April 18, 2007

Crank up the stereotype

There’s a very Canadian chain of hardware-retail stores called Canadian Tire, and I was in one the other day.

“Crappy Tire,” as it is semi-affectionately referred to by semi-frustrated Canadians, has a popular incentive for customers to use cash and not credit: they give you “Canadian Tire Money” in small amounts based on your sale total. You then can use the “money” on your next cash purchase.

Canadian Tire has used a balmoral-wearing, tartaned “Scrooge” character for as long as I can remember. The character I think is intended to denote the qualities of saving and thrift. The character is on the company’s money, and has been featured in its ad campaign. It’s a combination of the Christmas Carol persona and a stereotyped tight-0fisted Scot.

The company’s insinuation is that penny-pinching is good, but the big lesson of Dickens’s story is that they can make people horrible. Old Scrooge, who hoards his money and is distrustful of all, is hateful; the reborn Scrooge, who shares his wealth and learns to love his fellow man, is loveable. Canadian Tire lamely puts a trace of a smile on the character, perhaps to skirt the Old Scrooge issue. This has always made me think.

Why is it okay to stereotype Scottish people as misers? Thrift can be seen as a good thing, but the Scrooge-like, bah-humbug thing is a bit insulting, especially when you remember that Toronto’s population reportedly has more first-generation Scots than the city of Aberdeen.

As I mentioned before, the Groundskeeper Willie Scottish stereotype is pervasive, and it’s used to sell everything from bevy to chuggy. Martinet “Scottish” characters, replete with wild red hair and screeching voice, are somehow okay.

I mean, one doesn’t see ads featuring a Shylock character, encouraging people to emulate a penny-pinching-Jew. That would be the gross and insulting stereotype that it is. People justly recoil against stereotypes of African-Americans, and Don Imus is dismissed for his ignorance. Good.

Maybe Scots are just good at not taking themselves too seriously, and the ability to laugh at ones self is generally a good quality. I just wonder why some negative stereotypes are allowed and some aren’t.




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