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What is a stereotype?

These assumptions are based on stereotypes. A stereotype is an assumption made about a person based on superficial (only the very obvious) criteria. You must always be careful not to use stereotypes and remember that each person is an individual and their personality is not defined by their ethnicity, gender or age. Assuming characteristics of people based on race is racism and through gender is sexism. Be aware of how composers use stereotypes and be able to identify them.

Composers of visual texts will also use the cultural assumptions of their audience in more subtle (less obvious) ways. For example, what does the colour red mean to you? You may think of things such as danger, stop, love and passion. When the composer of a visual text uses red they are perhaps trying to make you think of these things. So, a stop sign or traffic light that is red tells you that you should stop. A warning sign that is red informs you of danger.

Typically it is assumed in Australia, and many Western countries around the world, that the following colours signify the following things:

      Red: anger, passion, danger, stop


      White: peace, purity, cleanliness, life


      Black: death, sickness, evil


      Green: go, nature, happiness


      Blue: peace, serenity, boys


    Pink: love, girls

This of course is not exhaustive – there are many, many more. When you approach a visual text remember that the use of colour is an attempt to communicate through cultural assumptions.

It is important to be aware that different cultures attach meaning to colours in different ways. In China red is a colour that has connotations of happiness. Significantly, the traditional colour for Chinese brides to wear is red. Notice also that red is the dominant colour on the Chinese flag. The colour green dominates the flags of many Muslim countries and this is because green represents Islam. These differences in meaning can have a significant impact on visual images. Consider what an advertisement washed with red might mean in Australia and what it might mean in China. An Australian responder is positioned to see anger or danger whereas in China the responder is positioned to see happiness.

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