The world is better-connected than ever before and its youth can communicate and interact in a way which transcends space and borders, yet borders clearly remain in our perceptions of other nations, cemented by age-old stereotypes and mistrust. A new generation of European youth has the means to break these barriers and to build a truly inclusive Greater Europe which truly embraces the 21st century.
Stereotypes are also formed by the mass media. (Source: www.acus.org)
But there are a lot of challenges. As much as political and technological developments have changed, attitudes and preconceptions still remain ingrained in our consciousness and stereotypes. When we consider what exactly a stereotype implies, we see that it implies 'a widely held but fixed and oversimplified image or idea of a particular type of person or thing'. Stereotypes have indeed always existed in some form or another, but in the 21st century there is a good reason for reflecting upon them, for unlike our Shakespearean forebears whose stereotypes often had no consequences (viewers were just as unlikely to see Venice as they were to see a Moor such as Othello), we can instantly be exposed to the people we stereotype. We can also be easily exposed to stereotypes through mass-media and film, television and music, so not only is there a higher chance to combat stereotypes, but there is also a higher chance to be susceptible to them. What is different, though, is the globalised world we live in, and the reality and consequences of stereotypes.
The consequences go beyond the sort of banter about German tourists infallibly getting the best sun loungers - something which never ceases to provide chit-chat for Brits abroad who wake up too late to get a good spot by the pool. Stereotypes have serious consequences too. There is such a thing as stereotype threat which has been documented in the United States by Steele and Aronson (1995). Research showed that when race was emphasised, black college freshmen and sophomores performed worse than white students. Conversely when race was not emphasised, black students performed equally well and in many cases better than white students. It shows that a priori assumptions of groups can be self-fulfilling - people assume a group to display certain characteristics and in turn this group comes to display them.
Russians in the United States are also subject to stereotypes. There are a lot of movies made in the USA about Russian spies, the KGB and the mafia. This extends to the notion that Russians drink excessively, are aggressive and are party animals. Many have had no possibility to compose their personal opinion based on real interactions with Russians, so they use the information from mass media and trust it blindly. A lot of this is down to cultural differences. In Russia the expression "Улыбка без причины, признак дурачины" explains why Americans often think Russians aren't friendly - the expression says that smiling without a reason is a sign of stupidity. This couldn't contrast more with American culture of smiling frequently. From the idea that Russians are unfriendly, assuming them to be aggressive isn't a huge leap, especially given the reputation and diplomacy of Russia, which was built mainly during the years of Soviet Russia with its limited international relations and specifications of government regime.