We are the kind of family that pushes books onto each other. When I stayed with Techie’s family to help me with the new baby, Techie handed me Tom Wolfe’s Hooking Up and urged me to read his brilliant satire, Ambush at Fort Bragg, during my leisure hours—midnight to 4 a.m.
Ambush is a fun spoof of television journalism. In this story, network personnel manipulate events to create an audience-grabbing documentary. The stock characters are all there: the intellectual Jew who never gets the girl, the aggressive female news anchor, red-neck soldiers, a stripper dreaming of stardom, the rich, decadent TV producer, and a selfless doctor.
“The beauty of this story is that none of these characters realizes they’re a stereotype,” Techie said. “Just like none of us realizes we’re a stereotype.”
He asked his wife a dangerous question, “What kind of stereotype are you?” Techie II thought for a minute. “I guess I’m a Texan.”
Yes! I thought. Being a Texan explains Techie II’s right-wing politics, religious conservatism, and appetite for over-sized beef steaks.
Fortunately, Techie did not ask me. I wasn’t ready to answer a question that might lift the mask of the person I want to be and expose the person I really am. Probably the mask doesn’t fool anyone. Certainly not Techie. “You’re talking like a teacher again,” he told me repeatedly during my stay.
I guess I am the stereotypical schoolteacher—the one who wants to share her knowledge with those around her and improve their lives. I think I’m also the stereotypical disaffected Mormon. After years of devoted church membership—attending meetings, serving in callings, promoting an eternal family—I realized the message I heard at church didn’t square with my real-life experiences.
I migrated from blaming my own inadequacies, to faulting the organized church, to finding peace in my own way. Sometimes my teacher stereotype urges me to share my new found wisdom and disabuse faithful members of their erroneous beliefs. Then a new voice—maybe not a stereotype—urges peace. Let everyone find her own way. Maybe by owning our stereotypes, we can use them constructively.