What’s the worst cliché?

A topic dear to me: How do you avoid making a cliché? It’s a sweet post on a fascinating idea:

[Not resorting to cliché] usually means telling a specific, dynamic story. The other is to discover or conceive of a subject that hasn’t been trampled to stereotype. Do both and you’re a genius.

It’s something I think about a lot in my work and my hobbies, heck, even in my blog posts. As a hobbyist photographer, when I snap a photo I try to think of a perspective other people may not have – not the easiest thing to do when you’re at a frequently-touristed site. As a writer, I recognize the impulse to rely on a cliché as my laziness manifest.

The blog post I linked above talks about visual clichés in photography, and boy there are a lot of them. Just think of bad stock photography: The bespoke-besuited-businessman–arms crossed. (That’s how you know he Means Business.) The comely, smiling customer service rep on the phone. (That’s how you know We Mean Service.) Or my favorite from my B2B journalism days, the multi-ethnic handshake.

It made me think of an avant-garde film class I was lucky enough to take at UMass Amherst back in the day. While in that class, the professor (Prof. Levine) wanted to make sure we students understood a bit of the avant-garde film mindset, especially when watching and deconstructing more mainstream movies and then trying to film our own avant-garde film shorts.

And one of the comments he made after we had a class film critique was something like (paraphrasing as my memory allows here): “There is nothing more cliché in this world than a sunset.”

He didn’t mean just in film – he meant in real life. Pretty colors, Nature, but I’ve seen it before. Basically. And I was struck by this comment at the time, so much so that I remember it today, because it was unabashedly cynical and completely true.

I look back on the photos I’ve taken and the sunsets I’ve seen and while they each have meaning and depth for me, I realize to anyone else it’s all a lot of cliché-sameness. Observe, and try not to yawn:

Sunset at PIC
Sunset @ the Pacific Island Club, Saipan, CNMI USA 2010
march 26 & 27 033
Sunset @ Jardin de Luxembourg, Paris, France 2006
Ikebukuro west at sunset
Sunset @ Ikebukuro west, Tokyo, Japan 2008
Greece 2010
Sunset @ Methoni, Greece 2010

Yeah. I mean, as much as these photos really do mean to me – great memories associated with each, I could blather on and on about the story behind each of them (but I won’t, and you’re welcome) – but seriously, if you spent more than 1 second looking at all of them you were being generous.

Of course this got me thinking about cliché in everything. Cliché in movie trailers (*deep voice* “In a world…”), cliché in writing – specifically in my daily life, cliché in business. We all think our product and our services are the best ever but business writing mired in Ye Olde Business Promise Clichés convinces no one that you’re worth real consideration. Especially when you rely on meaning-empty jargon, like these gems:

  • “Best-in-class” (or, weirdly to me, “best-in-breed”)
  • “Leading provider of” [anything]
  • [Convoluted bloated description] “solution” or “space”
  • [Business-y noun] management — or — I’m looking at my fellow social media nerds here — [target audience descriptor] engagement

Seriously, whenever one of those phrases appears on a corporate website, you might as well replace it with a picture cross-armed businessman at sunset. It’s about as meaningful.