Stereotypes vs. archetypes when talking trash and flies

Raised this issue with a customer who thought “archetype” was a more appropriate word than “stereotype.” The idea that trash has flies touches on a universal notion of trash we had, the customer said. If there were clip-art, or an international symbol of garbage, that symbol would be sure to include flies.

This led to me thinking about the difference between an archetype and stereotype, the former seeming more to involve the essence of a thing, the latter to involve what one can expect of a thing, a predictable but superficial facet.

It didn’t seem right to say that the flies were somehow essential to garbage; on the other hand, the idea of decay and of rotten-ness did seem essential to garbage. And it would be hard to convey that idea of decay pictorially –as a picture, trash would be hard to distinguish from mere clutter– without including in your picture something like flies, or wriggly red strands meant to indicate odor.

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