Stocks, types and stereotypes

Click to view the Role Call section on this site

If you’re a regular reader of this blog — hey, Mom and Dad, what’s up? — you’re aware that I’ve just wrapped up a series of posts about character types of reel librarians (click here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here). More about each character type and examples can be found in the Role Call section. I started that Friday series with a post about “The Spinster Librarian” way back in early January. Time flies when you’re having fun!

So what’s it all about? Why all this emphasis on character types, stereotypes, and whatnot?

I believe there is a wealth and variety of cinematic librarian portrayals. I don’t think every reel librarian out there is automatically a paper doll punched out and propped up onscreen. Even within a specific category, like the Information Providers, there is a variety of portrayals, as I hope I’ve shown over the last few weeks. As a librarian, I process information by categorizing it, which is how I approach this ongoing study of reel librarians.

Maybe it’s the more practical side of my librarian nature, but when it comes down to it, I am more concerned with the purpose, or the role, of a reel librarian. Why is a librarian even in a particular scene? Are they providing information relevant to the plot? Do they exist as characters outside the library? By connecting characteristics and purpose — and trying to find common characteristics beyond the “old maid ” image — that’s how I’ve come to identify a few major character types for both female and male reel librarians, as well as a handful of atypical portrayals that I feel stretch outside of those types (again, for more examples, see the Role Call section).

So this is a big lead-up to why I prefer calling these categories of librarian portrayals character types, rather than straight-on stereotypes. There’s a reason behind that. (With librarians, there is ALWAYS a reason.) Bear with me…

type is a character with specific characteristics and qualities. I see these character types akin to stock characters, a fictional character linked to a specific situation or genre. Stock characters are not inherently positive or negative, although they often rely on negative stereotypical characteristics. Stock characters are instantly recognizable, such as the “absent-minded professor,” the “hard-nosed detective,” the “damsel in distress,” and I would venture to add, the “spinster librarian.”

On the other hand, a stereotype – originally a printing term for stamping metal plates — is a cliched, consistent character or situation. Stereotypes are almost always negative caricatures or representation (sometimes ones that invert seemingly positive traits) exaggerated so the characters become absurd.

Stereotypes and stock characters both rely on generalized and simplified attributes and characteristics. Therefore, I believe these concepts connect. This explains why I refer to them as “stock characters” or “character types,” which employ stereotypical attributes to help define the character.

Using these types is often highly effective in films, especially for minor characters with little screen time. They help the audience to immediately recognize and identify the librarian. Because film relies so much on visual recognition, the character types often rely on stereotypical visual cues, such as hairstyles and clothing. There is also usually not enough time to offer more personal information or internal motivations for such characters; some types, such as the Spinster Librarian, are flat characters who do not change within the course of the story or plot. However, others, like the Liberated Librarian, are what’s called round characters, who develop and change as the plot progresses. Therefore, some character types are viewed as more positive or negative than others.

Stock characters also often represent an institution beyond a particular individual. For example, reel librarians also serve to represent the library and how it is perceived by the public. With the Spinster Librarian, the library is viewed as a place that provides a safe haven for conservative, even anti-social, librarians, and the library symbolizes strict adherence to rules above all else. Stock characters also play to or play off public perceptions, including libraries and those who work in them. For instance, the Naughty Librarian type usually serves well for shock value, because the public usually reacts with, “Oh! I didn’t expect the librarian to act like that!” That only works if the library is first viewed as a more conservative, buttoned-up institution.

I could go on and on, but that’s the whole reason behind this blog. I can go on… in another post! ;) So I hope you’ve enjoyed this series on stocks, types, and stereotypes. See you next time!

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2 comments on “Stocks, types and stereotypes

  1. this is so fun i’m so glad i stumbled onto your blog!

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