Sunday, February 3, 2013

The Necessity of Clichés

As I have mentioned before, I am a fan of the BBC comedy series Rev, which follows the life of a Church of England vicar in the inner city of London. The second (and latest) series ended in a Christmas special. At one point in this Christmas episode, the titular vicar passionately proclaims (I don't have the exact words): "I refuse to make the standard Church of England speeches about Christmas being commercialised. I'm not going to make the birth of Our Lord a time of anger and denunciation". Or words to that effect.

I see the point he is making, but I disagree with him. I think it would be a sad day if people stopped complaining about the commercialization of Christmas. Our culture splurges on Christmas, but does so with a guilty conscience. I think this is a lot better than splurging without a guilty conscience.

I hope I do no wrong in saying this. I am put in mind of this verse from St. Mattew:

But what think you? A certain man had two sons; and coming to the first, he said: Son, go work today in my vineyard. And he answering, said: I will not. But afterwards, being moved with repentance, he went. And coming to the other, he said in like manner. And he answering, said: I go, Sir; and he went not. Which of the two did the father's will?

So I am not really suggesting that hypocrisy is a good thing. But is having an ideal that is higher than your practice really hypocrisy, or is it something else? It seems to me that we are really in trouble when we tailor our ideals to our behaviour.

In fact, I'm not really making any direct moral or ethical point in this post. I don't consider myself fitted for that. I am simply trying to describe the sense of regret I feel when some honest soul makes a clichéd observation, such as the observation that Christmas is too commercialized, and then some smart-aleck chimes in to point out what a cliché this is and tries to punch holes in it. I don't think that kind of clever-clogs is really doing anybody any service.

Here is a list of the kind of clichés that I think should have a privileged existence, and that should not be challenged no matter how often they are aired, or how often our actual behaviour clashes with them, or how little actual attention anybody seems to pay to them in practice. Any Socrates who decides to become a gad-fly and question these pieties should be immediately condemned to drink the hemlock.

1) Christmas is too commercialized.
2) Sport is too commercialized.
3) We should make the most of every moment.
4) We need to find time for calm and reflection in our busy lives. (It is inevitably assumed that everybody has a busy life.)
5) Little independent shops and cafés are more desirable than Starbucks and Tesco.
6) Political correctness has gone mad.
7) If you have nothing good to say, say nothing.
8) We are too focused on economics in our society.
9) Advertising presents unrealistic images of the female body, home life and lots of other things.
10) It's not the years in your life, it's the life in your years.
11) Women should have curves and not aspire to look like ten-year-old boys.
12) Art, culture, philosophy, politics etc. should be a part of everyday life and should belong to the ordinary people, not to cliques.
13) The nuclear family should never have replaced the extended family.
14) There is too much sex and violence in the movies.
15) We should be tourists in our own towns and countries.
16) We should re-read books instead of getting through a checklist of books to read.
17) Children should be allowed to enjoy their childhood and not be forced to grow up too fast.
18) Young people should be idealistic and more interested in changing the world than in advancing their careers.
19) It's not the winning that matters. It's the taking part.
20) Social networking gives us the illusion of friendship without the reality.
21) Education should make a student into a rounded human being.

Are you rolling your eyes? Well, you shouldn't.

I love all these clichés. I greet them as old friends. If I am reading a magazine and come across an opinion piece making any of these arguments, or similiar ones, I settle into it with great relish and contentment. Nor am I being ironic or tongue-in-cheek here. I think there is a kind of Jacobite heroism to their persistence in the face of such hostile reality.

Even if it makes no difference at all that people keep saying that there is too much violence in the movies, or saying that it's not the winning that matters, or saying that women shouldn't look like stick insects, I think we should keep saying all those things, and we should keep nodding respectfully when they are said, rather than just rolling our eyes. Because even the fact that they are being said makes all the difference in the world.


  1. I can't get past the daft zeds to read the rest of your list Maolsheachlann. My eyes burn at the sight of them. ;-)

  2. I apologize, and I sympathize. I hope your ize recover soon!

    There was a poor letter called zed
    That was frequently treated as dead.
    And even replaced
    In words it had graced
    With a different letter instead.

  3. You seemed like such a nice bloke!

    My other teeth grinder is when people say "same difference".

    Going to finish washing my eyes out now....

  4. I'm a zedist too. It's a letter whose number is up but I'm not going to let it go down with out a fight.

    No 15. Elaborate some time, please.

  5. Yay, another!

    Tourist in your own town: It is often observed that if a person goes to a different country or city she or he wants to "do" (horrible term) all the museums, galleries, historic sights etc. etc. whereas she or he can have lived in a city all his or her life without visiting the attractions. So before we fly off to Warsaw or St. Petersburg we should exhaust the possibilitis of where we live already. I often think people in Dublin think I'm a tourist because I actually stop to look at plaques and statues and inscriptions. Actually, they almost certainly do because I am usually lost.