Every single stereotype of British culture was there; Black taxis, double decker buses, Tower Bridge and men in kilts playing bagpipes. Then came the pop culture with Madness, George Michael, David Bowie, The Spice Girls, Queen and The Beatles. You can’t get John Lennon and Freddie Mercury in person? Don’t worry, you can put them up on a giant screen. Danny Boyle truly did provide an unashamed stereotype British life. Indeed, had the entire show been commissioned by the British Tourist Industry, no one would have been the slightest bit surprised. But this was just the point. The organisers had understood that their audience was the world, and the world wanted the cliché.
Ambiguity towards stereotypes
It has often been quoted that stereotypes are devices for saving a biased person the trouble of learning. As humans we are not always rational and consistent. Our reaction to our own culture and other cultures is one way in which we prove this. We generally dislike stereotypes related to our own culture since they take away our notion of being an individual. However, when applied to other cultures they reassure us and give us frame of reference in which we can work.
The French dislike of the French Pavilion in Shanghai
During the Universal Exposition in Shanghai in 2010 Jacques Ferrier Architects were given the task of designing the French Pavilion. Like Danny Boyle, they went for the cliché with images of 1950s films, paintings from Manet, Cézanne, Van Gogh and sculptures by Rodin. Named ‘The Sensual City’ it actually won 3rd Prize for theme development at the expo. This didn’t stop the French press from hating it. With helpers dressed in helps in red, white and blue dungarees the pavilion was denounced as a caricature French society. Criticism of this Pavilion in France continued right up until the final day of the Exposition, when the official figures were revealed for visits to the event. The French Pavilion with 10 million visitors had been the most successful site of the entire show. The Chinese and foreign guests didn’t want a modern version, they wanted the stereotype.
Our stereotypes about Australia, India, the USA…
In fact, we all quite like having these stereotypical notions of what a country is and how it should behave. It is part of the fun of travelling. This may begin with the food. A burger can taste good anywhere around the world. But it is never a good as when it is served in a genuine American sports bar with music blaring out and constant images flashing from fifteen different TV screens on the wall. Tapas taste such much better on a sunny terrace of a café along Las Ramblas in Barcelona. And although Great Britain can claim to have some wonderful Indian restaurants none will ever compare to the tiny place you have found in a side street in Mumbai.
But it is more than just food; it is behavior as well. I generally expect Australians to friendly, fun loving types with whom I can have a chat about sport. Over time I have come to anticipate the warmth and smiling generosity of Indians as they greet me with a “Welcome to Incredible India.” I expect have calm and rational discussions with Scandinavians and far more exuberant negotiations with Latin types.
Indeed, it is something of a disappointment when people don’t live up to that stereotype. Perhaps you are an Australian that doesn’t like sport, an Indian who is having a bad day and feeling a bit grumpy or a Brazilian who like peace and quiet rather than dancing the samba until the early hours of every morning.
Ice thin stereotypes…
Of course, if you have been lucky to travel a little you will know just how ice thin these stereotypes can be. Despite the stereotype, in the twenty years I have lived in France I have still yet to see a Frenchman walking down the street simultaneously wearing a beret and carrying a baguette. And if you are visiting Paris don’t even think about hearing accordion music gently playing as you drink you eat your meal.) And this is a great shame!
The 2012 Olympic Closing Ceremony
However, none of this stops us from having our own idealized vision of a country. The Closing Ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games was an unabashed advert and total stereotype of Great Britain. But hey, so what? It was a lot of fun to watch for an hour or two. Clichés and stereotypes can bring a lot of happiness to people even if we know that they are not part of the real picture of a country.
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James Madison University: “Jeremy writes: JMU is alive and well here in London. I have spotted more than a few JMU hats and bags around town, and JMU’s Jacob Wukie (’09) earned a silver on Saturday. Might have to try and find a ticket for the archery events on Monday and Tuesday to support Jacob!”
International Affairs in Higher Education