Stereotypes in Popular Feature Films and their Importance for
Adolescents: How Can or Should Art Education Respond?
Dr. Wolfgang Weinlich
Pädagogische Hochschule Wien
(Original Zitate wurden übersetzt ins Englische)
Stereotypes in Popular Fea-
ture Films and their Im-
portance for Adolescents:
How Can or Should Art Edu-
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International Scientific and Art Conference under the auspices
of the President of the Republic of Croatia Kolinda Grabar-
Kitarović, Ministry of Science and Education of the Republic of
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centennial of the Faculty 15 – 17 November 2019 Zagreb,
Table of Contents
0 Abstract ............................................................................................................................ 1
1 Introduction ...................................................................................................................... 1
2 Stereotype, Popular Culture and Identity ........................................................................ 3
2.1 The Ambivalence of Stereotype and Convention .................................................... 3
2.2 Popular Culture and Hegemonic Aesthetics ............................................................. 4
3 Stereotype and Film ........................................................................................................ 6
3.1 Stereotype and Genre .............................................................................................. 6
3.2 Concrete Dimensions of the Stereotypical in Film ................................................... 8
4 Approaching Stereotypical Images in Films in Art Education ........................................... 9
4.1 Stereotype and Identity .......................................................................................... 10
4.2 Visual Interruption ................................................................................................... 11
5 Conclusion and Outlook ................................................................................................. 13
6 Bibliography ................................................................................................................... 14
List of Figures
Fig. 1: Copy of the Youth Drawing of a 16 year old (Source: Glas 2016, 27) ..................... 10
Fig. 2: Youth Drawing of a 15 year old (Source: Glas 2016, 59) ........................................ 10
Stereotypes often present themselves as the thorn in the side of art
education; However, these formulas represent important communication
functions in society and culture, especially where identification and identity
are concerned. For adolescents, they play a major role in identity
formation processes. Within the framework of film, they can be considered
the basis for genre education. The ongoing evolution of the genre thus
proves that these stereotypical formulas are still open to change and that it
is still possible to creatively process them. Nevertheless, stereotypes of
popular culture are still aesthetically restrictive and often morally
questionable. The present study argues that art education should therefore
react in two ways. Firstly, there should be openness and tolerance to allow
learners to incorporate images from popular culture into the classroom and
secondly, experiences of interrupting hegemonic image production should
Initially, the importance of popular culture for adolescents seems an
obvious fact; sometimes a fact that can be quite frightening. However, how
the impact of popular culture can be assessed in detail is very difficult to
determine with certainty. The discussion, for example, about the portrayal
of violence in the media is highly complex and a final consensus is
nowhere in sight (see Niedling & Ohler 2007, 456-461, Schweitzer &
Schlippe 2015, 322). If we consider the phenomenon of popular motion
pictures, we are at the same time confronted with the phenomenon of
mass propaganda, for which the motion picture medium actually seems to
be well suited, which can be proven through the example of the National
Socialism times. Similarly, quite a few critics see a form of cultural
imperialism emanating from Hollywood in terms oft he stereotypical design
elements of today's popular feature films (see, for example, Schulmerich
2013). The fear of a Mcdonalidisation may resonate in this criticism.
However, the intuition that guides the present work is that such
generalization may not be helpful. Consequently, when this work refers to
popular feature film, it will therefore refrain as much as possible from
recourse to overly general terminology of culture and high culture
The question thus becomes, how can the immense subject matter
addressed by the title of the work be handled in any other way than
through essays or through general philosophy? The present works
introduces a thesis at the beginning, which it then attempts to substantiate.
This thesis is formulated in particular with regard to art education and
claims that - despite objectively existing tendencies of aesthetic
constriction in popular culture - children and adolescents must be allowed
to wade through hegemonic worlds of images, which are nevertheless well
differentiated. A laissez-faire approach is not reccommended, but a
pedagogy that accompanies adolescents and seeks to educate them
towards a degree of autonomy, and also to reach an aesthetic autonomy.
In the first chapter, the work outlines an approximation of the concept of
stereotype in general. This is merely an outline that focuses on a few
concepts that can assist in replacing the negative connotation associated
with stereotype. With this in mind, the meaning that stereotypes of popular
culture have for adolescents should also be mentioned (Section 2). Then
the work deals with the problematic of stereotypes in film in a more
detailed way, whereby it also deals exemplarily with the subject of
stereotyping the stranger (Chapter 3). Based on the information provided,
the work finally turns to art education practice. In the end, it focuses
specifically on Alexander Glas, but at the same time with the help of an
adaptation of the visual education approach of visual communication, this
work seeks to provide adolescents in art classes with a space to work on
stereotypical images from the world of popular feature films; both in the
sense of the process of finding an identity and in the sense of aesthetics
2 Stereotype, Popular Culture and Identity
2.1 The Ambivalence of Stereotype and Convention
One of the earliest theoreticians of the stereotype, Walter Lippmann,
emphasized the ambivalence of the phenomenon in his book Public
Opinion, first published in 1922 (see Lippmann 1964). He argues that
stereotypes embody a deficit, but that they also tcertainly fulfill a social
function; The latter in particular insofar as they provide a stabilizing
cognitive system for the individual as well an integration effect in an
intersubjective respect. Ultimately, systems of stereotypes cause and
preserve identity (see Schweinitz 2006, 4-8), despite the fact that they
selectively and fragmentarily reflect reality. Lippmann (1964, 72)
„A ster eotypical model [...] is the guarantee of our self-esteem; it is
the projection of our own value consciousness, our own position and
our own rights in the world. [...] no wonder that any disruption of
stereotypes seems like an attack on the foundations of the universe.’’
Stereotypes simply embody "the magic of the familiar, the normal, the
reliable" (Lippmann 1964, 72).
It is of course possible to support a postmodern-inspired position that
exposes identitarian discourses as the mystery that they may well
represent. Lippmann apparently speaks here of a certain pragmatism (see
Schweinitz 2006, 6). But as educators, we must be realistic: expecting
adolescents to assume a sociopolitical identity critique regarding reliance
on the processes of finding an identity would overwhelm them in a
psychological sense and more than likely not result in any satisfactory
When considering art education specfically, it becomes clear that a
complete independence from stereotypes and conventions is simply
unrealistic. Addressing aesthetics in general, Arnold Hauser (1973, 42)
stated that: "The completely subjective and spontaneous experience,
which is capable of any kind of conventional and stereotypical element, is
a mere conceptual limit, an abstract thought-picture to which nothing
corresponds in reality." Autonomous, individual and new aesthetics do not
arise in a vacuum. On the contrary, creativity depends on convention and
stereotype, growing, as it were, from working through and coming to terms
with the existing, the same and the 'normal':
„ The process is dialectical: spontaneity and resistance, invention and
convention, dynamic, innovative experience impulses, and solid,
shiftless, stable forms that condition, obstruct and promote each other.
[...] The artistic expression does not take place despite, but as a
result of the resistance, which it encounters in the form of convention
" (Hauser 1973, 30; Hervorh. i. Orig.).
2.2 Popular Culture and Hegemonic Aesthetics
The fact remains, however, that stereotypes and conventions do in fact
embody domination and hegemony. In this context, the convergence
thesis underlines the fact that the technical convergence of various media,
for example, Internet, film and television on relevant platforms, as well as
the financial and organizational accumulation under the aegis of a few
large media groups also represents a certain convergence of content and
forms (see Schuegraf 2008, 18-20). An extended convergence thesis also
assumes that with this convergence of media, content and forms, comes
convergence of mindsets and actions of media consumers, which does not
mean that popular culture, which is primarily determined by commerce,
does not show diverse and heterogeneous traits (see stallion 2014, 19).
It may be an element of that dominance that popular culture offers or
suggests participation in cultural life through societal segregation.
However, these social boundaries are not actually overcome. Regardless,
the dominance of popular culture is evident in certain current trends, such
as the popularity of self-portrayal among today's adolescents, which we
can associate with celebrity cult, or the popularity of extreme sports in the
world of children and adolescents.
In this case, a certain ambivalence
still remains. It is important that the following not be overlooked: in
perhaps even moreso in terms oft he aforementioned diversity, which is
perhaps differentiated for different generations - adolescents are exposed
to experiences that are partly beyond the control of parents or teachers.
Similarly, the media can also represent learning worlds which are
alternative to the established institutions (see stallion 19-28).
To reitterate, it would be absurd to assume that adolescents ccan be
sheltered from popular culture, stereotypes and aesthetic conventions.
Rather, popular culture is a condition of adolescence, as well as the
condition of learning and practicing autonomy and independance.
3 Stereotype and Film
3.1 Stereotype and Genre
The mere determinability of genres in popular film presupposes the
existence of the stereotypical. The hybrid genre and the difficult
comprehensibility of what a genre actually represents in all its constant
change (see Dorn 1994, 31f.) reflects the fundamental shiftability of
identitarian social discourses. Take for example, the youth vampire movie,
as a relatively young hybrid genre; The pentalogy The Twilight Saga
(2008-2012) is a prominent representative of this hybridization (see Göbel
2012, 51f.). While the classics of the vampire movie Nosferatu, a
Symphony of Horror (1922) and Dracula (1931) contrast the monster of
the civilized world with their viable existences, later adaptations of these
films such as Interview with the Vampire: The Vampire Chronicles (1994),
allow the vampires to become figures of identification. Finally, in The
Twilight Saga (2008-2012), processes of youthful identity forging and
coping with life are the central themes. Genres of this type are stereotyped
worlds, on the basis of which, through film history, social discourses of all
kinds can unfold. For a start, vampirism is a metaphor for the external
threat to civilization par excellence, but ultimately a metaphor for
manageable intrinsic-libidinal challenges to the individual who
Siehe etwa die Praxis des Selfies.
nevertheless functions in society; a situation which adolescents can relate
Youth film has been an ambitious project in Hollywood since the late 70s;
Many critics have identified the success of George Lucas' Star Wars (1977)
as a catalyst. Productions are also regularly celebrated as artistically and
educationally valuable. A good example of this is Dead Poets Society
(1989). An art house cinema for young people in European cinema, which
may include films such as Almut Getto's Fucking Pisces (2002) also exists.
Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982), in which Amy Heckerling relates
stereotyped stories about stereotypical characters in a high school setting
can be considered as a commercial milestone of the youth film genre. The
subgenre of high school film was born, as it were from the spirit of the
family-friendly early-evening film; successful becasuse of the stereotypical
protagonists and narrations. Those who are deterred by this may be more
impressed by the realism of the subject matter that the characters and
plots can still constitute. By contrast, a subgenre that is clearly differently
positioned ist he youth musical; from Saturday Night Fever (1977) and
Staying Alive (1983) to Flashdance (1983) and Dirty Dancing (1987) to
today's productions. From the outset, the focus has been on the
negotiation of sexuality, relationship forms and body practices such as
clothing choice. The tendency to bring represent that which would
otherwise be unspeakable or difficult to communicate is represented in
Dirty Dancing by the topic of abortion. Begginning in the 80’s, but even
more prominent in the 90s, the youth horror movie emerged. Series such
as Halloweentown (1998-2006), have played an important role (see also
Dirks o.J.a; o.J.b).
In youth film, teenagers become heroes, bearers of the narrated world; the
respective hybridizations, such as subgeneration, then make adolescents
into action heroes in youth action films like The Hunger Games (2012-
2015) or even into youthful vampires in youth vampire movies like The
Twilight Saga (2008-2012). At least since the time of Interview with the
Vampire: The Vampire Chronicles (1994) the monster has been
represented as an individual who has to cope with the world (see above),
and with The Twilight Saga (2008-2012) now also show the adolescent
role and responsibility to exist as responsible, lovable vampires.
Analogous to the aforementioned popular culture (see Chapter 2), can be
observed in that within the framework of film, worlds composed of
stereotypes and the like may be found and also provide niches for young
people who are at least symbolically beyond the control of adults. The new
position that young people take in the futuristic society of the political
thriller The Hunger Games (2012-2015) has no direct equivalent in today's
society. At least it makes clear, however, that young people can be
provided with autonomous spaces of discourse in popular culture.
3.2 Concrete Dimensions of the Stereotypical
The figure and the action pattern can be distinguished as more specific
dimensions of the stereotypical in film. This categorization should not be
completely misunderstood (see Schweinitz 2006, 43). In the social
sciences, stereotypical images of the human being are of special interest,
especially stereotypical images of the other or the stranger; the figure of
the stranger has thus also been extensively explored in film (see
Schweinitz 2006, 43f.). The following provides an example of how deeply
engraved stereotypical figures are in popular motion pictures.
In many relatively new (also European) mainstream productions, the
stranger appears in an almost constant traditional style, especially in non-
European representations. The stranger as a threat, for example, is
embodied in Apocalypse Now (1979) by the Indians in the jungle scenes
with Colonel Kurtz. Platoon (1986) and Full Metal Jacket (1987) also
subscirbe to this representation. In films such as The Mission (1986) or
The Gods Must Be Crazy (1980), the Indians are primarily represented as
needy natives. Furthermore, there are a number of typical strangers'
domestications: the subordinate stranger, the good savage or the stupid
stranger. In the satire Knockin 'on Heaven's Door (1997), Moritz Bleibtreu
plays the role of a petty Turkish criminal who is no longer a threat, not
even to the seriously ill, thus representing the stupid stranger (see Groth
A good example for a typical youth film is Brick. A thriller in style of a film
noir, with typical places and persons of a teenie-film connected with
themes of the drug scene.
Strict, stereotypical patterns of action can be identified for different genres,
especially for their classical periods. In Westerns, for example, whose
classical period spans from the thirties to the fifties, the hero encounters a
social group that does not fully recognize him; However, the hero's
outstanding abilities are easily apparent. First, he must defeat a number of
villains that endanger one of his friends. The hero defeats the bad guys,
the friend is safe and the hero is fully accepted. The hero loses his position
or gives it up again voluntarily. Starting in the 50s, this pattern of action
becomes increasingly varied. The hero as a professional gunfighter
becomes central; the variation of revenge is also popular. Last but not
least, the Transistion theme smolders in the sixties as a revolutionary
potential for innovation in many productions. The same is true of the
detective story: the plot still unfolds today in stereotypical formulas, which,
the further you trace them back in their history, the more stereotyped and
monotonous they are. However, these formulas / stereotypical patterns of
action are also means of communication by which, in a manner similar to
what has been discussed above about the stereotypical genre as a whole,
social change is also palpable (see Schweinitz 2006, 53-62).
Those stereotypical formulars a feelable in unususal wary in films like
The main part of new films with superheros asks about stereotypical
pictures of heros; e.g. X-Men (2000) or Thor (2011) or Iron Man (2015).
One dimension, that ist often missing in printet comic books or even film.
The best example for these missing superheros could be found in marvel
films are the typical role models and classical stereotypical patterns.
To find a sample for femal superhero stories is often difficult. On example
is Wolverine (2009).
4 Approaching Stereotypical Images in Films in Art Education
Following the approach of Alexander Glas (see chapter 4.1), this work
refers to an approach that provides learners with much space to learn from
popular / stereotypical images, both in terms of processes of identity
formation and competences of aesthetic expression. At the same time,
however, a counterbalance should be formulated in relation tot he
adaptation of an art education approach to visual communication (see
Chapter 4.2) from the 1960s.
4.1 Stereotype and Identity
Glas (2016, 28-59) states that stereotypical presentation formulas often
pose difficulties for art classes (especially when it comes to the youth's
drawing). Conversely, according to the author, adolescents would be able
to expand their repertoire of representations when copying magazines,
which at the same time opens spaces for them to move forward in their
adolescent processes of identity formation. In this context, Fig. 1 illustrates
the extension of the repertoire of forms that a 16-year-old makes when
copying an illustrated magazine. Fig. 2 also depicts a copy, which would
be considered an outstanding performance. In the case of Fig. 2, these
are the perspective shortening of the kayak and the perspective of arm
In the youth drawings provided by Glas (2016, 45-62), the representations
provide glimpses into new and individually arranged, changing, and
sometimes perhaps even provocatively adapted symbolic worlds in which
the adolescent discovers themselves while at the same time also
communicates with his environment. Limited "representation formulas"
form the basis of communication,
„The pre-formulated framework of artistic designs for the
implementation of the image content. However, with the sudden
increase in possible image content in adolescence, a differentiation of
the existing repertoire of forms is not given to the same extent. The
interests require an extension of the imaging possibilities. Young
people are therefore guided by image templates "(Glas 2016, 58).
The present work specifically considers the impetus to allow learners to
deal with popular pictorial worlds in art classes. The possibility of dealing
with images from films means that youth drawing is perhaps no longer the
only possible medium for expression. The handling of film stills (see below)
is in itself a first step in active reception. Media such as collage,
installation or collections should also be considered. However, the Glas
approach highlights the fact that with their choice of motives, themes, etc.,
the learners are more interested in their aesthetic engagement, ie. with a
little bit of tolerance for popular stereotypes, - and thus get a chance to
bring in processes of identity forging, processes of cultural and emotional
learning, and processes of personality formation to art classes themselves.
4.2 Visual Interruption
In the 1960’s, Helmut Hartwig (2012) was one of the protagonists of visual
communication, an art pedagogical approach that developed in the wake
of the Frankfurt School. Alternatives to hegemonic image production were
seen above all in thematization and discussion. According to the author,
currently there are also ways of participation in media production that can
take a similarly subversive direction (see Hartwig 2012, 16).
The present work argues that participation in media production cannot be
achieved merely by participation in a class or course on the open channel
but rather, receptive processes, such as film still-selection, allow
experience in dealing with media. It is not always such an easy task to
immediately select a film still that meets the first vague expectations.
Conversely, in the case of ostensibly unwanted footage, there are also
moments that suggest humorous distortions or profound shifts of
For this reason, the choice of medium for further processing can have
some influence in arousing experiences of the interruption of hegemonic
image production among the learners. Collection is one medium, which
has perhaps been less tested in conventional teaching. For a certain
period of time, learners are given the task of collecting material for a
specific research question, a specific field of research; such as the
representation of a particular body part or a certain feeling in TV and film.
The tried and true media, collage and installation are obvious supplements
to art education. For example, through the change of medium - the fast-
paced medium of film, which strains the senses and tends to passivity -
changes into the slow, less technically demanding medium of collage - the
experiences of interrupting hegemonic image production have already
been provided in this work. Teachers, however, need tob be able to seize
these moments, and use the appropriate input from the outset in order to
provide the framework for making these experiences more visible.
5 Conclusion and Outlook
Stereotypes play an important role in culture, society, art and even film,
fulfilling a wide range of functions, especially in the context of identification
and identity. Stereotypes fulfill the roles of cultural formulas, and the basic
building blocks of social communication in general. In art, creativity and
upheaval depend to some extent on the stereotype and normality being
present and understandable. In film, the formation of genres is ultimately
only possible because stereotyped genres are recognizable. The
permanent change and evolution of the genre, however, shows that
stereotypical formulas can still be changed and processed.
Media image production of popular culture, that is: hegemonic image
production, - offers adolescents some niches that symbolically elude the
control of adults. If we consciously allow learners to bring their personal
media worlds into the classroom, then it is because we want to associate
art education with personality development. The learner’s aesthetic /
artistic analysis of stereotypical images allows them to explicitly pay
attention to their individual identity forging process.
In addition to this openness, this work suggests a second step that will
provide learners with experiences of interruption. Active receptive
processes, which transfer the medium of film into slower media and
prepare it for further processing represent such experiences of
interruption.The teachers’ input is also essential to ensure the necessary
frame of perception or to hone the perception of the learner. The
stereotypes associated with the stranger in popular motion pictures
represent only one of the possibilities for such an input, whereas
stereotypical plots express another.
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