It occurs to me after reading many of the comments that we lack an agreement about what constitutes a stereotype. Here is what I mean when I use the word. A stereotype is:
a. an exaggerated image
b. of a subordinate group
c. created and perpetuated by a dominant group
d. and repeated throughout the culture without significant balancing
So a minstrel show (to use a clear example) was an exaggerated image (black dialect, exaggerated "black" features, shuffling gait, stock characters) of how black people (a subordinate group) behave that was created by white people (a dominant group -- minstrel shows began as white people in blackface, and later migrated to black people in, implausibly, blackface) that were repeated throughout the culture without significant portrayals of black people in respectful, less exaggerated ways.
Consequently, when Jon Stewart skewers George Bush, it is a caricature, not a stereotype -- an exaggerated image of an individual. If he skewers "Republicans," it would fit item a above, but not b, c, or d.
How does this apply to my point about Iowa 08 and, more significantly, television shows like The Beverly Hillbillies, Green Acres, Dukes of Hazard, Smoky and the Bandit, and most shows that include southern or rural characters?
Portrayals of rural and southern people tend to be exaggerated images (item a) of a subordinate group (in this case, subordinate because most mass media is produced in urban areas by people who live in urban areas in New York and California, thus item b) created and perpetuated by a dominant group (the urban media intelligentsia, including the theatre, who control what is seen by the country) which are repeated throughout the culture with little significant balancing of the image by more real, dignified portrayals.
As long as the media is centralized in NYC and LA (and I'm not certain how you can argue that it isn't, given the shape of the arguments made in other discussions about why so many theatre people seem compelled to take up residence there), as long as no significant effort is made to present dignified stories about southerners and rural people, then stereotypical representations of southerners and rural residents should be called what they are -- ideologically skewed insults designed to maintain dominance by one group over another.
Robert Brustein was frequently and rightfully attacked for his belief that August Wilson should have stopped writing about the plight of the African-American in each decade of the 20th century and instead focus on something more "universal." As Wilson pointed out, "more universal" meant "more white." The same is true in this case. The default for universality in film, television, and theatre tends to be urban, white, northern, middle class, and educated. And as such, it is not representative, and because it tends to be created by urban, white, northern, middle class, educated people who have little experience of people outside those categories, it tends to utilize stereotypical images of those outside that group. Ignorance leads to stereotypes.
And that is what needs to be stopped. Those who recognize those stereotypes for what they are need to call bullshit every time one pops up until the dominant group finally gets it through their skull that they are not superior, they are not more educated, they are not less racist, they are not more open-minded, they are not cooler, and they are not more sensitive than any other group in this nation. They have very specific cultural reference points that are not universal, and not universally desired.
It is time that people on farms, and people in the south should be able to see themselves represented in ways that make them proud. Am I advocating censorship? Again, a definition: censorship is the institutional power to prevent something from being seen. No, I am not advocating that. But I am advocating peer pressure, social pressure. It worked with Imus -- it needs to be applied in other areas.