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THH: Let's Play 'Name That Cliché'!
Och, alas, oh dearie me, one of the biggest problems critics today have to deal with are…the…dreaded…clichés.
They salt, they burn, and then they salt AND burn our stories and movies and songs and TV shows. Where have you heard, read, or seen something that does not have an element of “ughhhhh-overdone” spinning around in its core?
NO? Shut up! (Thank you, Amelia Mignonette Grimaldi Thermopolis Renaldi for that, as well)
Okay, let’s clarify just what ‘cliché’ means first.
Once upon a time, there were two little children who lived next to each other, one a boy, and one a girl. There is an old bearded man who is the giver of wisdom and all things wise and dom-y. (He provides the much-needed plot tidbits that keep this whole operation going.) Then there is this wacky mom who plays the piano and gives everyone fantastic plastic presents, and loves to squeeze everyone’s cheeks and worriesworriesworries.
But back to the little girl and boy.
They grow up to have crushes on each other, but neither can find the guts to actually talk to one another. Ever. The boy is a popular high-school sensitive jock who is every girl’s dream, the blue-eyed-blonde package and all, yet still remaining unclaimed; the girl is a jeans-and-sweatshirt-casual introvert, clapped off with hipster-dork glasses and a knack for the guitar and, ooh, let’s not forget she keeps a diary (naturally).
After a few plot twists and dastardly high-school scandals, as Popular Girls get in the way of everything (along with a few classy Nerd Guy cameos), the story is resolved. The girl and the boy fall into each others’ arms, and all is topped off with that dream-eyed high school prom where everything is polished and ready for Candy Land.
Would you read that book? Would you pick it off the shelf if that summary were to be there to pull you in?
The editor’s verdict is, well, sadly, no.
“Gasp! Flick! Sigh! Shame-on-you glares left and right!”
Let’s see why this grumpy old humbug says so.
CLICHÉ AFTER CLICHÉ. Is there any element in those paragraphs you have never ever seen before? Anything at all? Sadly, I’ve seen them each, and that’s not even what ultimately counts—it’s the way it’s put together. Those ooh’s and ah’s of the plot I have experienced in boy-meets-girl YA novellas, the “(500) Days of Summer” trailer, and completely in Taylor Swift’s “You Belong With Me.”
A moment of pause.
Yet, as you may ask, why on earth are those YA novellas bestsellers? Why was (500) Days of Summer at a whopping 86% by Rotten Tomatoes? And why on earth has T-Swift’s M/V racked up +300,000,000 freaking hits on YouTube?
It’s all in the twist, people.
You can have as many, as much of the clichés you possibly want, as long as you tweak it into a fresh appeal. Truly. They can come from the days when the sun was first starting to light up, and be as eye-roll recognizable as a peanut. As long as you wrap the bundle in something new and interesting, you’re gonna have an audience. It’s only if it’s just clichés, just overdone and just boring, that you’ll be rained on by hate. (Probably a reason the remake of “Endless Love” never really left the ground)
It’s also this trick that can widen an audience. How many heads have turned lickety-split at the mention of the new Maleficent movie? Even though we know the classic ending of our Sleeping Beauty finale, there are going to be people who smush their faces against the windows of the premier. The remakes of Romeo and Juliet in film will absolutely never be out of fashion (primely because I still exist and will for a very long time).
Do Divergent and The Maze Runner not ring familiar tones of microcosm DEATHDEATHDEATH dystopias? Do they not have the strange, singled out smart aleck who just wants to save their family and friends? Do they have one-word adjectives for half the professions, factions, etcetera?
Yet who are not Dauntless try hards and Brit-spouting Glader fanatics?
In fact, just recently have I finished the first book of the Maze Runner series, which is, well, obviously The Maze Runner. I did indeed like the book very much (and am on my toes to see how the movie version turns out). Initially I had been keen to see what the latest buzz around this book was possibly about, as we all are skeptics when these things happen, and found it was indeed well deserved. The prose was set at an ideal balance, and the pace of events was practical and riveting. The characters were rock solid 3D (and often way too lovable and relatable).
But there were yet moments I was wondering when the Gladers were going to realize DUH IT’S EXTREMELY OBVIOUS and get over the hunt, and at the overdone experiment setup for the end of the world. Having the range of ethnicities was great, but British I’ve seen flap through bestsellers like bullets. And (spoiler alerrrrrt), who could not have seen our Chubs not surviving the blowout finale?
But I repeat, I liked the book. In fact, I might just have liked the book less if it had no clichés. It kept the tones and rises and falls recognizable, and familiar enough to embrace. And that’s just one of the ironic tidbits to this rampant article.
The other is that THERE IS NOTHING NEW UNDER THE SUN. I said it. From the time of the grand Canterbury tales, everything has truly been done. The only reason why we are still writing shtick is not everything has been done the SAME WAY before. For example, I haven’t seen Othello in rap, nor the Princess and the Pea story take place in fast-paced Kazakhstan. Nor have I witnessed the spinoff of Johnny Appleseed with ADHD.
And perhaps an end to the literary outpour will never be: for all you mathematic geniuses, one would know the variables and possibilities of ‘originality’ run off like crazies.
So the next time you see a cliché, remember what I’ve said and draw ye own conclusions. Would this book/movie/TV show/poetry/song (and thousands of others) have been better with or without it? Does it destroy, or, even curiously, make it better? Did it have a twist like the crazy Ala Nova claimed it would?
And please keep me updated if Hamlet hits the rap stores as well. I’d like to…I’d like to see how that works out.