Monday, January 11, 2010

Defining Definitions: Cliché

Note: I'm not entirely sure that this has a "so what" factor.  You have been warned.
Cliché: a saying, expression, idea, or element of an artistic work which has been overused to the point of losing its original meaning or effect rendering it a stereotype, especially when at some earlier time it was considered meaningful or novel. (Wikipedia.)
Studying literature in college, it was drummed into my head that clichés were BAD BAD BAD.  In fact, it was often pointed out that phrases that were original when, say, Shakespeare wrote them have now deteriorated in value to the point of complete banality which were to be avoided at all costs, especially since brevity is the soul of wit.  I've recently come to the conclusion, however, that some examples of clichés (in this case as plot devices and story lines) are acceptable while others will continue to make moving into a cave and becoming a hermit sound appealing. 

An example of the latter would be The Proposal (2009), directed by Anne Fletcher and starring Saundra Bullock and Ryan Reynolds.  Here's the thing--romantic comedies tend to be cliche by their very existence, and while we can definitely argue about what this says about American cinematography, let's just accept that there are some romantic comedies which manage to be cliché and entertaining.  The Proposal, for those of you who haven't seen it, was not one such film as it seemed to be a grab bag of clichéd lines clumsily stitched together and delivered with an utter lack of conviction.

Another film which could (and has--and should, no matter what anyone says) be called cliché is James Cameron's Avatar, in theatres now.  The storyline is strikingly familiar for anyone who has ever seen Ferngully, Pocohontas, or Dances with Wolves.  Luckly for Cameron, however, the general quality of the rest of the film iss superb enough to make viewing the film in 3-D an Experience-with-a-capital-E rather than an eye-rollingly bad attempt at one more white-man-saves-the-day-and-preserves-a-dying-culture movie.

Therefore, I'm not coming down on either side of the yea-or-nay cliché fence.  I've liked movies and books and songs that contained clichés, as long as those clichés flowed seamlessly with the better qualities of the movies and books and songs.


Homero said...

I'm with you on your last two lines. I've enjoyed some cliche ridden books and movies. None that stick out in my mind at the moment, but I know I have.

Good to see you blogging again. My employment status at work has changed, so I now spend a lot of time sitting in the computer lab reading.

Lindsay-with-an-A said...

Especially with specific genres like scifi or fantasy which have specific tropes or plot devices occur over and over again. Brandon Sanderson's ELANTRIS was kind of cliched (ok, really cliched), but I still loved reading it.

Daniele said...

Nathan has been calling Avatar "Dances with Blue People" He still loved it though.

Lindsay-with-an-A said...

That's both funny and accurate. I really enjoyed the movie, but I can also acknowledge that it was nothing new.

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