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robeiae
07-09-2012, 10:34 PM
I wasn't sure were I wanted to post this, because I think it would fit here, in the Film/TV forum, and P&CE, but I've been absent from here for a while, so here we go...

Anyway, with Chris Meloni's departure from Law and Order SVU to appear on True Blood, I got to thinking about his SVU character, Elliot Stabler.

For those unfamiliar, Stabler is a tough-guy type of cop, willing to bend or even break rules when he thinks he needs to, quick to anger, and a pitbull when he senses guilt. In short, the typical "cop on the edge."

In my view, Stabler should rate as one of the all time best TV cops, in terms of character construction and portrayal. But he's so, well, mundane that I think Meloni never has gotten enough credit for his work.

Taking the above as a given, the question I would ask is:

Is Elliot Stabler an archetypal kind of character or a stereotypical one (or both, or neither)?

When we speak of archetypes, we tend to see significance because of such a qualification. But when we speak of stereotypes, I think we tend to assume the qualification is negative and/or there is no real significance. Thus, there is something to learn from understanding archetypes, while little to learn in noting stereotypes.

Specific to Stabler--and it's here that insider knowledge on police officers would be appreciated--does he tell us something significant or not? Can we learn from understanding his character? Can he be understood as the product of his specific background or is he just a cardboard cutout of a cop?

And in terms of the current world, are we seeing too many stereotypes and not enough archetypes?

For starters... (I have more, but I'm still sorting through it all to see if I even have a point :); in the meantime, opinions are requested)

RichardGarfinkle
07-09-2012, 11:20 PM
Tough call. I liked Meloni's acting. I think it added depth to the character. But I think Stabler was the straight man of SVU.

His barely contained fury was, paradoxically, the base line of reasonable reaction for the kinds of crimes SVU tackled. In that sense he was often the audience surrogate.

Dawnstorm
07-10-2012, 01:03 AM
When we speak of archetypes, we tend to see significance because of such a qualification. But when we speak of stereotypes, I think we tend to assume the qualification is negative and/or there is no real significance. Thus, there is something to learn from understanding archetypes, while little to learn in noting stereotypes.

I agree that's how the terms are often used. Because of this, I'd often just like to cross out the "arche" or "stereo" and just call it a type. If we're really only talking about how a fictional figure matches, exceeds, defines, or subverts the type it represents then the difference between "arche" and "stereo" seems irrelevant to me.

Personally, I find it sad that the term "stereotype" is often used as a synonym to cliché (which is a representation of a type that doesn't exceed the type).

I can't talk about the character since I've never watched the show, but the question whether X is an archetype or stereotype seems mostly a question of what words to use.

So I think these are interesting questions:


Specific to Stabler--and it's here that insider knowledge on police officers would be appreciated--does he tell us something significant or not? Can we learn from understanding his character? Can he be understood as the product of his specific background or is he just a cardboard cutout of a cop?

But this question should maybe be rephrased using terms that don't come with the stereo/archetype baggage:


And in terms of the current world, are we seeing too many stereotypes and not enough archetypes?

For example: Are we mindlessly repeating types too much?

There's a "too much" in there, so that breaks down into other questions:

Why are we repeating types? How important are those functions? Is there an imbalance between them?

I'm thinking that repetition for the sake of reinforcing a sense of security in a certain way the world works isn't automatically a negative. It becomes that if it outdoes understanding.

In terms of narrative, types might fulfill a ceteris-paribus function: that is, they don't help us with understanding what they represent, but they do reduce distraction (since you intuitively understand them) and thus indirectly help understand more narrative-central issues.

Not sure how much sense I'm making, here.

DarthPanda
07-10-2012, 01:41 AM
Archetypes are a role... like, Hero, Wise Man, Trickster. They have a certain function in a story, and as long as that function is fulfilled, they still fit their role, regardless of personality/appearance.

Stereotypes are more more superficial. The mannerisms, appearance, behaviors that have, for whatever reason, become associated with a certain type of person, and therefore are used by lazy people to classify others without actually getting to know them (in real life) or (in books/movies)by lazy writers who want to let you know what role the character is filling without actually developing that character. White hats = good, black hats = bad.

Like, the Hero is an archetype. If he rides a white horse and has blond hair and blue eyes and is brave and bold and perfect BLAH BLAH BLAH... then he's also a stereotype. You take the exact same character filling the exact same role, and give him some personality flaws, dress him in black, and he's still a Hero archetype, but no longer a stereotype.

Samus Aran was a stereotypical videogame hero until she took her helmet off and OH EM GEE she's a GIRL! Stereotype subverted. If Samus had been a bigass muscle dude, it would've been a stereotype.

If archetype is the skeleton of a character, stereotype is his/her/its outfit. If that makes sense.

I think Stabler was well developed enough throughout the series that he ceased being a stereotype. He was forced too often to rethink his stance on certain issues, and there were usually reasons given for all his behavior. You understood why he felt the way he did about things. He wasn't just a hardass. He loved his family, always tried to do the right thing, fought against his impulses, was torn between his convictions and the law... Like the Stephen Rhea episode, when he had himself put in solitary to experience the emotional meltdown for himself. Very unstereotypical tough guy cop behavior.

QuantumIguana
07-17-2012, 05:29 AM
I haven't watched the show, so I can't comment on it. But in general, it seems that the cop having to be a bad cop to be a good cop is a cliche. It used to be fresh. But that was a long time ago.