I’m from Indiana. There are currently 3 shows on TV where characters are from Indiana: The Middle, Parks and Rec, and the B in apartment 23. The only other time I remember a prime-time character being from Indiana was Woody from Cheers. It’s not surprising to me that stereotypes about people from Indiana being naive even ignorant exist, but that fact that all 3 of these shows perpetuate this stereotype is crazy. Oprah lives in Indiana for goodness sakes. (By the way, when I tell people that, they say, “She does?”).
Also, I feel like I have to prove myself more to people because I’m from rural Indiana. Maybe I don’t really have to and it’s just a stereotype in my own head, but I expect people think that I don’t have worldly experience or an open mind. Even a bigger deal is that kids internalize these stereotypes from the media. A child may dream of a career in international development but decides there’s no point since he’s just a hick anyway. This doesn’t just happen to people from Indiana of course. Our children are constantly looking for how they fit into this world. Don’t even get me started on the lack of positive African-American or Hispanic characters on prime-time shows.
The real shame is how stereotypes cause a person to put herself in a box. The Poet Laureate Natasha Tretheway describes how this exact thing happened to her as a kid. She said she wanted to be a poet but the image in her head of a poet was a man with white hair, tweed jacket with patches of suede on the elbow, and a pipe. She was able to break out of this box, but others may not. Before you perpetuate a stereotype, think about the repercussions. One tiny image or joke might seem insignificant, but each tiny brick builds a wall. A wall that can trap a person.