this stigmatization reinforces the message that power is what determines how differences in people can be singled out and used to create discrimination of a group of individuals. The methods to create and reinforce discrimination may be through humor, profitability, or repetition of the discriminatory message in various Popular Culture Artifacts of today and I analyze those various methods through the use of redhead stereotypes.
When entering a new environment, I am constantly greeted with more attention than the average person. My bright red hair that is now down to my waist is certainly eye catching, and it wasn’t until the age of nine that this became more apparent as to why I felt like people treated me differently.
It was on a summer day, and I had been hanging out with a few of the kids at our year-around-school. A boy came up to me who all of my friends, including me, had a crush on. We were all playing truth or dare, and my dare was that I would have to ask out the person that I had a crush on. I told this boy in front of me that it was him, and he responded that he “….didn’t like me because I had red hair and freckles… and that he wanted to go out with Amanda, the girl who had brown hair like him.” Now this boy and I had been in the same class since Kindergarten, and I couldn’t believe that me having red hair would make him not like me, and it dawned on me that there really wasn’t anyone else that had red hair in our school, except for my sister and I. I left, feeling crushed, and “the ugly duckling” of the group. It didn’t matter if I was in the Talented and Gifted program, or that I was a peace mediator, or that I had a lot of friends. To me, I was broken and not the same as everyone else. This stayed with me for quiet some time growing up.
As I take the time to look back on how it was growing up, I continue to reflect on a few of the obstacles that I endured and how redheads endure similar depictions in popular culture and the media. I believe that our media is a powerful tool that sends messages to all age groups, and that any type of media can create a stigma against a group of people, by using their power over viewers to believe in the messages that the media puts out there.
I identify as a redhead who was born in a family of redheads in America. My mother and father have red hair, my sister, best friend, aunt, cousin-in-law and a few others I know have red hair. This might seem like a lot to some people, but we see it as the norm, and wouldn’t have it any other way. My sister, best friend and I have grown up together with red hair, and we were often given compliments throughout our childhood and into our adult years. As I have told you previously, some associations weren’t particularly positive though, and I started to grow more and more aware of these misrepresentations of what it means to be a redhead.
It wasn’t until I saw South Park that I found I wasn’t the only one who recognized the stereotypes that were being thrown around in our society about redheads. South Park is an animated satirical TV series shown on Comedy Central, and is a tool for society to reflect on the major controversies throughout our culture, and the cultures around the globe in a satirical fashion. Trey Parker and Matt Stone are the creators, as well as the directors, and narrators for most of the characters. They deliver messages to their viewers by writing the episodes weekly, narrating, and then producing the episodes on a strict and fast paced deadline that is usually within seven days.
The first episode I saw about redheads was when Cartman made a speech called “Ginger Kids”.
You can see the episode here:
Trey and Matt put Cartman in the front of the class to get both the actual audience and the animated kids in the TV show to pay attention. The viewer was forced to focus only on Cartman, who starts off by saying that “Ginger kids have gingervitus,….it occurs because ginger kids have no souls…. that they cannot be cured…… and that redheads are going extinct.” Stan, a hat concealed redhead, doesn’t like this discrimination that Cartman is igniting in his school towards redheads, and so he dyes Cartman’s hair when he’s sleeping. Later on, in the same episode ten minutes in, Cartman, who is now “ginger” with red hair and freckles, sits by his “friends” in the cafeteria who tell him he
can’t sit with them because other gingers will think its okay to be in the cafeteria. He leaves and immediately has a meeting with other redheads about being discriminated against, causing the redheads to unite and rally to fight against discrimination and become “the master race they are intended to be”. Stan eventually tells Cartman that he dyed Cartman’s hair red in his sleep, resulting in Cartman telling everyone that they should “all live together in harmony” so he doesn’t die from the revolt.
The subtext of these stereotypes was not only to bring up Cartman’s biased issues, but a way for Cartman to get attention from his peers. We see this need for attention with the creators of South Park and how it is made to create awareness for issues that should be questioned, but also for the TV ratings. It is scripted and formed completely by Comedy central and the producers. Another thing to notice is that the creators put real people, not animated redheads on the overhead projector that Cartman shares with the class. This sets the viewer up, to not only connect with the stereotypes of the culture, but it gives the viewer a real image to emotionally connect with.
We should also question Trey’s, Matt’s, and Comedy Central’s motives for bringing these issues to our attention. South Park only exists because they are bringing up issues in our popular culture in a satirically biased journalistic form. They are important issues to focus on, but if South Park wasn’t animated, and didn’t make fun of the issues by acting out the prejudices through their characters, one could question how many people would be watching the show. The show is surrounded by shock based strategic, lewd humor that calls out people’s discriminatory acts in our own Popular Culture. South Park chooses, usually, to end with a morally acceptable lesson to learn, like “we should all just get along and not judge”, but the main point of the show is to take the problems in Popular Culture, twist them into disgusting and disturbingly shocking parables for TV ratings, that ultimately make them copious amounts of cash. The authority, South Park, and Comedy Central, feed off of the viewer’s environment of stereotypes to produce a humorous message, but tries to change that message to be morally acceptable. It really doesn’t matter what the message is, it is obvious that the authorities in this context are reinforcing a message they believe is true, and are using their facility of power and money to make the audience believe it.
If the viewer is knowledgeable of past issues in the world that South Park references in The Ginger kids episode, the viewer notices the different messages South Park is sending be that of the Holocaust, the witches that were burned that were redheads, and the disparate treatment of African Americans in the U.S., just to name a few. The way in which South Park is used to talk about discrimination, by re-enacting the prejudices, and sharing facts about redheads and other historical prejudices, is also a way for the creators to refer to the issues that they find important, and by throwing in these references throughout the show, it is obvious that the creators want to shape the audience’s point of view with the predetermined biases of the creators.
Going back to the idea that I was not as sought after of a person as the brown haired Amanda, it is easy to assume that something in the environment created this bias towards me at such a young age by what has been analyzed thus far. Having red hair or brown creates a visual boundary between people, even if it is something that is overlooked. Jane Elliot, a school teacher from the 1970’s created an experiment that reflects what Trey and Matt were trying to convey through Cartman. Jane created an experiment where half of her class had blue eyes and the other half had brown eyes and they became divided by a simple blue collar that the brown eyed people had to wear. The lesson taught children how it felt to have prejudices against a group of people and how once a person is discriminated against, their feeling of empowerment and privilege dwindles quickly. The people in power quickly became bullies against the oppressed. The oppressed fought back, but still felt marginalized. Jane switched the collars onto the blue eyed kids the next day and reversed the prejudice. It was shown later in the experiment that the oppressed children even did worse academically.
Brown Eyes Vs. Blue Eyes Video Link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hqp6GnYqIjQ
The Jane Elliot video that is analyzed by Dr. Phillip Zimbardo in the clip explains it best, on how power is the ultimate predictor in discriminating against a group, and that “the most minimal cues of differences between people like eye color, or lip size, can be the basis of discrimination when authority adds values to one or another.” This idea connects to the Cartman episode, where he is treated as lower than the rest of the kids and it connects to my own experience of being told I wasn’t likeable because of my red hair. This idea that power gives one authority to discriminate against people, is the idea that Trey and Matt reinforce. By putting a stereotype out there in the media, as a legitimate argument, people can easily start to believe it, only South Park’s message is that it is wrong, and it can be reversed to show how powerful a message can be given authority, as we see with Cartman.
Another artifact of Popular Culture that shows how stereotypes of redheads are thriving today is from the show Millionaire Matchmaker, on the Bravo TV channel, with host Patti Stanger.
Patti Stanger “Hating Redheads Clip: http://www.imdb.com/video/hulu/vi2702640153/
Millionaire Matchmaker is a reality show that is currently on television. A reality show is usually a scripted form of entertainment, that has an agenda, and whether or not it is morally sound advice that Patti gives isn’t important, so much as to how and why it is entertaining to people.
The episode I focus on grew a lot of attention, and was one of the many controversial episodes that caused criticism and drew attention to her insulting remarks towards people of different religions, sexualities, and colors of hair. This particular episode involved a redhead, with Patti Stanger asking the redhead named Rayne if she would date a fifty year old. Rayne replies no, Patti gets angry, and the camera shifts back and forth providing close ups of them both going back and forth, focusing on Raynes emotions in her face, while Patti calls her names, and proclaiming, “this is the reason I hate redheads….. every redhead in our company is a pain in the ass.”
This type of scripted bias towards redheads is the device Bravo uses when demonstrating their authority, resulting in getting people to watch their show, by sacrificing a group of people, redheads, along the way. If it wasn’t something that they didn’t want people to see, Bravo and Patti could have easily edited out the part with Rayne in it, but instead made the entire episode about Patti having prejudice towards redheads. When Rayne decides to go to the meet and greet anyway, she is immediately attacked by Patti. The viewer is watching, while the camera is standing behind Patti, making it feel like it was a deliberate attempt to make Rayne feel trapped, and bullied. Patti later on went to apologize publicly, but the damage had already been done, and their ratings had gone up. This choice to demean a protected group of people is a common subtext in the Millionaire Matchmaker.
It seems important to end on a more positive note, and so I chose to analyze an online YouTube Science video clip on: http://www.upworthy.com/all-the-science-reasons-redheads-do-that-redhead-thing-they-redhead-do-so-well , a renowned science website.
The clip I analyzed is by Adam Mordecai, who explains the “Truth About Gingers” and how “although redheads aren’t rare… they aren’t very common either… making up only one to two percent of the population”. Adam speaks to the viewer by looking right at the camera, with clips of pictures of the various myths and facts he talks about, regarding the “Big Red”, or redheads with facts, such as, “they don’t get their fiery red hair because they were conceived during menstruation, or bitten by a werewolf as a baby, they get their hair the same way we get our hair, from melanin.” He speaks in a very fast explanatory manner, with many hand motions to enhance what he is speaking about. Adam separates the video with: at 2:40 “We learn their superpowers, at 2:56, we learn their weaknesses, and at 3:27 we learn why any apocalyptic war against them will prove fruitless.” Adam uses humor just similar to the other sources above, but his use of authority is based on using scientific facts, and discouraging redheaded discrimination. This video clip is the least biased, by giving out information that helps people understand the difference between a myth and a fact amongst redheads, without giving his opinion.
At the end, Adam gives a shout out to his subscribers and how he would not be able to do what he does without them. This demonstrates that there is a certain audience that he is providing this information for. The audience is interested in facts, more than shocking entertainment that we see in South Park, or The Millionaire Matchmaker, otherwise his viewers wouldn’t be subscribing to his channels. Adam is using the many counterarguments, or myths as I like to call them, to promote his YouTube channel, and backing up his claims with facts that have been proven by science, all while making money from the many viewers tuning in. He has the authority and is giving the message that these myths that previous authorities have used to fuel their agenda have now been tweaked to back up Adam’s agenda on getting YouTube users to tune in and to believe his scientific claims on redheads.
The sources examined were all helpful in understanding how our media chooses to project these stereotypes of redheads, whether that is through animation, shock value, or debunking myths. All used humor as a way to get their message about redheads across. As I reflected on how these stereotypes have an effect on how people perceive one another, I use this reflection to mirror back to the feelings I have had growing up. I was not like everyone else, and I was greeted with mixed ideas of what it is to be a redhead and how to feel about being different. Although I don’t look as much into the external mirror as I used to, I will say that I do believe that how you feel reflects what you put out into the world, and if a person wants to view you for just your red hair, let them stay a minute longer and they will start to see the real you. The main message is that power is what determines how differences in people can be singled out and used to create discrimination of a group of individuals. Creating the power within our individual selves to see past what another authority wants us to believe is true can lead to a more critically conscious, equal, and united culture. Mirroring my internal true self out to the world is my goal, and my power of authority. I have a responsibility to mirror messages that reflect moral and non-discriminatory practices and I believe that our Popular Culture and Popular Culture Media should be cautious when putting out messages that can cause a difference in a group to become a negative association in a Culture.
IMDB Clip Hating Redheads http://www.imdb.com/video/hulu/vi2702640153/Copyright 1990-2014
South Park Studios.com: http://www.southparkstudios.com/full-episodes/s09e11-ginger-kids orignal Air Date 11-30-2005
YouTube user: HeroicImaginationTV Channel. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hqp6GnYqIjQ uploaded 2011.