3. what may be considered one of the

3. Otherness and stereotyping

What would be the correct
definition of otherness? If we try to define it, we will find ourselves in a
rather difficult situation. One can define it from a certain theoretic point of
view, or rely on the existing definitions made by prominent literary
theoreticians and philosophers. However, otherness will never be fully
understood unless it is linked to a personal experience, as it is best
displayed through one’s subjective opinion. Edward Said, one of the most
prominent literary theoreticians, provided what may be considered one of the
best definition of otherness for laymen: “A group of people living on a few
acres of land will set up boundaries between their land and its immediate
surroundings and the territory beyond, which they call ‘the land of the
barbarians.’ In other words, this universal practice of designating in one’s
mind a familiar space which is ‘ours’ and an unfamiliar space beyond ‘ours’
which is ‘theirs’ is a way of making geographical distinctions that can be entirely
arbitrary. I use the word ‘arbitrary’ here because imaginative geography of the
‘our land—barbarian land’ variety does not require that the barbarians
acknowledge the distinction. It is enough for ‘us’ to set up these boundaries
in our own minds; ‘they’ become ‘they’ accordingly, and both their territory
and their mentality are designated as different from ‘ours'” (Said, 1978: 54).

We Will Write a Custom Essay Specifically
For You For Only $13.90/page!


order now

Geographic relations covered
by Said in this paragraph are actually just a small part of what otherness as a
phenomenon represents. Otherness is present everywhere: we can encounter it in
arts, humanities, society etc. In his work Orientalism,
Said is concentrated on the national, geographic aspect of otherness. In other
words, he uses geography as an example through which he characterizes otherness
as a sense of belonging to One with regards to the existence of the Other. What
the author really tries to point out is that “they” define “us” and “we” don’t
have an identity unless “we” are compared with “them”. The identity of One is
deeply dependent on existence of the Other. All “our” qualities are measured
with regards to “their” qualities. Otherness is also characterized by the fact
that the focus is mainly on the Other. The Other is essential to maintaining
this relationship and if there was no Other, One would simply lack the
reference point to evaluate itself. What makes this relationship even more
interesting, is that the Other is marked as worse, of less quality and with
more flaws compared to One. Still, this is not surprising since, as Said
pointed out, all opinions and evaluations are produced by One. This makes these
opinions subjective, unfair and often inaccurate.

As the phenomenon itself
occurs in “us”, it is impossible to divide ‘us’ from them’ objectively. French
geographer Jean-François Staszak characterized otherness in a more direct
manner: “Otherness is the result of a discursive process by which a dominant
in-group (“Us”, the Self) constructs one or many dominated out-groups (“Them”,
Other) by stigmatizing a difference – real or imagined – presented as a
negation of identity and thus a motive for potential discrimination” (Staszak,
2008: 44). Staszak claims that otherness is not really based on the
relationship between One and the Other. Instead, he believes that is represents
the negative attitude and discrimination of One towards the Other. According to
him, One uses otherness in order to discriminate the Other, or even more
simply: the primary role of otherness is the discrimination of the Other.

In 1950s French philosopher
Simone de Beauvoir defined otherness as “(…) the fundamental category of human
thought. No group ever defines itself as One without immediately setting up the
Other opposite itself” (de Beauvoir, 1956: 16). In more simple words: there is
no One without the Other. If there is no Other, the existence of the One is
seriously questioned. One defines all its qualities and imperfections by
comparing them to the qualities and imperfections of the Other. If we examine
the de Beauvoir’s claim from a philosopher’s point of view, we can conclude
that the existence of One is conditioned by the existence of Other. Much like
Berkeley’s tree that falls in a forest while no one is around to hear it, One
cannot argue its existence without comparing it to the existence of Other.

Polish sociologist Zygmunt
Baumann wrote: „A woman is other to a man, an animal is other to a human, (…)
sickness is other to health, madness is other to reason, (…) an enemy is
other to a friend” (Baumann, 1991: 14). By using these very simple dichotomies,
Baumann described the very essence of otherness as a sociological and
philosophical phenomenon. We can easily recognize otherness as the basic means
of identification in every one of these dichotomies, regardless of the social,
philosophical or artistic framework. It does not matter if the dichotomies are
in a positive or negative relationship, between them there is still a clear
boundary defined by otherness. One and the Other may be in a positive
relationship, but there is always a difference through which these two sides
can be identified and separated from one another. No matter how similar, the
two sides will never be the same because even the slightest difference divides
them into One and the Other.

3.1 Direct and subtle otherness

If we consider ways in which
otherness is displayed, we can divide it (for the purposes of this thesis) into
direct and subtle otherness. Due to the nature of this thesis, we will consider
the employment of otherness in film. Through analysis of several films, two
main ways of expressing otherness can be identified: it can be expressed
through characters’ lines and actions, or through the sublime representation of
the Other on film. It may seem that the characters themselves are responsible
for the occurrence of otherness, but it is important to remember that those
characters are also work of fiction.

Direct otherness is that
kind of otherness which is displayed openly through direct communication and
actions of the characters involved. More accurately, direct otherness is
displayed whenever a character openly speaks about „us” and „them”, while
explicitly criticizing „them”, „their” characteristics, customs, beliefs,
actions, way of life etc. Direct otherness is fairly common in Cold War films.
Because it is simple to detect, it is one of the main tools used for creation
(or moderation) of viewers’ opinion. Based on these utterances or actions
performed by protagonists, the viewer forms his/her own opinion on who are
supposed to be the „good guys” and who are supposed to be the „bad guys.”
Direct otherness is used, among other tools, to form viewer’s sympathy or
antipathy for a certain character. However, when the differences between “us”
and “them” get too distinguished or when the Other is overly criticized, the
viewer may sense the overstatement and the otherness of the character loses its
credibility.

On the other side, subtle
otherness works in a different manner. As the name itself says, subtle
otherness is not displayed openly and directly, but it is to be read from the
representation of Other throughout the film. Despite the fact that the direct
otherness displays the relationship between “us” and “them” more clearly, the
subtle otherness is much more powerful and drives the viewer to distinguish the
differences and conflicts among the One and the Other, thus earning more
credibility from the viewer. Subtle otherness is displayed in details, music,
costumes, indirect actions and behavior etc. The film is directed in such
manner that it creates an impression that the subtle otherness is displayed
involuntarily and that it is real and accurate, which makes the viewer agree
with the representation of the Other, even though it may be completely
inaccurate. Viewers often find themselves liking or disliking a certain
character without being able to find the real reason or explanation for their
feelings. It is the subtle otherness that enables the filmmakers to force the
opinion upon viewers and makes the viewer come to involuntary conclusions.

            It
doesn’t matter if otherness is direct or subtle. We can describe it as a very
powerful phenomenon which forces viewers to form strong opinions on characters
and social or political matters. As Stuart Hall explained in chapter The Spectacle of the Other from his work
Representation: Cultural Representations
and Signifying Practices, “Representation is a complex business and,
especially when dealing with ‘difference’, it engages feelings, attitudes and
emotions and it mobilizes fears and anxieties in the viewer, at deeper levels
than we can explain in a simple, common-sense way” (Hall, 1997: 226). Hall here
argues that, if done properly, representation through otherness, stereotyping
and other similar principles can form, change and erase viewers’ opinion on
virtually any topic or character. This practice can be found daily in different
media. However, we will focus on its use in American cinema, where it also
served as political propaganda.

4. Stereotyping

Since it is fairly common
that otherness leads to stereotyping, it is important that we examine this
psychological phenomenon as well. Stereotyping is an essential feature of
representation of the Other, which can be described in simple words as reducing
and simplifying a view of someone or something to few most simple, usually
distorted, images. According to the American Psychological Association’s Dictionary of Psychology, a stereotype
is “a set of cognitive generalizations (e.g., beliefs, expectations) about the
qualities and characteristics of the members of a group or social category. It
simplifies and expedites perceptions and judgments, but it is often exaggerated,
negative rather than positive, and resistant to revision even when perceivers
encounter individuals with qualities that are not congruent with the stereotype”
(Van den Bos, 2015: 1031).

To further simplify this
APA’s definition, a stereotype is a common trait of a group by which one can
assume that the object of one’s observation belongs to that group. For example,
if we observe a tattooed person wearing leather clothes, we may assume this
person is a biker, even though there is no other sign that may confirm this
assumption. To make a more plastic example, we can use Richard Dyer’s (1977)
table reference. Dyer argues that “… we ‘decode’ a flat object on legs on
which we place things as a ‘table’. We may never have seen that kind of ‘table’
before, but we have a general concept of category of ‘table’ in our heads, into
which we fit the particular object we perceive or encounter” (quoted in Hall,
1997: 257). This practice of stereotyping is highly subjective and in most cases,
leads to wrong conclusions about the object. However, in lack of relevant
information, we fairly often make conclusions based on stereotypes. By using
this practice, we can compensate for missing information and instantaneously
form an opinion. This opinion may or may not be correct, but it is a key part
of the first impression in real life, as well as with fictional characters.
According to Stuart Hall’s explanation, “stereotypes get hold of the few
‘simple, vivid, memorable, easily grasped and widely recognized’ characteristics
about a person, reduce everything about the person to those traits, exaggerate
and simplify them, and fix them without change or development to eternity”
(Hall, 1997: 258). As both definitions mentioned above claim, we use
stereotypes to place people in “boxes” according to their most recognizable
traits and prejudice we base upon those traits. These stereotypes are usually
distorted images of a person or group in question. Although they are usually
far from true, stereotypes have a tendency to cling onto their subjects and are
spread widely throughout society.

With all these features,
stereotyping is a fairly useful practice in filmmaking, as it aides the
filmmaker when forming the viewers’ opinion. By using and reconfirming the
existing stereotypes about a certain character or a group throughout the film,
filmmaker facilitates creation of said characters and explains the characters
to the audience in a downright manner, taking away the danger of
misunderstanding. The use of stereotypes when forming characters and situations
allows the filmmaker to focus on other features of the film as he/she can be
fairly certain that the stereotyped object will be received correctly by the
viewer. Depending on genre and purpose of the film, excessive use of stereotypes
may lead into caricature. While this may be entertaining and easy to grasp, it
can be seriously offensive at the same time, revealing the true nature of
stereotypes.

Stereotyping as
a tool of otherness serves
the filmmakers to mold viewers’ opinions on characters or objects. When basic
features of otherness and stereotyping are taken into account, we can safely
conclude that, although mostly inaccurate, these opinions are usually negative.
Stereotype “facilitates the ‘binding’ or bonding together of all of Us who are
‘normal’ into one ‘imagined community’; and it sends into symbolic exile all of
Them – ‘the Others’ – who are in some way different – ‘beyond the pale'” (1997:
258). When taken into perspective from an ordinary viewer’s point of view,
information gathered in this chapter will serve well to identify and analyze
otherness and stereotyping of Soviets in American cinema of the Cold War era.

Dyer argues that “we are
always ‘making sense’ of things in terms of wider categories. Thus, for
example, we come to ‘know’ something about a person by thinking of the roles
which he or she performs: is he/she a parent, a child, a worker…” (quoted in
Hall, 1997: 257). This principle can be observed in most films whenever viewers
are introduced to a new character for the first time. There are often some
physical and behavioral traits that alert the viewer of the stereotype group to
which the character belongs. An example of such stereotype can be found in some
films that include a character of a present day maid. In these films, the maid
is in most cases a dark-haired female with darker tan, who speaks either poor
English with hard Spanish accent, or no English at all. When an ordinary viewer
takes into account the above mentioned traits of the character as well as his
or her previous knowledge and context of the Mexican immigration in the United
States, it is fairly easy to conclude that the maid is a poor Mexican, possibly
illegal immigrant.

This conclusion might make
some viewers feel bad because they labeled this character without getting to
know her first, but most viewers will not even notice that they are taking part
in this practice of stereotyping. This is mainly due to our innate habit of
trying to define someone or something we see or meet for the first time. Because
of this innate habit of stereotyping, filmmakers can safely form a stereotype
for most characters without fear of viewers not understanding them. Although
stereotypes may be both positive and negative, in this paper we will focus more
on the negative as it is an important element of otherness. As we already
concluded, everything that is Other, different and does not belong to Me or Us,
it must be worse than Me or Us, therefore stereotyping in otherness is in most
cases negative and we will observe it as such.

In terms of stereotyping and
otherness with regards to USA – Soviet Union relationship, it is necessary to
first understand the position in which the two sides found themselves when it
comes to the American cinema of the era. It is only natural that the American
cinematographers and decision-makers would represent the other, in this case
the Soviets, as subordinate and negative. This practice served as internal
propaganda in the United States and their allies, striking the very basic
feeling of their citizens – their self-awareness and ethnocentrism. In their dictionary,
the APA defines ethnocentrism as “the practice of regarding one’s own ethnic,
racial, or social group as the center of all things. Just as egocentrism is a
sense of self-superiority, so ethnocentrism is the parallel tendency to judge
one’s group as superior to the other groups” (Van den Bos, 2015: 403). The
filmmakers relied on this ethnocentrism to form and further strengthen the
viewers’ negative feelings towards the Soviets. By making the proverbial World
revolve around strong and powerful “us” it was much easier to spot and
humiliate weak and poor “them”. However, in the particular case of the
representation of Soviets in American film, we may take this “weakness” with a
grain of salt as it would prove later in the analysis that Soviets were
generally represented as strong and militarist people. Still, they would always
prove weaker than the hearty and bold Americans.

While stereotyping is
considered a negative practice, it proves significantly useful when one is
trying to represent a group or a member of that group by assigning them a few
common traits.