MBTI: In Defense of Stereotypes
The movies have been a slow place the last couple weekends, if you’ve notice the lack of podcasts and movie reviews. So instead of reviewing something you’re not going to care about anyway, allow me to give you a few ways that our old frenemy, stereotyping can actually be helpful.
If you refer to my “Why Type Characters at All?” article, you’ll remember that aside from just being fun, characters are exaggerated versions of real people in the first place. We can see everything they do, even when they’re alone and depending on the narrative, even hear their thoughts. While celebrities have an image they put out, and real people may lie to you, characters are ours to explore.
Learn to tell the difference between the caricatures of humans and real humans’ preferences will be a bit more clear to you. I would almost go so far to say that if you can’t type characters, actual humans are going to confuse the hell out of you.
So be they characters or real people, here are the positives to stereotyping in MBTI, because we’re already aware of the negative.
Imagine you run into a black guy holding a basketball. He’s 6’7, and is wearing thick-rimmed glasses and has short hair. Shortly after taking notice of him, he turns to a nearby passerby and punches him in the face, placing the man into a stupor. When a cop shows up to get a statement, he happens to be black too. He asks you to describe the man, what do you say?
Do you leave out the most obvious details? That he was a tall black guy who was holding a basketball even though the nearest gym doesn’t even have a basketball court? Or do you simply stick with the fact that he had glasses and short hair?
According to a study at Harvard, white people are the least likely to identify by race due to fearfulness of being labeled a racist, while minorities had no problems pointing out others by race. Point being, you’re still probably going to want to call this guy out by race, glasses, and anything else that leads to his arrest regardless of whatever stereotype he might seem to fit. Probably.
You’re not going to avoid giving accurate details to the cop of the same race as the perpetrator for fear of being called a bigot because you’re trying to narrow down the possibilities to get the answer. You’re not doing anything harmful, that’s just what the guy looked like, though due to our outlook on stereotypes, some might avoid descriptors they think could make them look bad.
All of this is to say that while stereotyping is generally inappropriate for race relations, there’s still what’s true and what’s not. A black man actually committing a crime while holding a basketball (throw in a couple of your own stereotypes for arguments sake) may happen to fit many people’s idea of what black people are like, which is wrong of them, it doesn’t mean the crime didn’t take place.
So for something less serious in MBTI, why pretend we don’t need to stereotype with characters? There’s what characters do, and what they don’t do. It’s the starting point, not the end result, unless they’re in any of The Expendables movies. Once again, all ST.
While not as complicated as people, characters we like are interesting to us because of what they say and do within the context of the story, right? Having an ISTP that’s constantly talking, always looking like an idiot and playing the comic relief probably means that he’s not ISTP. Introducing an ESFJ that’s scared of everyone, doesn’t like anyone, and is brilliant in the field of quantum mechanics probably means they’re not ESFJ. Why Not? Because characters can’t be deeper than average? No, but because they are shallow versions of people and it’s highly unlikely for the above-mentioned types to be in the situations I described, much less paper versions of them.
Let’s try an typing exercise. Here is a hypothetical character and his actions listed below. Tell me what type he is by what you read.
1. The character lies to a villain so the villain won’t shoot a child that the main character is looking out for.
There you go. That’s all you get.
Can’t do it?
A character lying to save the life of an orphan at gunpoint doesn’t say a single thing about that character other than that they’re trying to save a kid’s life, which is probably a good thing. That’s about where that ability to type that character would begin and end, based on what I’ve given you.
Heck, letting the hypothetical orphan die wouldn’t necessarily say anything about the character’s type on its own because the motivations on either side have not been made clear to you. Now let me lay out a couple more actions of this character.
2. He doesn’t want the kid to die because he’s not heartless.
3. This kid is the only one who knows where a long lost treasure is and our character has been searching for it.
Ahhh…now it’s a bit more clear that our character’s motivations go a bit further than understanding the value of life. Here’s a couple more things-
4. The lie that the character tells is that the villain won’t ever see a cent of treasure if he kills this kid, though he’s not planning to share at all.
5.While lying to the villain, he throws in a couple jokes to lighten the mood.
6. He never steps between the gun and the kid. He stands to the side and is not directly in danger.
7. The character has a reputation for being a trickster.
What might you type this character on the limited information I’ve given you?
His bargaining, jokes, and keeping their own interests in mind may lead you to type them as possibly ESTP or ENTP. They’re not all selfish jerks, but with what little I’ve given you, there are some types that are more likely than others to have these traits.
This is, in essence stereotyping. Based on what little you know, you make the best judgement you can. And while any type could do any of these things, not taking into consideration the two types that are heavily associated with the above characteristics is keeping you from appropriately typing.
It seems people in the type community are fine with keeping other types in tiny cages but full-heartedly believe their type has no such bearings. And while stereotyping with race can be harmful in one way or another, stereotyping with Type Theory really is the way to begin, whittling away as you go down to the sculpture that is your subject’s type. It seems people think that by defying all stereotypes, they really are going to be viewed as the unique individual that has no equal.
So why are they interested in MBTI, yet refuse to see any descriptions as accurate to their character? I have no clue.
Don’t entirely rely on stereotypes, but don’t avoid them entirely. You have to a have a base to begin your typing. Stereotypes are not the answer, but they do serve a purpose.