Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Don't Write That Guy

From film to TV, we've all seen them: the Hollywood cliches. They're the characters that show up everywhere, even in films that are otherwise fantastic. Sometimes writers can use cliches to explore what we know about truth and culture. Sometimes it's just lazy. So James Hudnall has put together his Top 10 Cliches That Need to Die. It's surprisingly conservative actually, and overall I'm in agreement. A lot of them are just racist/stereotypical and yet somehow fly under the offensive radar. A few that have annoyed me:

3. The Evil Christian: "Christians are always shown to be hypocrites and phonies. They’re never good people. They’re exposed as pious frauds when their “true colors” are revealed. Every group of people has their bad apples. To constantly paint Christians in this way because of a few is pathetic. You want to be seen as tolerant and yet to resort to these abysmally vicious clich├ęs?"

Example: Chocolat. (The book is actually a lot worse than the movie; at least in the movie, people discover that the basis of Christianity is actually the idea that maybe we can all try to get along.)

I've always felt weird about this one, coming from a Christian background myself. How is it that Christians are always narrow-minded--isn't it narrow-minded to portray them that way? (The offshoot is #6 Pedophile Priest. The sex abuse scandal was horrifying, but I know a ton of awesome priests. How is it that none of them get recognition?)

4. The Stupid Dad/Male: "In Hollywood movies men are...almost always either buffoons, geeks or dumb jocks. Women are always smarter. Men can’t do anything without a woman telling them what to do. And fathers can’t take care of the kids. They can’t cook dinner or even be good parents. They’re always too busy to spend time with their kids, or they do idiotic things that get the family into constant trouble."

Example: Almost any commercial involving families at home.

This is a pet peeve of mine. The worst of this exists on TV, both in commercials and actual shows. In an era of supposed gender equality, why do men constantly get portrayed as idiots at home? Wouldn't it be better for everyone if guys could be portrayed as intelligent fathers/husbands/homemakers? I don't want to marry a guy who doesn't know what the toaster does.

9: Wise Trashy People: "According to Hollywood: hookers, homeless and bizarre lifestyle people are the normal ones. They know what’s 'really going on, man.' They’re just being honest. Everyone else is a freak. People who act normal are all depraved and sick. The suburbs are a place of spiritual death. The only truth lies in Bohemia."

Example: Rent.

At 14, I thought this was totally true--I had to escape suburbia. Screw you, Mom and Dad! Except looking back, it's a totally idealized life. Know what's not fun? Having no health insurance and being worried about feeding your family. Does that give you a kind of insight? Sure, but not in an idealized way. Plus, the 'wise trashy people' exist to further the internal experience of someone who's better off. They're almost never their own person, with their own concerns. Plus, it's another reason to hate Pretty Woman.

I'd also add the Manic Pixie Dream Girl to this list--perhaps a more recent development in film cliches.

I feel strangely conservative agreeing with this list. And I love Chocolat and Rent. (I don't love Pretty Woman.) But I think stereotypes are still creepy even when they're not something society deems offensive. And really, can't we come up with something more creative?