Cliché Bingo

I hadn’t seen much of the first series of Downton Abbey, but since the new episodes are set in the Great War, I thought I’d take a look.

They really are whipping in the clichés.

White feathers. Self-inflicted Blighty ones. Shell-shock. Young ladies working with rough farmers.

Ah well, I thought half-way through the second episode, at least anyone hasn’t been shot at dawn yet. Then bingo!

I’m puzzled by the depiction of German marsmanship. In the first episode, several British tin hats were bobbing above the parapet with carefree abandon, and none of the Tommies came to harm. But as soon as a neurotic soldier held his cigarette lighter nervously in the air, an obliging sniper got him straight through the centre of the hand, first shot.

Soon we’re going to get a gallant rescue in No-Man’s Land, as shown in the picture. It almost did the actor’s back in.


  1. Posted September 27, 2011 at 6:24 am | Permalink

    I’ll be honest and say that even though I love the Edwardian period, Blighty, white feathers, and the like are all new to me! It may be because I’m an American, and the main war in our public conscious is the Civil War (when I think of war cliches I think of brother vs brother, one Confederate and one Yankee, or a feisty Southern belle, or spying on Jefferson Davis, lol). The result is what is seen as a cliche for English viewers, or even to WWI buffs, are merely unfamiliar tropes of the wartime genre.

    But I am curious to know when these became tropes. I downloaded an article from Google Books of an American magazine from 1919 discussing what sort of fiction the war would inspire and highlighting popular wartime fiction. We only remember the grim war narratives and fiction (Hemingway, Brittain, Remarque, etc), but perhaps contemporary popular fiction utilized these tropes, and today’s writers merely recycle them as common/familiar imagery most have of the Great War–just like most WWII pop culture uses the Nazis, the French Resistance, Churchill, Bletchley Park, and Pearl Harbor as shorthand imagery for that conflict.

  2. Posted September 28, 2011 at 6:18 am | Permalink

    The clichés have changed over time. During the War itself, the cliché of the strong silent hero fighting in mud and blood was prevalent enough to be made fun of even in the popular media that otherwise promoted it. A story that is re-told countless times is that of the woman who hands a white feather to a man, not realising that he is in fact a V.C., or an amputee, or at the very least a manly man who would like to go to war but is prevented. (The last is the case in Downton Abbey.)
    By 1930, after All Quiet on the Western Front and Journey’s End, another cliché-stereotype had triumphed – the soldier valiantly trying to cope in a War that was meaningless and futile. Private soldiers and junior officers were always let down by incompetent generals. Nobody won the War.
    In the sixties, this version of the history was reinforced by Oh What a Lovely War and the like. In the popular mind, the Second World War may have been the good war, fought for all the right reasons, but the First became a symbol of wars that were meaninglessly destructive – and a warning of what might happen if the Cold War got out of hand.
    Increasingly since then, the trope that has come to define the First World War is that of the soldier shot at dawn for cowardice. James Lansdale Hodson’s novel Return to the Wood had dealt with the subject in a complex manner, but the adaptations to stage and film were cruder and simplifying. In later treatments of the theme, the executed soldier is increasingly treated as heroic or saint-like (How Many Miles to Babylon?, A Long Long Way, and the appallingly sentimental children’s book Private Peaceful, currently being filmed).
    Downton Abbey is rushing through its storylines so fast that it does no more than nod towards these themes. We in the audience all know that the trenches were horrible, that men shot themselves to get back to Blighty, and that the cruel system executed cowards with fierce abandon, so the writer can pop in references to these, in an unexamined way, in order to add spice to the romantic entanglements that are the real subject of the drama.

  3. Posted October 31, 2011 at 7:00 am | Permalink

    A month on, and the clichés have become even more outrageous. Last week we got a bit of traumatic amnesia. This week we even got the cripple who in a moment of crisis leapt to his feet to save his girlfriend.
    Next week will be the last episode. What cliché can they be saving up to be the crowning glory of this daft series?

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