The Biggest cliché ever.
Can you, off the top, name the hugest, most prevalent movie cliché? Is it cowboys vs. indians? Underdog sports team winning the game? How about sexy, female aliens who try to dominate the world?
The hugest, most prevalent novel cliché anybody? Vampires pretending to be human? Hot lovers in France? What about the police detective who must figure out who killed his family?
In fact, it’s none of these.
The biggest cliché which occurs in books, film, comic-books and even video games is that of the super-powerful, evil Catholic Church who goes to violent lengths to keep its secrets or is secretly trying to take over the world. Scheming monks, crooked priests and greedy bishops are rife in the “creative” world. First, let’s start by saying what is so creative about them.
The idea of evil and corrupt clergy is shocking to our sensibilities. Men of God are good guys right? Thus, it is the art of contradiction and irony to portray a religious person or institution that behaves more like it serves Satan than God. In historical pics, the device shakes our perception of certain times, reminds us that the Church hasn’t always been kind, goodly or just. In modern films, it causes us to question the motivations of such “holy” persons. In itself, this isn’t a bad creative idea- if only it were not horribly exaggerated and overdone.
The merits of this theme are alternative portrayals of stock-characters, encouragement of critical thinking and ability to analyze the negative points of human systems and religions.
Now, let’s address why this can be the hugest and most-boring cliché. Let us draw from three stock characters within the “evil church”: the lusty monk, the murderous priest, the greedy bishop and wicked pope.
We all know that men sworn to celibacy can well… be horny. In real life, consecrated persons sometimes break their vows and commit rabid sins of the flesh. In movies, their romances are frequently glamorized. But must every monk linger between sanctity and carnal behavior? No. In more traditional portrayals, famous monk-characters like Friar Tuck, while having their faults, remain loyal to their avowed chastity and kick butt while doing it.
Can men of the cloth be crafty, violent and inconsiderate of human life? Heck yes! In older movies and novels, Catholic priests were men with weaknesses but good hearts. They helped the hero and sometimes played heroes. What happened? Well, upstanding priests gave way to pedophiles, assassins and downright wicked dudes who plot against everything good. However, an evil priest can make a great character if done tactfully and if his humanity is shown. Too bad single-minded knaves have replaced most of them.
The greedy bishop…ah yes. He can do wonders for plot-twists, be a formidable villain or a tyrant’s right-hand man. But why are a majority of Catholic bishops depicted in film and books so… like evil?
This comes from a sometimes rightful distrust of authority combined with lack of creativity. Granted, the occasional crooked bishop can be great for plot development, as I said earlier, but when almost every other bishop is crooked, it gets boring real quick. We now expect bishops to hoard wealth, oppress vulnerable people and plot for absolute power. The bishop who helps the poor, actually strives for justice or denounces power is so rare that should he make an appearance, things would get interesting again!
Now, a character not so foreign to real-life history: the wicked pope. Why is he so cliché? Well, who is cooler, a guy you know is corrupt and nasty who just acts corrupt and nasty- or a guy you expect to be corrupt and nasty who is a fricken soldier!
Looking at history, we pay more attention to popes like Alexander Borgia or John XII and we often ignore popes who would make better, far-more-awesome characters like Leo I and John XXIII. For so long, we have lacked the creativity to portray powerful people who triumph over evil in spite of their weaknesses. The book and movie world are starving for it! When creating a character who is pope, research the history, the good, bad and ugly and draw inspiration from someone unexpected and heroic. This will do your story numerous favors.
Earlier, I described what was creative and positive about all this. Now, I will say what is cliché and negative. First of all, the Catholic religion is so often portrayed as scheming, evil and power-hungry that we don’t even know what it’s all about in the first place! Do we even understand that this 2,000-year-old institution is centered on the death and proclaimed resurrection of one Jesus of Nazareth? Do we acknowledge that it brought us the New Testament Scriptures, a path to salvation and to the Living God, countless hospitals and charities, a foundation for all Christian theology and some of the greatest artwork known to man?
We know about the corruption and villainy within Catholicism and that’s precisely why it bores us. We’ve heard about countless wrongdoings, inquisitions and crusades. We know! If any organization is to be depicted as most-evil, it would be the Catholic Church and if any organization would be depicted as most-good, it’ll be the Catholic Church. Let the loyal monk, the righteous priest, the generous bishop and the goodly pope make a comeback. History is full of the adventures and trials of the saints and they make for very good films and books. We have only to break from the clichés and put our best foot forward!