1 THE STEREOTYPE AS SUCH
2.1 “YOU SNOBS!” – SOCIAL CATEGORISATION
2.2 “HE’S FROM BARCELONA!” – NATIONAL STEREOTYPES
2.3 “DON’T MENTION THE WAR!” – DEALING WITH THE GERMAN PAST
3 A STEP BEHIND THE WAR
3.1 WHY WAR?
3.2 IS THERE A BRITISH IDENTITY PROBLEM?
3.3 FIGHTING STEREOTYPES
In 2004, Britain was struck by a survey which revealed that one British person in ten thought Adolf Hitler was not a real person, whereas one in twenty believed Conan the Barbarian and Edmund Blackadder to be genuine historical characters.1
The responsibles of the survey pointed to the fact that the media seem to play an important role in the “apparent merging of fact and fiction”2 which in turn keeps ignorance and stereotypes towards other nations running.
Therefore, this research paper examines - portrayed in the example of the 1970s British comedy series Fawlty Towers - in what way comedy can shape the personal attitudes towards other communities and nations. It is divided into three main parts:
The first part gives a definition of the stereotype as such and provides possible sources and origins for them coming into existence. The second part examines in how many different shapes these stereotypes are put on display in several episodes and scenes of Fawlty Towers, against whom they are directed and what messages they are intended to convey. The third part puts the focus on the ‘German question’ and sketches out, by the help of several current online newspaper articles and research findings, what consequences and effects stereotypes about the German nation have taken on the British society and why Germany keeps constantly associated with its Nazi past. Furthermore, it tries to offer proposals to find a remedy.
1 THE STEREOTYPE AS SUCH
Stereotypes can be defined as “the probablistic, generalized representations of any social group.”3 The term originally described “a duplicate impression of an original typographical element”4 which was used for large-scale production of prints.
Even if the term ‘stereotype’ generally evokes negative connotations, and even if “stereotypes are mostly regarded as a primitive and limited form of cultural understanding and translation,”5 they include positive representations as well: Unlike the popular view, stereotypes are not necessesarily static attitudes which lump all members of a group together - they merely predict a set of common qualities and features that are likely to be found among the majority of group members. By this means, the target group receives a sort of common identity, which is not at all homogenous, but characteristic enough to set the group apart from other groups.6 Rainer Emig calls this a consequence of “the fundamental ambivalence of the concept of identity itself, the paradox that identity is always simultaneously based on difference and sameness.”7
As stereotypes are a socially motivated form of expression, the shaping of a person starts at a very early age. Psychological research revealed that “children as young as three years old are aware of ethnicity and gender, and slightly older children will regularly use such distinctions in classifying individuals into groups;”8 they would even “show a preference towards members of their own gender and ethnic group, and discrimination against other groups.”9
A stereotype that has been firmly established will be difficult to give up since it is even bound to prevail over incidents that clearly prove the opposite - it preserves itself just because of its omnipresence and frequency.10
2.1 “YOU SNOBS!” - SOCIAL CATEGORISATION
The first manifestation of stereotyping we will consider is social categorisation which is best expressed in the episode A Touch Of Class:
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BASIL Yes, but now we can try to build up a higher class of clientele! ...Turn away some of the riff-raff. […] I mean, have you seen the people in room six? They've never even sat on chairs before.11
This short scene depicts a part of the general framework in which every single episode is embedded and gives us one of the numerous central conflicts of the couple:
Sybil Fawlty, who generally tends to take a more matter-of-fact stance, sees their hotel first and foremost as a source of income. Basil, however, is desperate to attract more members of a higher social class he would love to belong to and increasingly antagonizes every new “riff-raff” coming to his place.
This attitude is yet underlined when he gives the next guest an icy welcome:
MR BROWN 'Allo! (Basil stands appalled) Got a room?
BASIL ...I beg your pardon?
MR BROWN Got a room for tonight, mate? BASIL ...I shall have to see, sir... single?
MR BROWN Yeah. No, make it a double, I feel lucky today! (smiling appreciatively at Polly, who is passing.)
BASIL No, we haven't any rooms. Good day...
SYBIL (coming in) Number seven is free, Basil. […] You have luggage, sir?
MR BROWN Just one case. (to Basil, pointedly) In the car... the white sports. (Basil closes his eyes in agony. Sybil rings the bell.)
BASIL (slowly) Er, Manuel, would you fetch this gentleman's case from the car
outside. Take it to room seven.
MANUEL Is not easy for me... entender.
BASIL La valisa en el, er… auto bianco sportiv ... y ... a la sala ... siete ... por favor. MANUEL Is impossible.
BASIL Look, it's perfectly simple!
MR BROWN (fluently) Manuel - sirvase buscar mi equipaje que esta en el automovil blanco y lo traer a la sala numero siete.12
At the end of the scene, it is language that sets the turning point and puts cold water on Basil’s categorisation. Mr Brown’s capacity for languages gives him the chance to communicate with Manuel - an advantage Fawlty himself will never be given throughout the series.
From a scientific point of view, it is the affiliation to the own social group that influences the sense of identity and the stance on other groups. The positive perception of the own group leads into the creation of “in-groups” and “out- groups.”13 Basil’s problem is that he attaches to much importance to class which he regards as if it was made up from uniform identities without any chance of variety. Consequently, he is very quick to cast a slur on out-groups. His disparaging remarks are an integral part of the series as they contribute a lot to its wit.
The reception of the next guest forms a strong contrast to the previous scene - it reveals how much Basil’s respect for a person is dependent on their external appearance:
BASIL Would you put both your names, please? […] MELBURY Er... I only use one.
BASIL [with a withering look] You don't have a first name?
MELBURY No, I am Lord Melbury, so I simply sign myself 'Melbury'. (There is a long, long pause.)
BASIL I'm so sorry to have kept you waiting, your lordship... I do apologise, please forgive me. Now, was there something, is there something, anything, I can do for you? Anything at all? […] a special room? ... a single? A double? A suite? ... Well, we don't have any suites, but we do have some beautiful doubles with a view...
MELBURY No, no, just a single.
BASIL Just a single. Absolutely! How very wise if I may say so, your honour. MELBURY With a bath.
BASIL Naturally, naturally! Naturellement! (roars with laughter)14
However, the further course of the plot makes an unexpected about-face: when the alleged “cockney git” (Fawlty) turns out to be a CID agent and arrests Melbury, who is no Lord, but a notorious confidence trickster, in-group and out- group suddenly change places. Fawlty’s assigning of class affiliation is completely subverted and turned upside down. The moral of the story: there’s more to class than meets the eye.
The apprehension of “Lord” Melbury is accompanied by a raging Fawlty who vents the whole of his frustration and fury on the confidence trickster whom he keeps cynically adressing “Lord”.
1 Julie Henry, Hitler wasn't real, says one in 10 historically challenged Britons, 2004, 30.09.2005 <http://portal.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml?xml=/news/2004/04/04/nhitler04.xml>
2 Henry, 2004.
3 Katy Greenland, “Stereotypes in international relations”, Stereotypes in Contemporary Anglo-German Relations. Ed. Rainer Emig (New York: St. Martin's Press, 2000) 15.
4 Stereotype, 2005, 30.09.2005 <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stereotype>
5 Rainer Emig, “Introduction: Contemporary Anglo-German relations”, Stereotypes in Contemporary Anglo-German Relations. Ed. Rainer Emig (New York: St. Martin's Press, 2000) 2.
6 cf. Greenland 2000, 15.
7 Emig 2000, 2.
8 Greenland 2000, 15, with reference to: Kenneth B. Clark and Mamie K. Clark, “Racial Identification and preference in Negro children”, Basic Studies in Social Psychology. Eds. H. Proshansky and B. Seidenberg (New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 21955); John E. Williams and J. K. Moreland, Race, Color and the Young Child (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1976).
9 Greenland 2000, 15, with reference to: Steven R. Asher and Vernon L. Allen, “Racial preference and social
comparison processes”, Journal of Social Issues 25 (1969), 157-166; L. Hayden-Thompson et al., “Sex preferences in sociometric choices”, Developmental Psychology, 23 (1987), 558-562.
10 cf. Claus-Ulrich Viol, “Carnivalising Alterity: Fawlty Towers and the Dramatisation of National Stereotypes”, British
Literature and Culture: Divergent Views and Attitudes. Eds. Reinhold Schiffer and Merle Tönnies (Trier: WVT, 1999) 124.
11 John Cleese and Connie Booth, The Complete Fawlty Towers (London: Mandarin, 11988).
12 Cleese/Booth 1988.
13 Greenland 2000, 20.
14 Cleese/Booth 1988.