Once-Acceptable Targets

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In the past, we like to think, there were many more Acceptable Targets than there are today. Back then, unlike the present, an easy source of humor was to select people with a different appearance, culture, religion or gender from the assumed audience, treat them as inferior, and make fun of them.

Some of these targets are no longer popular. In some cases, times have changed, and what was funny in 1935 simply is not funny now. More importantly perhaps, changed economic and political circumstances have transformed some previously-despised target groups into valuable demographics that it is unwise to antagonise. Some feel, particularly those who would prefer to go on picking on these Once-Acceptable Targets, that these changes can be "blamed" on Political Correctness Gone Mad, but this is very much an area where Your Mileage May Vary. Black Comedy will laugh at Once-Acceptable Targets as much as possible with the express purpose of causing a hostile reaction.

Incidentally, a group may be listed on this page as a Once-Acceptable Targets, and still be oppressed, persecuted, mocked, negatively stereotyped or discriminated against today. It's just not quite as universally endorsed anymore.

See also Acceptable Targets, Unacceptable Targets, Positive Discrimination, Values Dissonance.

Examples of Once-Acceptable Targets include:

Gender/Sexuality[edit | hide | hide all]

Homosexuals[edit | hide]

Until fairly recently, in the western world, gay men were considered the same as pedophiles, and lesbians were viewed as evil (sometimes oddly asexual) succubi who tempt pure women away from their God-given duty to be sexually available to men, if they were even acknowledged to exist at all. Changing times have resulted in more out-and-out gay people in media. Don't expect to see any bisexuals, though, unless Everyone Is Bi.

Plus, of course, the mere existence of homosexuals used to be and still is considered hilarious. Possibly, this was owing to homosexuality making a lot of people uncomfortable and many people laughing to cover their discomfort. At any rate, Dick Emery's camp characters only had to allude to fancying a man, or one of the wives visiting the convicts in Porridge be shown to be a gay and there was a huge guffaw on the laugh track.

Women[edit | hide]

In Greek mythology, Pandora opened her eponymous box just to sate her curiosity, and unleashed all the horrors of the world upon mankind. In Japanese mythology, Izanami brought death into the world because her husband Izanagi rejected her after seeing what her stay in Hell had done to her (though in her defense, that was a dick move). In Christian mythology, Eve was the one who listened to the snake and then tempted Adam. And there are countless other examples like this from mythology, demonstrating the old-fashioned beliefs that women were powerful but dangerous creatures who couldn't control their emotions, or weak, stupid, barely-human creatures that are only good for making (male) babies.

Ethnicity/Race[edit | hide]

Black People[edit | hide]

When white Europeans carved out worldwide empires in the 15th to 19th centuries, one of their first moves was to colonize Africa. Viewed as heathen savages, indigenous Africans became an acceptable target for slavery and conversion to Christianity. Many were brought to the English, Spanish, French, Dutch, or Portuguese colonies in the Americas to work as slaves alongside a dwindled population of enslaved Natives. After slavery was outlawed throughout the world, and in America after the Civil War, attitudes towards the descendants of these slaves changed little. Due to lack of education and social status, blacks have for a long time been portrayed as either big, dumb brutes or Uncle Tomfoolery. Today, treatment varies with the setting. If the story is set in Darkest Africa, the black natives will usually be of the Noble Savage variety. In North America and Europe, a black person is generally portrayed as an ordinary person, albeit somewhat more streetwise than a white person, and with somewhat higher mortality. There's still the risk of a "gangsta" or Jive Turkey showing up, though. As a Positive Discrimination backlash against all this, the Magical Negro was created, but now he's a cliche, too.

International examples[edit | hide]

  • There was a Black and White Minstrel Show on British TV from the late 1950s until the 1970s.
  • In Belgium, blackface is still considered socially acceptable.
  • Japan, too. Though to be fair, the average Japanese person has had very little interaction with black people, or foreigners in general and tend towards xenophobia.
  • There is a yearly recurring 'scandal' about the Dutch use of several blackfaced servants to a white bishop in the Dutch tradition of Sinterklaas.
    • Even though they aren't exactly supposed to be black people, but instead just have soot on their face from the chimney.
      • They are supposed to be 'Moors', medieval Muslim inhabitants of Spain used as bogeymen, as Sinterklaas was believed to originate in Spain. These days, 'Zwarte Piet' as he's called tends to be stereotyped as black, not in the least by black immigrants, who use slavery as the reason why this tradition, which precedes slavery, should be abolished.


East Asians[edit | hide]

Perhaps the most recently removed from the list of Acceptable Targets, East Asians are far more accepted in contemporary times. In the late 19th century/early 20th century Asians were the victim of Yellow Peril stereotypes, and often made fun of for their exotic clothing and strange language, often portrayed as buck-toothed, bespectacled and with banana-yellow skin. Then WWII and the bombing of Pearl Harbor happened and all bets were off. It was especially vicious for the Japanese—You'll notice in WWII-era propaganda such as Wartime cartoons, Germans will be portrayed as brutish thugs, but not quite inhuman (usually just big and burly/ugly), but the Japanese were portrayed as an entire race of violent devils who wanted to kill everybody. A mix of the sneak attack of Pearl Harbor (compared to the Germans, who hadn't committed any major anti-American atrocities aside from standard warfare) and their non-white nature is a nasty one. Asians are treated more kindly these days, and Asians are seen as very intelligent and excel in academics, though of course this leads to the supposedly "positive" stereotype of nerds. These days Asian men are portrayed as staunch businessmen or martial artists, and Asian women as exotic beauties, but basically don't expect them to appear in films or TV much at all compared to other minorities out there.


Ethnic Indians and Middle Eastern people[edit | hide]

In Britain, they used to be stereotypically wacky, nerdy conservative Muslims or a strange mish-mash of religions who took "true" British people's jobs. Today, due to a quite very large percentage being native British in the fourth generation, the stereotype is dead.


Hispanics[edit | hide]

Despite America's welcoming borders to immigrants from most other countries, there are still sharp restrictions on immigration from its Spanish-speaking neighbors to the south. Since Mexico and the central American nations tend to be poorer economically than the U.S., some Americans fear that immigrants from these countries would be willing to work for peanuts and, thus, would steal the job market away. Unfortunately, this means that many Hispanic immigrants to the U.S. are here illegally, and so can only take off-the-radar jobs that do pay peanuts, thus reinforcing the stereotype. At least it's no longer acceptable to make "José Jiménez" jokes at their expense.


Indians[edit | hide]

For a long time, people from India were portrayed in American media basically the same way as Native Americans, but with worse accents. However, the popularity of Bollywood productions have caused a shift in attitudes. Modern Indian characters are often either medical doctors or skilled hackers, reflecting India's strong software development industry; whether this is a positive portrayal or a perpetuation of stereotypes is an occasional source of debate. Still occasionally put behind the counter at 7-11, though. Indians and Pakistanis owning convenience stores is probably the longest lasting Indian stereotype in America with a grain of Truth in Television. See Bollywood Nerd and Operator From India for IT-related stereotypes in specific.

Western Animation[edit | hide]


Irish[edit | hide]

Something of a Cyclic Trope. Until The Nineties, whenever an Irish person appeared in a British Series, they would either be a drunk, a fool, or both. Later, as many Irish people became rich, they are now often lumped in with WASPs (or WCCs, as the case may be) and have started drifting back into the realm of Acceptable Targets. In the US, the Irish were a longtime acceptable target, with this peaking in the mid to late 19th century and early 20th. Stereotypes of the time usually depicted the Irish as drunken, lawless, buffoonish, and lazy. Combined with the fact that many Irish were also Catholic, (see details below) didn't help either. This is now mostly forgotten in the US, although stereotypes about drunkenness and such persist. Also a rich source of Western Terrorists, see also The Troubles. Furthermore, no matter what time period it is, Irish people are Fiery Redheads about 80% of the time, especially in non-UK media, despite red hair being rare among Irish people.

Film[edit | hide]

  • Mel Brooks's Blazing Saddles gave the occasional exception to the American forgetfulness, when the racist locals at one point reluctantly agree to find some land for the black and Chinese workers aiding them against an army of thugs, but firmly state "But we don't want the Irish!"


Jews[edit | hide]

As far back as recorded history can tell us, the Jews have suffered from negative portrayals in the media; and in particular, Jews have been Acceptable Targets in Christianity for longer than it's been known as Christianity. However, since a lot of screenwriters and pioneering Comic Book authors were Jewish, Jews have pretty much become ordinary people on TV; indeed, most shows will have at some point have one character revealing their Jewishness to show how racially sensitive the writers are. Also, since many comedy writers are Jewish, even non-Jews have become familiar with Jewish culture through TV sitcoms and movies by Mel Brooks and Woody Allen, among many others. These days, Jewish characters are almost guaranteed to be lawyers, doctors, accountants and other educated, white-collar professionals, and "Jewish" almost a tongue-in-cheek synonym for "good at his job". The horrors of The Holocaust also had their influence, to say the least.


Native Americans / American Indians[edit | hide]

For a long time, portrayed as either deadly savages or pathetic fools. Today, if American Indians feature in a story set in the past, they will usually be noble savages dressed in Braids, Beads, and Buckskins; in a modern setting, they will tend to yearn for the old days, and often deliver An Aesop on environmentalism. Either that, or they'll be connected to the spirits and the ways of the world. Or they're poor and live in a trailer. Casino ownership is increasingly prevalent in modern works.

Literature[edit | hide]


Poles and Finns[edit | hide]

Were once interchangeably used (particularly in Russia) as an insult to someone's parentage (i.e., "Your father was a drunk Finn/Pole who beat your mother."). As there used to be few immigrants from those ethnic groups, and are rather quiet today, they are still occasionally derided against by those of either heritage. Poles have also had a long history of jokes about their supposed lack of intelligence, most of which have migrated to blondes.

  • Finns are becoming popular in Dutch media once more. With many youth related crimes related to the Moroccan minority in the Netherlands, people started complaining about the constant naming of the Moroccan minority in news blurbs. Queue the online community by referring to Moroccans as 'Finnen' (Finns).

Russians[edit | hide]

Cold War anyone? For an extended period of recent history there was a disproportionate number of evil Russian masterminds. Regardless of the fact that the Cold War was a bloodless war (not counting things like 'Nam or Korea), if you see a Russian on screen in a film more than 20 years old, he will be bloodthirsty, cunning, and likely a Magnificent Bastard . After all, if the Russians weren't incredibly cunning and evil, an argument could be made that the US didn't gain anything from the Cold War (save Nukes). In any film made within the last 20 years, Russians will probably be brilliant scientists, drinking vodka, or still pretty damn evil. And often mobsters. Also, Russian woman are often portrayed as ugly.

Film[edit | hide]

  • There was a brief window during World War II where Russians were America's heroic allies. Thus, Casablanca (1942) and Mission To Moscow (1943) contained some of the last depictions of sympathetic Russians for nearly fifty years.


Spaniards[edit | hide]

The original Argentine national anthem was a nationalist anti-Spanish lyrical outing, which is understandable given they were fighting an independence war against Spain at the time. By 1900, though, a decree officially removed all the offensive parts from the lyrics since Spain had gone from being the evil imperialists to become the Madre Patria (something like "Mother Nation").


Swedes[edit | hide]

In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Swedish immigrants to the United States were referred to as "Dumb Swedes". This stereotype can still be found in historical novels.

  • In Finland, all Swedish people are considered "fags". The historical reason for this stereotype is that Sweden decriminalized homosexuality in 1944, 27 years before Finland. Before decriminalization happened in Finland in 1971 many Finnish homosexuals moved to Sweden so they could live in peace, and the idea of homosexuality as "the Swedish disease" became common in Finnish popular culture. The stereotype of "Swedish fags" still lives on in Finland today, even though the history behind it is now largely forgotten.


Ukrainians[edit | hide]

Were once both the Russian and the Western Canadian go-to group for ethnic jokes that needed the subject to be dumb, shifty, dishonest, drunken, etc.


Religions[edit | hide]

Catholics[edit | hide]

The US has a strong Protestant tradition, from the Mayflower onwards, and for much of American history Catholics were a small minority which was viewed with great suspicion. It didn't help, either, that most American Catholics were either Irish (see above) or natives of non-English speaking European countries, tossing xenophobia into the mix. Anti-Catholic sentiment peaked in the 19th century, when it was widely believed in many Protestant circles, and claimed in many pamphlets and "true confession" novels, that the Catholic church was a secretive Satanic cabal which practiced human sacrifice and was plotting to destroy American democracy. These sentiments have waned enough over the years that John F. Kennedy, a Catholic, was able to narrowly win the 1960 presidential election, for John Kerry to come within a hair's breadth of doing the same in 2004, and for Joe Biden to be elected vice president in 2008, not to mention 6 of the current 9 Supreme Court justices, but even today there are a few holdouts convinced that the Church of Rome is evil. Jack Chick is probably the best known, but recent pedophilia-and-coverup scandals have pushed the Catholic church back towards an Acceptable Target in some eyes.
  • In British history, discrimination switched between Catholics and Protestants depending on the religion of the ruler at the time. The current royal family is descended from Germans, because the Catholic James II was driven from the throne in 1688, and the nearest Protestant relatives were Mary and William of Orange, the Stadtholder of the United Provinces of the Netherlands, who failed to produce an heir which caused the crown to pass to Mary's sister Anne, who also produced no heir, causing the crown to pass to George of Hanover. The Act Of Settlement of 1701 remains in force, barring any Roman Catholic, or person married to one, from succession to the throne, and requiring any monarch to be a member of the Church Of England. (This is partly justified in that the monarch is the Supreme Governor of the Church of England, so it helps if they're a member. Basically, it's all the fault of some fat Pommie king. Who, ironically, was a Catholic.)
  • American Catholics were mistrusted partly because they were seen as having allegiance to a foreign power (the Vatican); Kennedy had to assure people that as President he would not be taking his marching orders from the Pope.

Orthodox Christians[edit | hide]

For a very long time, members of the various Orthodox Christian churches were seen as evil by Catholics.


Protestants[edit | hide]

Essentially the reverse of the above, while Catholics were acceptable targets for Protestants, Protestants were at the same time acceptable targets for Catholics in countries with Catholic majorities. Some of the stricter conservative Protestant sects remain Acceptable Targets, though.


Other[edit | hide]

Actors[edit | hide]

At one time in the West (generally from the 1600s up until the late 19th-early 20th century), actors, singers, and other entertainers were often viewed in a very negative light. Originally this was likely due to the Puritans and their views of anything filled with frivolity and fun, or which glamorized dishonesty (since pretending to be someone else, or telling fictional stories, is a form of lying) as a horrible sin. This idea had consequences ranging from the banning of Maypoles and other light-hearted festivals to the picketing and boycotting of theaters and the refusal by English rulers to authorize or endorse playwrights.

Eventually such views faded, for which many Shakespearean scholars can be thankful, but when the Puritans crossed over to colonize America they brought this view with them. Probably thanks to the eventual conceit that anyone could achieve the American dream but only if they "pulled themselves up by their bootstraps", and the fact that being paid to act, dance, and sing not only appeared like laziness but was generally not a very good way of making a living (see the Starving Artist), this view persisted into the early 20th century, and in the late 19th showed up a great deal in literature. Prominent examples would be Theodore Dreiser's Sister Carrie and Paul Laurence Dunbar's The Sport of the Gods, as well as the Willa Cather short story, "A Gold Slipper".

Nowadays, of course, it is much more feasible to make a lucrative career out of such a thing, even if the actor never becomes wildly successful. As such, it is less likely for a parent to discourage their child from following this path. Certain stereotypes persist, such as the vapid self-absorbed millionaire and the limousine liberal,[1] but an individual can easily shake these off through his or her actions. Of course, between the popularity of celebrity culture and the way politics (both governmental and within the acting world) enters into it, some might argue that people still disparage actors (or should), but for a different reason. Regardless, it is mostly a Discredited Trope.


Amputees[edit | hide]

Especially hand amputees wearing a hook, are almost invariably depicted as evil. Usually this is to add a creepy quality to a villainous character, and it could be made to make them look like a pirate, camp or otherwise.

General[edit | hide]

  • Pirates are often depicted with peglegs or hooks, though this may be more to reinforce their badassery than villainy.
    • This was also a bit of a Truth in Television, as the standard response to injury and infection on pirate ships (which were often far from ports and lacked medicines) was to take a saw to the injured or infected limb.

Literature[edit | hide]

  • "Zodiac Zig" Zigurski in the Hardy Boys novel Mystery of the Flying Express (who'd lost a hand trying to crack a safe with explosives).

Live-Action TV[edit | hide]

  • Played for laughs in Arrested Development "I'M A MONSTER!"
  • Didi from My Name Is Earl. Subverted in that she really does have a legitimate reason to be upset with Earl; not only did he ditch her the morning after he slept with her when he found her prosthetic leg after she went to go make them some breakfast, but he stole money from her purse, and her car, as well as the aforementioned prosthesis. Double-subverted for the way she went about dealing with the whole situation.


Animals[edit | hide]

Before the passage of endangered species legislation, many animals, specifically dangerous animals like lions and gorillas, tended to portray the antagonist, making it ok for the dashing lead to beat the crap out of them and even kill them at times. Nowadays, this type of treatment offends many people, not just animal activists, so this has heavily toned down (for a great example, compare the original King Kong to the 2005 remake).

Bastards[edit | hide]

Whether your parents were subjected to a particular ritual before your birth isn't today a matter of much moment. For most of Western history this was not the case. Historian Maggie Secara points out that in Elizabethan times you legally could not own property if you were illegitimate, could not hold public office, could not marry. This discrimination continued into modern times, often framed in terms of the illegitimate child's "right to a name": Gene Stratton Porter's 1904 novel Freckles is largely based around the notion of the hero's supposed bastardy, and on his use of the name "Freckles" because he has no "right" to any other. It wasn't until 1927 that the law in Texas was revised to remove the word "ILLEGITIMATE" from birth certificates. As late as 1959, Robert Heinlein based a story around the notion that an "Unmarried Mother" would do everything she could to conceal her—and her child's -- status.


The left-handed[edit | hide]

Once invariably portrayed as evil, careless, misguided, or any combination of the three.

General[edit | hide]

  • Of course, this one may be justified.
  • In Old French, left was "sinestre" and right was "dexter". Now, "gauche" is left and "droit" (which also means "straight" — as in "uncrooked, unbent") is right.
    • Those originally come from Latin: sinister = "left", dexter = "right". Gauche comes from a Frankish word cognate to the English word walk, while droit comes from the Latin directus (meaning "straight"), from where English got the word direct.
    • Also note that gauche is still used as a synonym for something being unacceptable, unfashionable, or a politically incorrect faux pas, while adroit is a word with positive connotations (agile, quick, clever).
  • Right is a synonym for correct. Left looks like an abbreviation for left over. Now think about any time you've heard "right/left hand side".
    • Here more to think about: right (the direction) was indeed a semantic expansion of right ("correct"). The Old English word that left (again, the direction) descended from meant "idle, weak, useless".
  • In Spanish "Derecho" (a word for "right", the direction) means also just and legitimate. It is also the word for the career of Law.
  • In Hungarian, right is "jobb", meaing "better". Left is "bal", which mostly corresponds to the English "ill-" prefix.
  • The word ambidextrous, referring to people capable of writing or performing other tasks with both hands, literally translates as "right-handed with both hands." The implication is that using your right hand as your dominant hand is the correct way to behave, and ambidextrous people are capable of using their left hand as an extra right hand.
  • This may have a (supposed) grounding in history - it also ties back into why we're supposed to shake with the right hand. Back in the days when carrying a weapon was in fashion, shaking hands was an easy way to say "hey, man, I'm not planning on killing you". The key was that you were supposed to shake with the right hand - so a left-handed person could both shake and attack.

Literature[edit | hide]


The Military[edit | hide]

To be more precise, common soldiers were often the butt of jokes in the UK and other parts of Europe during the 17-19th century period, compared to dogs, had jokes made about "selling themselves for a shilling" being uneducated, etc. The trend was in decline for a long time but was killed off fairly conclusively by the world wars, when practically everyone was either in the military or was close to someone who was.

In addition, post-Vietnam War veterans in the United States were derided by war protesters for fighting in the war, and were shunned by the older generation for "losing" the war. Nowadays, even with the unpopularity of the Iraq War, the American public at large has been consistent with its support and gratitude of combat troops, and most Vietnam veterans are getting the recognition they deserve.


Rape Victims[edit | hide]

Once frequently accused of "asking for it" by the way they were dressed, or bringing the abuse on themselves in some other way. Women in the 20s and 30s were regarded as pariahs just for having been raped, and this is still so in many countries. Still appears in some forms, such as routinely questioning the credibility of alleged victims; and juried rape trials can still be swung in favor of the defense by implying that the plaintiff was "asking for it", or dismissing their feelings as "buyer's remorse", but at least some effort has been made to reduce the harshness of the targeting in a few places, and most "prior chastity" laws (which stated that rape of an unmarried woman was not rape if she was not a virgin) have been taken off the books.

Anime and Manga[edit | hide]

  • Berserk Abridged plays much of the original series for humor, but it doesn't really play Guts' Rape as Backstory for laughs (it's at most, understated Black Comedy), and for this reason, the creator gave the series a happy ending, as there really wasn't a way to make the show's actual ending funny.

Tabletop Games[edit | hide]

  • Not really the defining trait of FATAL (that would be stupidity) but the factor that best exemplifies everything wrong with the game. By the rules of the society in which the game functions, rape is barely a crime, and rapists may well be commended for their despicable act while the victim is inevitably shunned by society for the rest of her life.


Sports Fans[edit | hide]

Once considered to be considered weird to show die-hardness towards sports teams much like other fandoms, today they are the exception to this rule. In fact, conversely, many people might regard you as being more than a little weird if you're not big on sports—especially if you're a man.

While some sports fandoms can still be ridiculed, such as those who play fantasy sports, fans of "That Other Football" (ex. an American Football fan in Britain or a Soccer fan in America), and Chicago Cubs fans (and other teams that have a really long championship drought, such as the Toronto Maple Leafs), even they aren't as lambasted as other fandoms.

Literature[edit | hide]

Web Original[edit | hide]

  • Lampshaded in this online sketch that addresses the hypocrisy then makes fun of both fans for their fandom.
  1. Based on the perception of Hollywood as heavily biased to the political left, this slur is pointed at those who talk about trendy causes, while living a lavish lifestyle and seemingly doing nothing to actually help