On Reaching Beyond Stereotypes


Track Two collaborator Nic Iljine wrote this thoughtful piece on stereotypes, with a focus on Russian-American national misperceptions, in preparation for our visit to European University in St. Petersburg.

As Nic explained, "the general aim of the current Track Two St. Petersburg project is to hear out educated Russian & American young people (School kids 12-18 & graduate students 18-30)," in a special Forum to take place in the fall of 2018.

The Track Two St. Petersburg project will explore how young Russians & Americans form opinions about the other country:

  • What are the factors that influence one’s opinion on the characteristics of the other country and its people?

  • What factors form the image of another country?

The current plan is to provide the participants with a series of questions before their discussions, and then form moderated panels on some of the themes listed below. The results should be summarized after each session and recorded for later publication.

1 How are national stereotypes built up ?

National stereotypes have been the subject of many jokes for centuries. Even today when the international community promotes diversity and encourages tolerance, certain people are still tagged according to their nationalities. This is best exemplified in caricatures we see in the media. To give a more serious definition: “National Stereotype is a system of culture-specific beliefs connected with the nationality of a person. This system includes beliefs concerning those properties of human beings that may vary across nations, such as appearance, language, food, habits, psychological traits, attitudes, values etc.”

Stereotype of Americans – arrogant; assertive; open-minded; materialistic; ambitious; progressive; efficient; straight-forward; alert; practical; US-centered world view; egoistic; anxious; fast food eaters; war mongers; God is with us!

Stereotype of Russians – aggressive; rude; good tippers, big spenders; generally generous; open-minded; agreeable; love their “babushkas” and the last Czar; either spys or communists; alcoholics (primarily Stolichnaya vodka); mainly poor – with a few shiny billionaires; buy football clubs around the world (mainly in England); love ice hockey, gymnastics, wrestling, weight lifting; organized crime (the Russian Mafia) is everywhere; overweight; have deep hearty laughs; threatening nuclear war; want to invade with MIG fighter jets; ultra-orthodox Christians; love to secretly poison their enemies with uranium injections; warmongering similar to Americans

2 What did Grandpa & Dad say - or my school friends?

A child or adolescent is unconsciously receptive to the often voiced opinions of its family members, schoolmates and friends and only gradually forms an individual opinion.

3 Travel and personal experience of another country & its people

Essentially a primary image is largely formed through personal experience and visiting the destination county which has a stronger influence than secondary sources of information like media.

4 The role of the media

Commercial print & digital media are consumed by everyone and depending on your information source and its direction it is usually an important image building factor.

Regular consumption of FOX News or RT (formerly Russia Today TV) will implant negative bias about another country.

Young people tend to disregard the classical media (Newspapers, TV) and rely on social media, blogs & other digital sources.

5 The role of culture

Undoubtedly if you have absorbed Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Pushkin and the music of Rachmaninov, Tchaikovsky, Rimsky Korsakov you will have a rather romantic vision of Russia.

If however you have got more Solzhenitsyn, Pasternak, Sakharov and other dissidents or Shostakovich, Prokofiev etc you will have a more critical view of Russia

6 The role of propaganda

In the postwar periods of the so called cold war both the USA and Russia used culture as a means of influence. To a certain extent it is legitimate for a country to assert its influence to help people form a positive image of itself, but the means should be transparent and not covert.

Further Reading:

- Nic Iljine, St. Petersburg 9/14/2017

You can learn more about Nic here.

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