“Stereotyping is the process whereby groups or individuals are characterized in simplified and often pejorative terms, so that all members of this category are seen in one particular way.” (Lawson T. and Garrod J.: the complete A-Z sociology handbook)
We tend to pigeonhole people according to certain supposed characteristics that can be positive or negative. This process is due to cognitive economy - the desire to simplify complex issues by reducing them to simple notions. In addition, these ideas fulfil an emotional function when somebody adopts negative stereotypes about others to feel superior and establish a positive identity of himself or herself. Stereotypes also have a social function because they help us to create a sense of belonging to a certain social group by attributing distinguishing characteristics to members of other groups.
According to Jaakko Lehtonen from the University of Jyväskylä, stereotypes are neither bad nor good, “but they can influence intercultural interactions in different ways. An observer tends to favour information that is consistent with existing expectancies, and tends to ignore, or reject information that is inconsistent with the stereotypes.( …) Stereotypes are often resistant to change.” (https://www.jyu.fi/viesti/verkkotuotanto/kp/vf/jaakko.shtml)
Stereotypes about Spain
The stereotypical ideas about Spain and the Spanish are a case in point. They go back to various sources; among others, they can be traced back to the impressions gained by English, French and German travellers to 19th-century Spain. In their travel reports, they highlighted “exotic” cultural phenomena, such as flamenco dancing, the Seville Fair and bullfighting. These aspects often refer to Andalusia but are portrayed as if they were representative of the whole country without taking into account its diversity. In addition, biased media coverage, tourist campaigns and the superficial experiences had by tourists during their holidays play an important role in the formation of stereotypes. According to the Informe proyecto marca de España (2003), Spanish people stand out regarding the expressive and ‘warm’ aspects of life (emotion, vitality, leisure), but not the instrumental or ‘cold’ aspects (efficiency, discipline, work). Spain is seen as a good place to spend one’s holidays, but less so as a place to work and do business. A common questionable idea about the Spanish is therefore that partying and enjoying oneself take centre stage in their lives while work commitments are neglected. Another important source of stereotypes are cultural products, such as the films made by Spanish directors Carlos Saura and Pedro Almodovar, or the point of view presented by foreign directors, such as Woody Allen’s Vicky Cristina Barcelona. Spanish and even Latin American pop artists, who are often associated with Spanish culture, also tend to reinforce stereotypical images.
Spanish Stereotypes in Commercials
Cultural stereotypes are sometimes used in advertising, particularly tourism and food commercials, to create a positive association between a product and its country or region of origin. These can be auto-stereotypes (an opinion a group has about itself) or hetero-stereotypes (ideas and prejudices used to define other groups). In some earlier campaigns, the Catalonia-based sparkling wine producer Freixenet exploited Spanish stereotypes in its commercials aimed at foreign consumers. For its current campaigns, Freixenet has devised a global advertising strategy that highlights the brand's Mediterranean heritage and conveys the image of “Mediterranean spontaneity and joy”.
(Wonderfully Unexpected; https://the-dots.com/projects/freixenet-wonderfully-unexpected-205953)
One of Freixenet’s earlier commercials aimed at German consumers that exploited cultural stereotypes is “Der magische Blick” (The Magic Glance). It is set in the Mediterranean atmosphere of a historical town centre. Dramatic Spanish guitar music accompanies the scenes. In the opening scene, stampeding horses enter a kind of arena surrounded by beautiful buildings. They are restrained by two dark-haired men. The scene is reminiscent of a bullfight or a bull run although there are no bulls. Bullfighting is one of the key associations made with the Spanish culture but is regarded negatively in Germany and, for this reason, the advertisers probably chose not to show it. In a later scene, one of the men exchanges glances with a brunette woman. An animated rose tattoo symbolizes their passion, an association frequently made with Spanish people, which leads to the end of the commercial that concludes with the slogan “the beginning of passion”.
In another commercial, Freixenet exploits stereotypes about Spain in a humorous way. The bizarre commercial ‘Alles Schöne beginnt mit F (All beautiful things start with F)’ makes fun of the stereotype of the Latin lover while addressing various other common stereotypical ideas about Spain, such as
- beautiful dark-haired women
- the sea and sunshine
- a swimming pool
- the Mediterranean atmosphere of a historical town
- a wooden cart full of oranges
- a human tower (a Catalonian castell)
- animated nightlife
The commercial can be used for a classroom activity about stereotypes. Before watching the commercial, the learners’ can be asked to talk about their stereotypes about Spanish people. After viewing the commercial, the following questions can be discussed:
What do you think of the commercial?
What stereotypes are shown?
To what extent do they conform with your ideas about Spain?
Can stereotypes influence interaction with people from other cultures in a negative way?