So Cliché

(Sony Pictures Classics via AP)

I’ve always loved puzzles. My mother and I used to do puzzles together for hours and hours when I was a child. She is still an avid puzzler to this day. I have always enjoyed the process of putting the full picture together. It’s a ritual of sorts – flip all the pieces to the right side, find the edges, build out from there. I guess I enjoy finding the clues for the next step, the trial and error, and also the immense satisfaction of being able  to sit back and view the completed work. I put all the pieces together; I formed this image with clues and cleverness and it makes me feel smart.

I guess that’s why I love mysteries and crime when it comes to my entertainment. It’s the same concept – a puzzle with many pieces, and I, the viewer, am called to observe the clues and assemble the picture. Unlike with puzzles, if I end up not being able to complete the picture myself, it’s actually a great delight. It means the writers have been clever enough to keep me guessing. Such fun!

Which is why ‘woke’ Hollywood is such a drag these days. It’s a real bummer, because I feel like I’ve been writing this same column for fifteen years now, and here I am writing it again. But it needs to be said. Hollywood’s ‘wokeness’ is a big problem for creativity.

Don’t get me wrong. I get very annoyed by the political leanings and influence of our entertainment sector. It certainly rubs me the wrong way to have my beliefs and politics insulted while I’m just trying to relax and enjoy a good show at the end of the day. I do get cranky about it, but I also recognize that the people who make these shows don’t always think like I do. Also, I love entertainment. I’m an actress by trade, something I had to put down to raise a family (which is what led me to writing), and I’ve dipped my toe in the industry from time to time. I’ve had the privilege of doing some work with The Babylon Bee lately, which is as fun as it looks. I love the business of entertaining.

I’m willing to accept some liberal stereotyping if a show is good enough. Creativity beats politics every time. Give me something that’s interesting and the annoyances are easily overlooked. I don’t need anyone to cater to my politics, I just want to be entertained…but that’s the problem these days. Hollywood is so obsessed with messaging that entertainment has become a secondary thought. Perhaps the most tragically affected genre has been the murder mystery/suspense thriller.

Scenario: Someone has set fire to a local butcher shop. There are three suspects – a gay PETA activist, a “person of color” with a criminal record, and a white, Christian pastor. Who done it?

You and I already know before it even begins. It’s the pastor. Always the pastor. Without fail, the pastor. I don’t even care that my faith is insulted by such a plot line. Jesus can handle it. My sense of discovery is what is offended most. I’m not allowed to enjoy any kind of journey. Without fail, it will be the person who most exemplifies “traditional America” in the minds of the writers.


Actor Rainn Wilson (The Office) said as much recently on Twitter. An episode of HBO’s post-apocalyptic hit ‘The Last of Us’ featured a bible-quoting pastor who is gentle and peaceful and also a tyrannical cannibal.

“I do think there is an anti-Christian bias in Hollywood,” tweeted Wilson. “As soon as the David character in “The Last of Us” started reading from the Bible I knew that he was going to be a horrific villain. Could there be a Bible-reading preacher on a show who is actually loving and kind?”

Don’t get too excited. Once Fox News picked up his remarks he had to play the walk-back game for a bit, making sure everyone knew that obviously Some Christians are bigots and homophobes and Some Christians are divisive and the America that watches Faux News is problematic. Still, the truth of his original sentiment stands as obvious.

It feels like the writers of that episode, and so many like it, are going for irony, but it barely qualifies as ironic these days. In fact, it is nothing but predictable and cliché. In modern entertainment culture, the viewer is never trusted to come to their own conclusions, or make their own way through a story. If that happens, we might come away with the wrong idea. If the white, male pastor isn’t the bad guy, we may think white male pastors are good guys. If the Muslim immigrant is the murderer, we might think all Muslim immigrants are murderers. If someone who reads the Bible is kind, we might think everyone who reads the Bible is kind.

They treat us as stupid, and that’s what so much of their work turns out to be…stupid.

Girl throws up? She’s pregnant.

That straight white couple with all the marital problems and the chaotic family life? They live right next door to the perfect gay couple with the stay-at-home dad.

The white, male boss at the company? He’s incapable and a raging misogynist.

That white suburban mom? She’s a racist with a shockingly large collection of cardigans.

That Christian couple? They’ve got a sex kink.


Except none of it is. I can’t remember a time when it was shocking, but perhaps pre-9/11 we were still being a bit more creative. That terrible event set us on the “Religion of Peace” path and we’ve not been able to deviate from the script since. In my estimation, anyway. Hollywood spent so much time trying to prove they weren’t bigots, that they surrendered the story to the message.

Don’t give me an airplane thriller that asks me to decide who is the covert terrorist – the immigrant Muslim or the bland white guy. It’s going to be the white guy. I don’t even get the pleasure of supposing it could be anyone else for even a second. They might write some red herrings into the script, but they’re never clever enough to beat the cliché.

I can’t tell you how many shows I’ve turned off because the writers have given me a binary choice and I know from the get-go that they are not allowed to deviate from The Message™.

It’s just all so cliché and I am bored to death and I think most Americans are too. That is why we respond so passionately to shows and films that leave behind The Message™ and choose story over cliché. We are starving for story. We are begging to be surprised. Not everything has to be SO DAMN CLICHÉ ALL THE TIME.

I don’t need Hollywood to love Jesus (although that would be nice) or “be nice” to Christians. I need them to give me puzzles and then invite me to solve them. It’s not a whole lot of fun when you open the box in anticipation, only to find the picture has already been pieced together for you and it’s exactly the same as the last one.

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