Nearly everyone who meets me thinks I smoke a lot of pot, surf regularly and play a nasty acoustic guitar. Yes, I have indulged in all three activities at some points in my life, yet I am far from being considered a pot smoking, guitar-playing surfer.
I found it absolutely hilarious one day after teaching a class on stereotypes and sharing this information with the class, when a student I had never met approached me to ask if I was the new guitar professor on campus. I didn’t even respond, I just laughed.
For a while this stereotype of a high, music loving, surfer -I am assuming based on my looks and attitude (think Patrick Swayze, “Point Break”)- was somewhat bothersome. Not THAT bothersome, rather “bothersome light”…kind of like the pebble in the shoe, irritating though not worth the price of having to stop and extricate. It was several years ago that I decided to completely embrace my look and go with it. No, I did not start smoking a lot of pot, surf or play guitar, rather I decided to embrace the persona of such a person.
Pot smokers are pretty cool guys for the most part. Surfers tend to have a pretty chill outlook on life. Unfortunately guitar players have a little more range in the “may be a cool guy or may be a total dick department” as the aforementioned surfer can play guitar as well as the moody, intense artist who does not use the instrument to attract chicks, rather to self-pity over his inner angst.
So I accepted what people thought I was. I now like to sport surfer attire and act the part; I even have a surfboard necklace. When people ask me if I surf I just respond with, “Yeah, sure” -as I did surf a few times back in high school. It is the follow-up question that usually flusters me, “Long board or short board?” Looking like the befuddled puppy with eyes wide and head bent slightly to the right, I look at the person curiously and respond, “I…long board?”
The word stereotype is an interesting one with an interesting origin. The online etymology dictionary defines it as “method of printing from a plate,” from French stéréotype (adj.) “printing by means of a solid plate of type,” from Greek stereos “solid”+ French type “type.” Noun meaning “a stereotype plate” is from 1817. Meaning “image perpetuated without change” is first recorded 1850, from the verb in this sense, which is from 1819. A stereotype is a copy of the original.
I love how we adopt words from various trades and apply a psychological meaning to them. Though that is a different blog for a different time.
Each of us have probably been told of the evils of stereotyping yet we all still engage in it the great majority of our lives, even if in simple and seemingly harmless ways. We “stereotype” someone when we want to determine if they are friendly and approachable. We certainly stereotype when we feel threatened in some way.
I do know people who stereotype consistently and rationalize this behavior because they claim to be nearly always right in their judgement. Of course I would argue that they may think they are nearly always right because the brain has a very convenient mode of dismissing the many times we are wrong as to not upset our delicate mental sensibilities of needing to be right as to avoid dissonance; not unlike the gambler who only informs others of her bets when she wins.
If we are to understand stereotyping based on the etymology (origin) of the term, it is interesting that we depend on the stereotype (the copy) for information as we forsake the original. The problem is the world is full of originals. Though similar in the universal human condition to be sure, our stories and narratives are all so vastly different that each person is strikingly original and unique thus the facsimile, or stereotype may often be right in part, it is never right in full.
After all, I have smoked pot, surfed and played guitar…though not many of such stereotypes also teach community college, blog and enjoy hip hop. Or maybe they do?
I’m going longboarding.