Archetype vs. Stereotype
We all know it’s best to avoid stereotypes but beyond the clumsy insensitive risks of stereotypes, when it comes to storytelling, they just aren’t as interesting as stories that explore archetypes.
Tell me something I don’t know
If you’re going to take my time with an article or online video or television commercial, then at least tell me something I don’t know, or at least make me look at something I know in a different and more interesting light.
Take this photo for example:
Can you pick out the stereotypes from archetype?
The stereotypical stories of this single frame could be:
- Young people prefer digital screens over printed pages
- Old people shun technology
- Young people are rebellious with their hair and clothing
- Old people are conservative with their hair and clothing
- Young people slouch
- Old people sit up straight
There is absolutely nothing interesting or remarkable in these differences. More importantly, we know that they aren’t even true! Of course there are youth who love to read books. Of course there are adults who are addicted to their phones. Of course there are conservative youth. It goes on and on, of course, of course, of course.
Imagine for a moment that this photo showed a young conservatively dressed young man reading a book and sitting up straight and an older gentleman with crazy hair and clothing slouching back into his seat while texting his buddies. You’d have an image that is a bit more interesting by simply turning stereotypes on their head. But that would be as far as that story would go. We might chuckle because we know we’re still dealing with stereotypes. But we really wouldn’t learn anything.
What is more interesting, what can be explored more deeply, and what can actually teach us something about life is the archetypal story that is being told. That is the story that says, “no matter what culture we belong to, we all experience and understand the tension and conflict created by generation gaps.”
One person may be comfortable with a generation far older than themselves but completely lost when it comes to dealing with younger generations. Another person might have the opposite experience. Or, more realistically, we all may have people in our lives who are of a different generation who we are comfortable with and those who we just don’t understand at all. It points to a universal human experience that we can all relate to – that we know is true.
So if our story centers on this archetypal story, it doesn’t matter what the specific differences are. If the subjects experience the conflict and overcome their differences then we have a story that is worth paying attention to. It’s worth paying attention to because we can learn something from their experiences that we can perhaps apply to our own.