Stereotypes in media

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“Bringing Down the House” featuring Steve Martin and Queen Latifah is a clever comedy that creatively showcases the sociolinguistic phenomena covered in this course. The film is about a tax attorney named Peter, played by Martin, who stumbles into an online lawyer chat room and meets Charlene, played by Latifah. The two chat frequently, mostly about court cases, and eventually decide to meet in person. When the day finally comes, Peter is greeted at the door with who he thought would be a middle-aged Caucasian woman, but happened to be Charlene, a black woman who just escaped from prison. Thinking this was a mistake, Peter tries to kick out Charlene but is later convinced she is the one who he was speaking with in the chat room. Charlene was able to successfully impersonate a lawyer through speech, and along with a deceiving picture, able to convince Peter she was a petite blonde. During these chats, the two talked about court cases that happened to relate to Charlene’s predicament with the law. In attempt to clear her name from a crime she did not commit, Charlene researched the judicial system and similar court cases to hers while in prison. Now that she is out, she seeks personal assistance from Peter who has already through the internet, given her support. All throughout the movie the characters contrast in viewpoints, culture, and most importantly for our studies, language. Charlene and Peter represent different language backgrounds which we can analyze as the root of their character development and actions throughout the film.

To illustrate generational conflict, the scene when Peter confronts his daughter about her crazy night, best conveys the phenomena. In the scene Peter’s daughter sneaks out of the house late at night to attend an unsupervised party with some friends which involved drinking, smoking, and other activities that make up a parent’s worst nightmare. While at the party, the boy who accompanied her there begins to make sexual advances. Frightened and confused, Sarah calls Charlene who comes to pick her up, teach the boy a lesson, and bring her home safely. This is when Charlene tells Peter what just happened and tries to cool him down before he explodes with anger. By instinct, Peter plans to scold his daughter with an intimidating language, tone, and overall authoritarian speech. Before letting him conti...

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...es can lead to difficulty in understanding one who is from a different background. Peter, who we assume was brought up in a suburban environment with the upper class, portrays standard English compared to Charlene who was brought up in a black urban neighborhood which would explain her AAVE speech. Although both speak English, it is simply the variation that arose from class, gender, ethnicity, and other distinct traits that led for misunderstandings to occur. In part of the scene, in attempt to explain her course of actions through her alleged crime, Charlene says “When Roscoe cracked that doe, I was strait off day heezy and bounced.” After Peter looked at her with a lost look and asked her what she said, Charlene restated the phrase by saying “I was recently liberated from a correctional facility…” This moment illustrates not only the language variations of English, but the necessity for one to style shift according to their audience. English has many dialects, pronunciations, and other factors that may require one to adapt temporarily to facilitate communication with somebody who is accustomed to a different form. This was the case for Charlene, as it is for others in the film.

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