Type and Stereotype: Chicano Images in Film
The following essay grows out of my participation in and viewing of the television program Chicano Images in Film. 1 It is intended to raise issues that were either too complex or too controversial for discussion within the program itself but which I consider important to an understanding of the general problem of stereotypes in the media. As an Anglo I freely admit to speaking as an outsider about issues that do not directly affect me. But as a woman who teaches and makes films within the dominant culture of patriarchy I am acutely aware of the many ways this culture's representation of women in film and the other arts operates to flatten out, stereotype, or otherwise obliterate, the many truths of my existence. I share with Chicanos, and any stereotyped minority, an abhorrence of a representational system that sees my reality as "other," my truth as grotesque caricature. Women's bodies reduced to the status of sex objects for the delight of male viewers are no less stereotyped than the lazy Mexicans who serve as foils in countless westerns to flatter the intelligence and energy of the Anglo cowboy.
What I would like to suggest here, however, is first that a simple abhorrence of stereotype is not enough. The failure to understand the ideological needs served by stereotype leads to a contrary valorization of a supposedly realistic individualism that raises more problems than it solves. Second, there may be an important distinction to be drawn between type and stereotype that can help in the search for a means of representation that will more truly reflect the realities of the Chicano experience.
A given culture's sensitivity to an offensive racial or national stereotype is often a function of the loss of that culture's historical or social need for such a stereotype. It is consequently very easy--perhaps too easy--for Anglo audiences of 1980 to look back at the egregious racism of films such as Let Katie Do It ( 1915) or Martyrs of the Alamo ( 1915) and deplore the depiction of Mexicans as lazy "greasers," and "banditos," fiendish sex and dope addicts. Both of these films were produced during a period of