Tag Archives: stereotypes

“An American, a Russian, and a Mexican are in a plane…”

“Uh… an American, a Russian, and a Mexican are in a plane… and umm… the plane is about to crash or something that’s the joke.”
[“Uh huh.”]
“So the… the Russian jumps… jumps out and says ‘for my country!  And… the American jumps out and says ‘for my flag!’ And then… the Mexican jumps out, and says, ‘for my sandalsss!!!!”

My friend is an animation major at the University of Southern California.  She has some Irish relatives and Mexican relatives.

My friend remembers a joke her father told her in Spanish, but since I didn’t understand Spanish she told it to me in English and told the joke as best as she could.  The joke is supposed to make fun of some stereotypes that Mexicans are aware of.  The “sandals” referred to in the joke are “chancla,” which, as my friend described it, are sandals that Mexican women wear.  Chancla are  also associated with the image of angry Mexican mothers with chanclas in their hands, possibly beating children who upset them.

I find it interesting that this motif of introducing nationality as a primary piece of exposition finds its way into Mexican humor.  I remember a joke that begins with “An Irishman, a Japanese, and an American were all in a hot air balloon” that proceeds to operate off of stereotypes as well. It never occurred to me to think that that particular motif would be in other cultures’ jokes. Since my friend heard this from her father, I’m guessing that more often than not this is a joke Mexicans would tell other Mexicans, since they’d understand why “chancla” are so iconic and so humorous in this context.  The stereotyping of the Russian and American also seem to go off of Mexican perceptions of those two nationalities and their fervent nationalism.  Since I heard this joke in English and had to have my friend explain the punchline for me, I believe this joke would be far better for someone who understood Spanish and understood Mexican culture.  “Sandals” still evoke a pretty silly image, but “chancla” have a particular significance for Mexicans.

Only Lesbians Drive Subarus

This piece of folklore falls under a general stereotype and is potentially offensive to some people. When I was talking with my informant, he informed me that he drove a Subaru Outback. He paused for a second, seemingly waiting for my response. When I said nothing, he told me that many people say that

Only Lesbians Drive Subarus”

When I asked my informant more about this, he began to tell me that he gets comments like that on a regular basis. People are always, jokingly, asking if he is a lesbian because he drives that car. My informant is from Washington and says that “even though there are a lot of outdoorsy women that drive Subarus, I still don’t fully understand how they got such a bad wrap”.

Subarus are a much more common car in the Pacific Northwest, but he says the he’s heard the stereotype everywhere. “It’s just a good all-purpose car. It can get me to the mountains, off-roading, and everywhere else adventurous that I want to go” he says. He said that it’s probably not a good thing for marketing the car, considering lesbians likely only make up a small percent of America’s total population. “Maybe they should do some new marketing or make a new name for it” to grow it’s market a little bit.

When I asked why he had the car in the first place, he said, “my dad said it was the only car I could get. I’m not mad about it, I still think it’s pretty cool”.

I think that the car may have gotten this stereotype because of advertisements, or because many pacific northwest women are more outdoor types, which is typically connected to a ‘lesbian personality’ in popular culture for some reason. I don’t think that there are more lesbians driving Subarus than any other brand of car out there, just that it tends to be more rugged women that drive them. It seems as though the stereotype has caught on, however, as I have heard people say that even living here in Los Angeles.

Theater Occupational Stereotype: Crew Versus Cast

Interview Extraction:

Informant: “One actress friend of mine was in a play where she had to kill a canary in the second act. So for the first act they had a live canary in a cage and then at intermission the canary was supposed to be switched for a stuffed canary which was then killed during the course of the action. And one night, I don’t know what she had done to the crew but they were feeling evil and they left the live canary onstage to see what she would do. And of course she couldn’t kill the live canary, that would be mean. So she put it under a bowl in the kitchen portion of the set and left it on the drain board in the kitchen. Uh, which would have worked fine except for the rest of the act this bowl sort of went ‘THUMP! THUMP! THUMP!’ as the canary tried to get out from under the bowl.

There were also the people who, she had a quick change* that involved running out of one side of the stage, dropping her skirt, climbing out a window, running around the back of the theatre and changing various articles of clothing that were placed along the route as she went. And the last step in this quick change was to step into her shoes and pull up the full skirt that was on the ground right inside the door that she then made her next entrance from. And one night they nailed the hem of her skirt to the floor so that she couldn’t get in the door. So she played the whole rest of the scene from the doorway.”


My informant’s story reflects an aspect of theater culture that has been built on stories such as this and stereotypes of cast and crew members.  Cast members are those who are the performers such as actors or actresses and appear on stage.  Crew members are in charge of production side of theater such as scenic design or working as a stage hand.  There is a negative stereotype in theater that perpetuates the idea that cast members are high-maintenance and crew members are mean.  This of course is not true, and every interaction with an actor or crew member will be unique to what kind of person he or she is.  Generally these two sides of theater production work peacefully and collaboratively, as they are united with the common goal to put on a good story for the audience.  However the exchange of stories such as this help build a stereotype in each others’s mind that the other is difficult, or in this case that crew members like to play mean jokes on actresses.  This can lead to dangerous assumptions and conflict if problems in the production occur.

This is because working on a theater production can often be stressful due to time constraints or budget restraints, and people tend to look for someone else to blame the problem on, which is an unfortunate aspect of human behavior. For example when a show is having problems, it is easier to say that it is the fault of a difficult actress or crew member than to get down to the real problem.  And when someone puts the blame on a cast or crew member, the story is generally believed because in theater we have accepted these stereotypes without realizing we are generalizing people.

There are moments when these stereotypes seem to hold true, such as my informant’s story about the crew members.  In addition to that, I once worked on a television program where the musician was upset that the set was gold and not pink.  However, these occurrences are rare. But the stereotype that cast members are high-maintaince and crew members are mean is an aspect of theater culture that affects the way people interact with one another.

My informant was born in 1961, Connecticut.  He has more than 30 years of experience in theater and has worked on over hundreds of productions.  He continues to work on theater productions today, and serves as the associate professor of theater practice and technical direction at the University of Southern California. He lives in Los Angeles, CA.

*Quick change: a term used in theater to describe a point in the play’s production where the actor must quickly change his clothes backstage before emerging back onstage.  Stand hands, also known as the backstage crew, often help the actor put on their costume to insure the speed and effectiveness of the quick change.

Northern Californian Campfire Story: The Ring Man

Interview Extraction:

Informant: “The story of the Ring Man goes to back when I was growing up, and my dad and his best friend Jim Kaddy who used to go camping in the woods, around where our cabin is in Lassen. And up there, there would be when we were little; there are these trees with these rings on them. There were painted white rings, around various parts of the forest. And so what they told us was that the Ring Man paints a white ring on these trees. And the reason he does that, is that at night various campers are camping out in the woods and he comes to their tents when they are sleeping. And for the girls, he leaves them candy. But for the boys he finds, he kills them. And when he kills them, he puts a ring around the tree for each boy he kills. So you should never go out at night when you are camping, or the Ring Man will get you.”

Interviewer: “So the Ring Man only kills boys? Why?”

Informant: “Because boys are noisy. But you only tell that story at night, when you are camping.”


“The Ring Man” is a campfire story that is unique to the informant’s family.  The story is intended to be told as a campfire story, specifically to younger children.  The reason why the story is intended for children is because only children would believe that the rings on the trees indicate the murder of little boys.  Adults know that the rings on the trees actually indicate the lumber has been marked to be cut down by local logging industry, which has a strong presence in Humboldt County culture of where this story originated.  The high number of trees marked with rings makes the story more believable to the children, because the proof of the Ring Man’s existence is something you can really see.

The violence present in the tale indicates that the authors of the story had a dark sense of humor, and created the tale to playfully tease their children.  This tale also serves as an educational warning to the young audience, in that it warns them of the evils and violence that are present in the world that they should be aware of.  In this sense, “The Ring Man” tale is very similar to other folk tales that warn children of the evils present in the world such as “Hansel and Gretel”.  Another interesting aspect of this story is the idea that the Ring Man only kills boys, because they are noisy.  This comes from the stereotypical belief that girls are sweet and quiet, which is why the girls get sweet candy, and boys are loud and obnoxious.  Therefore the performer of this tale also uses “The Ring Man” as a warning to little boys that they should be well behaved and quiet or the Ring Man will kill them.  The fact that the story puts an emphasis on the importance of being well behaved also indicates that the authors of the story put a high value on manners.

I have heard this tale many times when my family and I would go camping. When I first heard “The Ring Man”, I thought the tale was real, and I became extremely upset when I saw three trees marked with the white rings by an elementary school.  After expressing this to the informant, he explained that the tale was not real and my anxieties were soon forgotten.  There is a sense of pride that comes from the story because it is unique to the informant’s family and a part of their traditions.

My informant was born in 1957 Arcata, California to a high school basketball coach and his wife.  After earning his undergraduate degree in engineering from the University of California, Davis, he moved to southern California to obtain his MBA in business from the University of Southern California.  He now a partner at Ernst & Young. He lives in Manhattan Beach, CA with his wife and has two children.