READERS ARE ENCOURAGED TO SHARE STORIES AND EXPERIENCES RELATING TO STEREOTYPING OR BEING STEREOTYPED. USE COMMENTS TO TELL YOUR OWN STORIES, OR TO PUBLISH FACT-BASED FICTIONS
On July 5, 1956, eleven-year-old Scott Stone answered a call to audition for a play. It was the same year as the Montgomery Bus Boycott, an act of mass civil disobedience that was a milestone in the flowering of the Civil Rights movement in the United States. Earlier that year, the black population of Montgomery, Alabama refused to ride on city busses as long as they remained racially segregated, as long as Negroes were required to sit in the rear portion of the bus and—if a white person could not find a seat—were obligated to surrender their seat so the white might sit.
The boycott was a response to the arrest of Rosa Parks, a seamstress and NAACP activist, in December of the previous year. After a long day’s work and some strategic planning, Mrs. Parks had refused to surrender her seat to a white man and was incarcer-ated for this defiant act of tiredness. In Montgomery, a city where white families often re-lied on the labors of domestic servants, all of whom lived in the black parts of town, the collective act of refusal caused considerable inconvenience. Busses ran empty; servants would not ride them to work for more than a year. Ultimately, the Supreme Court judged the Montgomery bus ordinance unconstitutional. The Montgomery Improvement Asso-ciation won its battle and segregation on public transportation was outlawed throughout the land.
Scott was not in Montgomery, Alabama. He would pass through the city nearly eight years later but at least for now it was among the furthest places from his mind. Scott, a secularized Jewish kid with an Anglo name from Long Island, a second-generation American was at a summer camp, primarily for Jewish boys, in the Maine woods, about forty miles from Portland. This was his third summer at Camp Neshoba, located on Long Lake, where activities for campers tended to center around camping, ex-ploring nature, and participating in sports: swimming, water skiing, tennis, golf, basket-ball, baseball, archery, riflery (where campers earned NRA badges) and other American pastimes. Jews had long been denied access to camps and clubs where such activities took place, but at Neshoba they were enthusiastic participants, unaware of former prohi-bitions.
Little was made of the common ethnicity of most of its campers, unless a new camper arrived whose features or mannerisms bore the taint of the unfamiliar. This breach of normalcy became an occasion for comment and, depending on the kid’s ability to defend himself, petty torments. Food was not kosher, many of the counselors were of Christian backgrounds, and campers played at being mainstream Americans at a time when being American and being mainstream were extremely important.
When Scott heard that auditions for a play were being held, he felt himself drawn to the opportunity. In his fantasy life he imagined himself as the center of attention, which was usually not the case at home. In bed at night, as he drifted off to sleep, he was reincarnated as the charming host of a popular television show. But at daybreak he re-turned to his childhood and self-doubt. Performing in a play seemed like a perfect oppor-tunity to fulfill his desire to be seen and heard.
On the afternoon of the auditions, the drama counselor stood above a semi-circle of boys, in a field near the big house, and explained in a slow and easy drawl that the auditions were about to begin. The counselor’s name was Howard Johnson, a ruddy-skinned white Southerner from Pensacola, in the Deep South of the Florida panhandle. Howard was one of many white Southerners—college students at Ole Miss, University of Alabama and other mainstays of the Old South—who were recruited to be counselors by the camp owner, Martin Golden, to give his campers a taste of old-time American mascu-linity.
Speaking to the campers who came to try out for the play, Johnson told them that it was a sidesplitting comedy, a short piece that would be great fun to put on and was sure to amuse the audience. He then distributed dog-eared copies of the script so that the boys could take turns reading. When Scott’s copy came around, he held it in his hands, staring down at the title page.
The play—Ghoses Er Not Ghoses. A Negro Debate—had been published decades before, in 1916, the year that Scott’s mother was born. Gazing out from the cover was the comical face of a monkey, or perhaps it was a man—Scott couldn’t quite tell—with bulging eyes, huge red lips and jet-black skin. Given the impenetrable title, Scott had no idea what this play was about.
Without further ado, Howard Johnson explained. This funny play, he told the boys, was to be performed in a “Negro dialect,” a language so garbled that simply hear-ing it would bring tears of laughter to the audience’s eyes. The setting was that of a de-bate, a formally staged argument, over whether ghosts exist. Negroes, counselor Johnson elucidated, were notoriously afraid of ghosts and the play hilariously presented this in-born dread. The primary role was that of “Rastus Jones,” a debater who nervously, and with intense consternation, spelled out the ever-present hazards posed by the white-sheeted spirits who targeted “darkies” in particular.
Though still a boy, Scott had been well prepared for this role. He had never heard about the ghost connection, but on the television he had seen a program called Amos n’ Andy, where one character in particular had provided him with the necessary linguistic training. The ”Kingfish,” a calculating con man, and denizen of the Lodge of the Mystic Knights of the Sea—where much of the program’s antics took place—had a round, clownish voice and bizarrely physical way of mouthing his words that, for Scott, seemed perfect. “Well, hello there, Sapphire!” the Kingfish would say to his usually disapprov-ing wife, each time she surprised him in the midst of a scheme. Scott and his friends on Long Island would laughingly repeat the line to each other again and again, and had the accent down pat. The TV program starred black actors, with Tim Moore playing the iras-cible George “Kingfish” Stevens. Scott had a close friend who was a Negro, Leon Haw-kins, and a black woman whom he deeply loved, Edith Byrd, took care of him when his mother was away. Neither of them fit the Amos n’ Andy molds, but Scott made no con-nection between these actual people in his life and the ridiculous characters he saw on TV.
Scott was unaware that the program began on radio in the late 1920s, during the resurgence of the Ku Klux Klan, and that the on air voices of these buffoons were the creation of two white actors, Freeman Gosden and Charles Correll. Gosden was a native of Richmond, Virginia, the capital of the Confederacy, while Correll was a Midwesterner, from Peoria, Illinois, a hub of Klan activities in the 1920s. While the two would make public appearances wearing blackface greasepaint, the coming of television required a more convincing cast and black actors were assembled to assume the characters created by Gosden and Correll. While the program had been taken off of CBS in 1953, it re-mained in syndication into the 1960s and was a familiar part of the popular culture on which Scott and others were raised.
When it came time for Scott to read for the part, he faithfully carried the “King-fish” into his fervent interpretation of Rastus Jones. As he recited the words, he saw that Howard Johnson was very pleased, and this approval only added to the quality of his per-formance. After all the boys had read, Scott was far and away the biggest ham, and won the part of Rastus without any serious competition.
The play would take place in three weeks time, and in the intervening days there would be a number of rehearsals. The first would be a dramatic read-through of the script. Johnson encouraged the boys to start learning their lines, but said they could con-sult their scripts for this rehearsal. Given the opportunity, and other diversions, Scott didn’t bother to learn a word, knowing he could rely on his newly discovered dramatic skills at the rehearsal.
The rehearsal went fairly well, but when Howard Johnson noticed that his star was reading throughout, he firmly encouraged the boy to head to his cabin and start learn-ing his lines. Scott knew that the counselor was right, but there was something inside of him that resisted committing Ghoses Er Not Ghoses to memory. It was nothing rational; he still relished the prospect of starring in the play, but there was something about the play that troubled him. He continued not to learn his lines, though he created the illusion that he was by memorizing bits and pieces of the play for rehearsals, while relying primarily on his script.
By the third rehearsal, Howard Johnson was livid. “This little Jew,” he thought to himself, “is about to ruin my play.” “Scott,” he told the boy, “we’re heading towards a dress rehearsal in a few days and if you don’t learn those lines you’re going to be in seri-ous trouble.” Beneath the relative decorum of this warning, Scott Stone smelled danger. This guy was really mad. It wasn’t just the play. The level of the drama counselor’s pal-pable fury suggested that issues ran far deeper. Johnson assumed that the severity of his admonition would be enough to scare his recalcitrant lead into line.
The day of the dress rehearsal arrived. Ludicrous costumes, that would add a vis-ual absurdity to the debate, had been prepared. A tin of blackface make-up was open on a table, and one-by-one, the boys had the greasepaint smeared over their faces and necks. An inch-wide space for the lips was left without make-up; creating the appearance of the preposterously huge mouth that Scott saw each time he looked at the cover of his script.
When it came time for Scott to be blackened up, he sat down at the table, but in-stead of submitting to the ritual he tremulously turned to Howard Johnson and told him, in so many words, that he had not learned his lines and could not perform in the play. Johnson had a paroxysm.
Without Scott, the play was nothing. All was lost. His face turned beat red, and he spat white salvos of saliva as he told the boy that he had “wrecked the play for everyone.” He turned to the other boys—all made up—and with a glance communicated the order that Scott be shunned for his unpardonable transgression.
Scott felt embarrassed and inept. He thought he had done something terribly wrong. At the same time, deep inside, there was a feeling of satisfaction that he would not be forced to appear publicly in this play with burnt cork on his face. For days, none of the boys would talk to him. He felt very alone.
As time went on, his campmate’s anger dissipated, but Howard Johnson’s only grew. The level of this anger began with nasty looks and comments. Then, about a week after the blackface debacle, Scott was walking along a dirt hill towards the mess hall when suddenly he was pushed from behind. He felt his hands scraping on the rough ter-rain and, after looking at his minor abrasions, he turned back and there stood counselor Johnson, smiling over his prone body. “Did our little Rastus hurt himself?”
Fear of the man now entered Scott’s universe. He would do his best to avoid him and hope that this was the end of it. But it wasn’t. The taunts continued and then, a screen door was slammed in Scott’s face. Again, it was Johnson at the wheel. Following this second assault, Scott summed up his courage and went to visit the owner of the camp, Martin Golden. While Scott readily admitted that he had not learned his lines, wouldn’t blacken up, and had caused the play’s cancellation, he believed that Johnson’s treatment was beyond the pale. There was nothing about corporal punishments in the Camp Neshoba brochure, and Golden has assured Scott’s parents that the boy was in good hands.
This brought an end to Johnson’s harassments. Worried for his job he pulled back from his petulant reign of terror. Still, there were furtive glances and, if Scott understood them correctly, evil eyes.
This childhood tale remained with Scott well into adulthood. It was, for him, a de-fining moment. Over the years, the events here told faded from Howard Johnson’s mem-ory. But in this confrontation between camper and counselor, as the level of Johnson’s fury indicated, lay matters the reached far beyond the individuals involved.
As a white Southerner in 1956, Johnson had been raised in an environment where everything and every person had a designated place. While the world was changing around him, the world he held tightly within his head was propelled by ideas of human inequality. Though he was unaware of it, it was this familiar world that led him to select the play he wished to mount at Camp Neshoba. In being performed, the play would give voice to ideas about African-Americans that his culture had defined for him since he was a boy.
While Scott was only barely aware of events taking place in Alabama, there were things about the world within his head that—without his knowing—had pushed him into an unconscious act of defiance. In spite of his Anglo name, he was a Jew born in the last days of the Holocaust. During his early childhood, there were elusive references to family members who had “died in the camps.” Given the world they had witnessed from the safety of America, Scott’s parents had raised the boy to know that “prejudice” was a bad thing and that the “Germans” had murdered millions of Jews and other people because of prejudice and hatred. On occasion, they would talk about “the Negroes,” and the ways that they, like the Jews, were victims of bigotry. Though none of this was at the forefront of his mind when he tried out for Ghoses er Not Ghoses, his unwitting refusal to participate in making the play’s worldview public, had been shaped by the template of his own men-tal environment.
The violent reaction that Scott’s refusal provoked in Howard Johnson was not simply the result of a personality conflict. The intensity of Johnson’s wrath was but an index of the extent to which the boy’s non-compliance implicitly challenged a set of com-fortable convictions about who was who in the order of things. Embedded within his un-conscious mind, Johnson held a set of preconceptions about different groups of people. Oblivious to their influence, the fixed ideas that he carried around with him shaped the way he saw the people he encountered, even before the encounter occurred. Their per-sonhood, in his mind, was secondary to his prefabricated presumptions about them. The play he wished to direct was a cultural expression of these presumptions and, even in 1956, he still felt at ease with them.
Last week I found out CUNY students can go to MoMA any day of the week for free. I went there two days ago and saw this work from 1995 by the artist Carrie Mae Weems - I remember seeing before, somewhere, but i don't know when, was back in 95, maybe more controversial than other things happening.
I thought it would be useful on Stereotype & Society
I thought the audio commentary from the artist was a useful way of experiencing (looking) at the work. It is part of the main collection. See:
Wasserman's cartoon in yesterday's Boston Globe (click image, left) seems to miss the point. Michael Richards' public implosion offers an opportunity to reflect on something far larger than one man and one very ugly incident.
What flew out of Kramer was not his hidden membership in the Ku Klux Klan, but his previously hidden membership in that large sector of society that holds unconscious ideas about the inferiority of African-Americans, and other too-commonly maligned groupings of people. (Audience members at The Improv report a similar attack on Jews in April.) This furtive monster is more of a threat to the possibility of democracy than the more marginal, if openly hateful, perspective of the Klan and other neo-fascist fraternities.
On Friday, the 9th of August, 2002, in a solemn ceremony held upon a hilltop looking out on the green farmlands of Hankey, South Africa, Saartjie Baartman was laid to rest. A small crowd, about fifty mourners, watched respectfully as her coffin was lowered slowly into the ground. Her return to the earth, near the place that she was born, put a close to a drama that had begun some 192 years before.
Saartjie’s cruel odyssey commenced in 1810 at the Cape of Good Hope. The twenty-one year old daughter of a Khoi-San shepherd, she had been brought there two years earlier, to work as a servant for a family of Dutch farmers who gave her the name Saartjie Baartman. With no written records of her birth, her original Khoi-San name is unknown.
Saartjie’s ill-fated fortune changed when an English doctor, Alexander Dunlop, arrived at the farm. Dunlop, who served as a ship’s surgeon, “supplemented his income by exporting museum specimens from South Africa.” Cutting a deal with the farmers, Peter and Hendrick Cezar, Dunlop acquired a partial interest in the ownership of Saartjie. He then arranged for her to be brought to England, to be exhibited in Piccadilly as a living “curiosity” who occupied a strange borderland between human and animal. Saartjie’s participation in this scheme was exacted with the promise that she would eventually return home a rich woman.
In Piccadilly, the dehumanization of Saartjie Baartman moved forward. Promoted by her handlers as “The Hottentot Venus,” her fame grew as hordes of Londoners flocked to gape at this supposedly hideous remnant. For Europeans, the use of the name Venus was a venal attempt at humor. The goddess was widely cited as the Greek apotheosis of female beauty. Joachim Winckelmann had described her as “a rose which, after a lovely dawn, unfolds its leaves to the rising sun.” Conversely, Saartjie was exhibited for her allegedly degenerate deformity. She was presented to crowds as “the epitome of all that the civilized Englishman, happily, was not.”
When she died in Paris several years later, her body was carved up by the famed anatomist, Baron Cuvier. Her genetalia and brain were put on display in the Museum Nationale d'Histoire Naturelle. These body parts, along with a cast of her body that was made before she was was cut up, remained on display (later at the Musee de l'Homme) into the 1970s.
Such humiliating displays of human specimens hardly ended with Saartjie. She was part of a parade of people brought to Europe and the United States well into the 20th Century, exhibited as "missing links" or "wild men," people who occupied a vague border between humans and lesser life forms. Shows like these reinforced ideas of European superiority, and were used to justify conquest, enslavement and extermination.
World's Fairs were a common site for spectacles of human inequality, but Natural History museums appended the countenance of "science" to these Outlandish Western entertainments.
In 1906 the American Museum of Natural History, in cahoots with the New York Zoological Society placed the survivor of a Belgian massacre of a Congolese village in the Monkey House of the Bronx Zoo. The man, Ota Benga, was released following protests by African-American ministers, but the zoo's director and the mayor of New York continued to insist that the exhibit had been an enterprise of significant educational value.
Within a decade, Ota Benga committed suicide.
Following public revelations of the geyser of racist vitriol that he spewed at his audience at The Laugh Factory in LA last Friday, Michael Richards (AKA "Kramer" on The Seinfeld Show) tendered a public apology.
Appearing on the Letterman show on Monday, Richards appeared troubled and remorseful about the visceral hatred that had gushed uncontrollably from his lips after his comedy routine was interrupted by a couple of hecklers in the audience.
In many ways the "apology," coming from the mouth of a clearly broken, empty shell of a man, revealed as much about the unconscious nature of racism as did the blistering geyser of hatred he vomited up at the club.
The two Michael Richards (one self-loathing and penitent, the other completely bazonka) were in fact one: an everyman in deep pain and worried for his future, and an everyman whose potential for violence can be provoked by a momentary but well-targeted stimulus. Though this double-aspect of humans is most often hidden behind a veil of propriety, nationalism, righteousness, and cultural acceptance, THERE IT WAS IN LOS ANGELES, BARE NAKED, FOR EVERYONE TO SEE.
"I am not a racist, that's the insane thing about this" Richards declared on Letterman. Then, reflecting... "And yet, it's said! It comes through! It fires out of me!" He was clearly in a state of shock following his very public, and most-probably successful, act of thorough self-destruction.
"I'll get to the force field of this hostility," he promised, fumbling his words as he tried to explain his involuntary outburst—not knowing how to. How could he? In spite of this there was one moment of clarity. Amid his apology he suggested that the very same "force field of hostility" that pushed him over the edge is what drives nations into war against other nations. Given recent history, this may have been a remarkably astute insight in what was otherwise an incoherent Act II of his dramatic career suicide. He and we occupy a world in which visceral hatreds against other people have become more and more respectable.
The famed American writer Walter Lippmann once said that people harbor a "repertory of fixed impressions" in their heads. Together, he argued, these impressions, which he named "stereotypes," constitute the "foundation of our universe." Anything that challenges that rendition of reality is seen as a threat to that ultimately fragile "universe."
Theorizing is one thing, but the Michael Richards explosion, caught on the camera phone of a woman who paid to see the former Kramer perform live, and then spread on the internet and elsewhere, offers one of the most vivid pictures of a universe crumbling than nearly anything I've ever seen.
There he was, a former household face, standing alone on a stage in a room filled with real people. No longer the weekly icon, he was an ordinary man singing for his supper. Faced with this reality, he was being hassled by a couple of ordinary people who were probably being rude and also happened to be black.
He snapped and, in a frantic defense of a universe already weakened by the empty feeling of fading celebrity, he went ballistic. No doubt in a cold sweat, monsters that lurked beneath the veneer of his goofy, once-lovable persona escaped from him, right before the world's eyes.
In the 1960s I was a Civil Rights organizer in Mississippi, working with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). Nothing I ever heard coming out of the mouth of "The Mississippi White Man" (as white Mississippians were lumped together by many of us in the movement) reached the tenor of Richards' primordial burst of anger. (Apropos of Mississippi, Los Angeles, and many other locales, Richards' tirade evoked the argot of a hateful cop clubbing someone with a nightstick. Richards' rant also included a notalgic reference to a time, "fifty years ago," when an outspoken black person would be lynched for the effrontery of insulting a white man or woman.)
It is inner demons such as those that Kramer let loose, that often serve as the light brigade of violence, particularly when someone's position in society feels jeopardized by those who are seen as "different" on the basis of race, gender, or other emotional anchors of personal or group identity.
Somehow, apology seems beyond the point. The inner life of society, rambling through the synapses of one man's head, suddenly took center stage. Kramer will undoubtedly pay for this, but what we witnessed is far, far bigger than Kramer.
I was amazed that Jerry Seinfeld arranged the satellite apology, reprimanded the audience for laughing, and spoke of Richards’ "deserving a chance to apologize."
How the 'mighty funny' have fallen
To make a sincere, meaningful apology is difficult. To me Richards’ apology fell short given how many people he offended and how deep (for many) the hurt. I note how gingerly both Letterman and Leno dealt with him last night. I did not see Jimmy Kimmel, Conan O'Brien, or any of the other late night variety show hosts. I did some minimal channel surfing this morning and was surprised to see how the situation was being presented. On one channel, after making a comparison to Mel Gibson's drunken remarks, it was suggested that Gibson was bankable and therefore could recover, while Richards would be washed up.
On another channel, it was suggested that the Letterman forum was inappropriate and that Richards should have gone on Oprah Winfrey's show because Ms. Winfrey was more serious. I have not been on Internet to see what is being exchanged about this situation but I wish that in my brief television viewing I had seen a forum with a sociologist, social historian, psychologist, cultural historian, or scholar addressing this outburst instead of exclusively seeing entertainment commentators.
One of my issues is Richards saying that he is "not a racist." I realize that I need a good definition of a racist - something that distinguishes what someone says from who they really are, no matter the "provocation." I wonder if that's possible. I know that I say things that would be characterized as stupid and do things that would be characterized as stupid but I also know that I am not stupid. Maybe they are, in reality, unthinking things rather than stupid things but they come from a place of who I am and what I have learned (or not) and what is in my character and heart, especially when they are reactive. Does not the same hold true of Richards (and everyone else for that matter)?
I don't use the word "Nigger." I don't want to hear it from anyone's mouth. I find anyone's use of it offensive. The use of that word comes from a place that is meant to diminish, demean, and negate the value of, and in fact, the existence of human beings with brown/black skin. That is where I believe Michael Richards was coming from in his tirade. This was not a way for a seasoned performer to handle a heckler. That people of color use the word in an attempt to be funny pains me because I believe that what I have just characterized about the "N" word will never change and their attempts to "own" it the way we came to accept and "own" being called "Black" are futile.
MFA Program in Integrated Media Arts
Hunter College, CUNY
Please also see http://www.ineverusethewordnigger.com/
a project by a colleague of mine in the IMA program, Clarisa James
The “I AM AFRICAN” anti-AIDS campaign, while marching down the road of good intentions, resuscitates exotic visual clichés of Africa that have shaped European and American perceptions of the “Dark Continent” since the 18th century.
Near naked, and covered with body paint, Africans were routinely depicted by Western science, natural history museums, and in popular culture as “atavistic” throwbacks to an earlier, primordial state of human development. While European culture was ostensibly moving onward to an enlightened state of progress, African “savages,” as they were usually described, were mired in a prehistoric sinkhole. The symbols that are lifted from this mythical primitivism, and applied to the faces of the stars, are part of of what Walter Lippmann termed “a repertory of fixed impressions,” stereotypes that have allowed Westerners to define Africa without actually seeing it.
Two Professors Tackle The Pseudoscience Of Making An Ass Out Of You And Me
Typecasting: On the Arts and Sciences of Human Inequality
By Ewen and Ewen
Seven Stories Press
by Zak M. Salih
A giant, rampaging ape adorns the front cover of Typecasting: On the Arts and Sciences of Human Inequality, and he's carrying a white woman in distress. Bug-eyed and gaping-mouthed, the beast stares directly at you while his victim shields her face and writhes in his grasp. Where he's taking her and what he plans to do with her is anyone's guess, but in looking at the cover image two things are certain: that white woman's time is up, and that ape is one ugly motherfucker.
All this focus on the book's cover isn't superfluous. Judging outward appearances is what this massive sociological study is all about. The aforementioned image, with its odd King Kong theme, is in actuality a U.S. Army propaganda poster from WWI urging Americans to enlist and save their white women from the "mad brute" of foreign military might--and it's only the tip of the frightening iceberg that professors Elizabeth and Stuart Ewen, writing here under their nom de plume of Ewen and Ewen, unearth.
"The complexity of modern existence, and the global reach of contemporary society, made it impossible for people to make sense of the world on the basis of firsthand knowledge," they explain. So what better way to document said complexity than through the elaborate pseudoscience that evolves throughout the course of the book, the kind of theory libertarian ABC News correspondent John Stossel would no doubt call "junk science?"
The first half of Ewen and Ewen's book is a veritable roll call of the founding fathers of physiognomy. Prominent among these is Johann Caspar Lavater, whose experiments focused on the incline of a forehead and the hook of a nose to weed out perverts, misers, and morons. Orson Squire Fowler's pioneering work in phrenology--on which Typecasting spends too much time--probed the shape and feel of the human head to discern intelligence and morality. Both scientists, and their ilk, contributed to a mode of superficial thought rooted in facial features and body shapes--ideas that reached their apex in the unsettlingly popular eugenics movement of the early 20th century, which championed the forced sterilization and extermination of races and classes deemed unfit for healthy society.
Most interesting about Ewen and Ewen's study is how intertwined the business of typecasting is with the business of entertainment and, by extension, the business of making an easy buck. From the early days of the curiosity cabinet, in which rare specimens of human oddity were organized like displays, up through the heyday of P.T. Barnum's freak shows, minstrelsy performances, and popular movies, stereotypes entertained the masses for just the right price. In innocent victims of spectacle like Saartjie Baartman (known as "The Hottentot Venus") and Ota Benga, a captured Congolese pygmy thrown into the Bronx Zoo for a month, we see the impact these vast sociological viewpoints have on the individual human being. As with most works of this nature, the personal stories, not the grand historical movements, are what keep you emotionally attached to such a strange cultural era.
... Ewen and Ewen treat their topic with open minds; they never point fingers at a particular invention or cast blame upon an individual sideshow baron. Then again, they don't have to--the 21st-century reader does all that for them. Hindsight being what it is, no one can read Typecasting and not mull over the sheer idiocy of the human race and the relative ease with which all these disastrous ideas became so commonplace for so long--and in many ways still are, according to the authors.
... Typecasting remains a frightening exploration of how dominant cultures (read: old white European men) have turned stereotyping into a potent art form and racism into a practical science. Ultimately, the gaggle of phrenologists, psychoanalysts, sideshow barons, curators, and filmmakers are the real freaks on display here, their xenophobic modes of thought more of a human aberration than sunken eyes, small heads, and short statures.