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Prologue

Once upon a time, a young man found himself in a peculiar position: Summoned before a group of space aliens, (which would've been peculiar enough in itself,) he'd been asked to justify the worth of the human race by demonstrating some innate uniqueness to our culture. Or, as the aliens put it: "Tell us one original story from the history mankind."

Thus far, the young man had failed. The great tales of human history - epic wars, royal succession, revolutions, discoveries - were, it seemed, not at all dissimilar from the great tales of a million other worlds... even the stories he'd misremembered or mistold.

Then, he had an idea: Tell them a story from his own life - an experience wholly his and no one else's; the story of his first kiss. Abby Gingerson. 9th Grade. He recalled the experience beat-for-beat to his extraterrestrial interrogators, dwelling on every nuance and minor detail, the tiniest pieces of information forever burned into his memory - one of the most personal and meaningful of all his experiences. Surely this was a story they had never heard.

But the aliens simply shook their heads. "We've heard six billion exactly like it," said one.

Now the young man was angry. They could dismiss human history, if they wished, but they would not speak ill of his memories of Abby. Abby, the most interesting girl he'd known. Abby, who played the guitar (perhaps not well, but with great earnest.) Abby, who'd dreamed of becoming an animal photographer. They had not encountered six billion of her. She was original. She was special. And these purple-skinned, three-eyed bastards were going to acknowledge it.

"Don't be angry," said another alien. "We've simply been cataloguing for a long time, there's nothing we've not heard. This 'Abby,' for example, is a textbook example of what we would index as 'Female-Type 447.3-B.' Also sometimes called a 'Kl'Bo,' after a character in our popular-fiction who epitomizes the type."

"Female-Type 447.3-B kisses Male Type 6792.1-G in Romantic Scenario F-12. That's all it is, really," concluded another.

The young man would not have it. "What about the details?" he demanded. The fireworks that had exploded above them, celebrating a holiday only recognized in their small town. The one-of-a-kind aftertaste of Abby's grape lollipop and root-beer flavored lip gloss that lingered after all these years. They'd heard those before, too?

"Such minor differences need not register," sneered the first alien. "The broad outline of your story is the broad outline of six billion others. Thusly, there is nothing meaningful or significant about it at all - nor your species or planet, for that matter."

The young man had no reply.

*****
Used to be, the only people who regularly used the word "cliché" were critics and professors. After all, it was their job to absorb more of their chosen fixation than ordinary people did, so of course recurring themes would be more noticeable. In fact, for a long time this was the key difference separating the Film Critic from the Moviegoing Public.

As a critic, I see a lot of movies - often multiple films in a day, multiple days a week. And that's just at theaters; I see even more at home. In fact, on average I'd say I see at least one new-to-me movie every other day, and that's probably lowballing it. Most people, I'm well aware, don't consume movies this way. The majority of the public maybe sees a new movie each week, and maybe a handful at theaters.

As such, our perception of freshness in plot points and character turns is going to be radically different. When I say "so-and-so is a cliché," it's informed by having seen dozens - perhaps hundreds- of the same basic ideas play out many times before. You, on the other hand, may only have seen it once or twice before, or even never. Perhaps you're young, or have spent years in a coma, and thus will be genuinely shocked when Kate Hudson decides she'd be better off with that goofy but lovable blue-collar fella than that snooty rich guy she was all set to marry at the beginning.

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