“Nah, I didn’t like that bit. It was too… cliché.”
It’s a common complaint for all Creative Things – be they books, TV shows or films. But, as far as criticisms go, you’ve got to be careful when you throw around the big ‘C Bomb.’ It’s a bit like when a particular set of Amazon Reviewers grumble about a plot “not being realistic enough.”
Well, that’s a bit of a loose term, isn’t it? Who exactly are the ‘Realistic Police’? And surely a book that, say, delves into some strange post-apocalyptic-type scenario doesn’t care a jot about scoring ‘Realistic Points.’
People also tend to forget that even the greatest of stories are built upon Great Coincidences that the reader or audience must accept as perfectly reasonable events.
The same goes for clichés. It’s probably a bit of a cliché in and of itself to say that purely by something being a commonplace, it is now marked forever as a Bad Thing. Of course, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, there’s even an entire site dedicated to listing common clichés, tropes and devices: TV Tropes. There you can search loads of clichés, with all the films, TV shows, and more that use them. And obviously the Great Classics are guilty too – and that’s because they know that, if done well, a common trope can work.
Yes, that doesn’t stop some clichés from being groan-worthy in their predictability. Love Interest A’s and Love Interest B’s hands touching as they both reach for the same object can be an eye-roll inducing example. But often clichés are endearing and even more powerful, allowing the audience to recognise and warm to the story being told at a much quicker pace. Well, kissing in the rain with both participants looking drop dead gorgeous may be an unrealistic goal for most of us, but that doesn’t stop us swooning over the golden pairing of rain and romance.
So, this all seems fine and dandy for clichés. Maybe people should just loosen up about the whole thing.
Well, yes and no. Yes in that, as said, clichés can be used time and time again because they are consistent crowd-pleasers.
But they aren’t all innocent. Some of them just scream of lazy writing and reinforce harmful attitudes in society. Flourishing creativity should reflect progress, teach people, inspire people, and not trap us in out-dated mind-sets. So, here are some examples of the big two clichés that just scream ‘NO!’ to me. Feel free to imagine me as a world-weary teacher, scribbling with the red pen of doom as I list what everyone should avoid:
- “The Woman as a Symbol”
Now, I’m all for adding some mystery and intrigue to your characters. But if you make one lone woman the symbol of all Mystery, created only to motivate and spark the interest of the Mediocre Male Protagonist, then we have a problem.
You know what I mean. In this day and age, this cliché isn’t as blatant as a woman repeating to The Man “I am a Symbol” while delicate rose petals fall poetically around her. But, to be honest, it’s almost as blatant as this for me.
The modern age has spawned a version of this cliché that still refuses to die: the Manic Pixie Dream Girl. For those who don’t know, this involves typically male script writers creating the Ultimate Dream Girl: the one who offers profound advice and wants to do everything – run around in nature, climb a tree, breathe life in… but not for herself. Nope. Just to cater to the needs of the male protagonist and make him have an epiphany about his own life. You know how it goes…
A BOY and a GIRL are in a car with the roof-top down, and the wind streaming through their hair as they go over the speed-limit because this is #Edgy Content. The GIRL whips out a Polaroid camera that no-one ever owns anymore because she’s so vintage and unique.
GIRL: (snapping a picture of-uh-everything) I need to live in the moment, record every snapshot. Don’t you want to live instead of exist, Ethan?
The BOY laughs, a vague look of wonder and awe on his face that he masters so well by hardly moving a facial muscle, wow, give this kid an Oscar.
PATRONISING OLDER MALE VOICE OVER:
It was then that I realised Eliza’s words would unlock my true potential.
Basically, please let lovely fictional girls have their own lives that absolutely don’t involve serving men’s goals.
- #NO HOMO
So, let’s say two guys get on absolutely splendidly. They laugh, they share longing looks, all the signs point to them soon becoming an item. And then, just at the point when we think they’re going to have a big romantic declaration, talk suddenly turns to how Definitely Heterosexual they are. Ugh. It’s unnecessary, to say the least.
What’s perhaps even more troubling is that LGBTQ characters are getting killed off by screenwriters so much that it’s become a disturbing trope of its own named ‘Bury Your Gays.’ This is where queer characters are killed off routinely in shows, implying that their sexuality is a punishable thing, and will always end in tragedy. I notice that crime dramas seem to be especially guilty of this – for example, in the otherwise excellent thriller Marcella, a girl who had relationships with other women was soon embroiled in a dark subplot and, sure enough, was killed off by the end of the programme.
Thankfully, there are steps being made to stop writers from using this incredibly harmful trope. ‘The Lexa Pledge’, co-founded by the LGBT Fans Deserve Better movement, is a promise made by writers to ensure, amongst many other things:
“We refuse to kill a queer character solely to further the plot of a straight one. We acknowledge that the Bury Your Gays trope is harmful to the greater LGBTQ community, especially to queer youth. As such, we will avoid making story choices that perpetuate that toxic trope.”
Hallelujah. Here’s to the ‘Bury Your Gays’ trope dying a very quick death.
So, screen-writers of the future, listen up! Know that clichés can be used lovingly and work wonderfully – I have a particular soft spot for icy characters with hearts of gold. But, pay close attention to what those clichés are telling your audience. You’re pioneering our future world, and I want the story you tell to be one we’re proud to look back on.
[Jenna Burns – @Jenna_221b]
Articles used –
The TV Tropes Page http://tvtropes.org/
‘The Lexa Pledge’ http://lgbtfansdeservebetter.com/pledge/