The advent of the Internet and technology has allowed for the global spread of knowledge, resulting in greater familiarity with foreign cultures. The world is more accessible than ever before, meaning that one can access billions of pages of information from a few keystrokes on a computer, or even a cell phone. Because the information is so easily posted and viewed, alien lifestyles can become familiar from any point on the globe. If an American has never left the comfort of his country, he is not necessarily shielded from the world; the Internet allows people to form expectations of a place that they have not yet experienced.
In my travels, a quick Google search of German and Swiss culture would have saved me from some frustrating situations. In an attempt to order French fries in Switzerland, I was told that they were only on the kid’s menu. I told them that I am a picky eater, and fries were the only food option for me; they replied that I was not a child, so I cannot have fries. They seemed dumbfounded that I would break their rules. The waiter watched me eat a roll of bread for dinner, but it made no sense to their highly regimented culture that I would ask for something on the kid’s menu when I was eighteen. Though I am basing my expectations on a stereotype of a culture and place, it may have been better than the naiveté with which I attempted global travel.
Though occasionally offensive, global stereotypes can provide a frame that allows for a better understanding of culture. When looking at any foreign culture, there is an existent “us” vs. “them” attitude. In psychology, members of a certain group are known as the “in-group,” and all others form an “out-group.” It is common for in-group members to find means that justify their status, while simultaneously distancing themselves from the out-group, or the “others.” This attitude allows for the success of stereotypes, as discussed by John Jost. With the use of stereotypes in a way that shows their radical nature, they can be used as satire.
The viral video End of the World is an example of a global satire due to the use of stereotypes. The main subjects of the stereotypes are the countries of Russia, The United States, England, France, Canada, Australia, and China. The premise of the video is a description of the way in which the world will end. The introduction satirizes the global panics and commonly believed fates of the Earth: melting ice caps, meteors, destruction of the ozone layer, and an explosion of the sun. The narrator claims that assuming none of those happen, the world will end in nuclear war. The rest of the 1.5 minute cartoon is filled with stereotypes of the mentioned countries and cultures.
The US, led by George W. Bush, fires all of its nuclear missiles at China. China, while soaking in baths, fires their missiles. The French order the firing of their missiles, but a woman with hairy armpits and a cigarette in her hand says “but I’m le tired.” The commander claims, “well have a nap. Then fire the missiles!” Missiles are flying all over the place, while Canada (a hockey player) is confused, exclaiming “what’s going on, eh?” England is relaxing and playing golf, Australia (a kangaroo) “is like WTF, mate?” In the meantime, a meteor that was on a trajectory to Earth veers off course, saying, “well fuck that.” At the end of the video, the narrator provides another common theory of doom claiming that if the world isn’t destroyed, California will break off of the United States and fall into the ocean to “go hang with Hawaii.” The magnitude of the amalgamation of stereotypes prevents the audience from taking offense. While seemingly making fun of each nation, the video ultimately criticizes the violence and constant threat of nuclear war, and the presence of an ever-growing sense of doom.
The cartoonish nature of the video benefits the effectiveness of the message. Ayelet Kohn claims that the use of cartoons to deliver satire has the effect of distancing the audience from the criticism. Her theory says that it gives the reader the ability to claim that it is only a cartoon, making the criticism easier to accept and understand. Though the video is full of stereotypes, which are generally negative, the cartoon ameliorates the negativity of the stereotype. Even if an individual were to miss the humor in the stereotypes, an article by Ann Johnson shows that it might still convey the message of the satire. Much like the use of cartoons, the globalization of satire is another way to separate the audience from the subject.