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Are You Cheesy?

W. Victoria Lee

If I were to ask you if you consider yourself “cheesy,” what would you say? You’d probably say no, pointing out that you don’t listen to the boy-band love songs over and over again until you know all the words and also that you don’t use up a boxful of tissues crying while watching formulaic romantic dramas. But do you? Are you cheesy but just too embarrassed to admit it? Being cheesy might not be as bad as you think.

People generally associate the word “cheesy” with the words “lame,” “cheap,” and “clichÉ.” But more often, people just use the word to label anything they deem over-sentimental, sappy, or maudlin. Besides referring to anything made out of cheese, the word can also be used to describe anything inferior or shoddy. Indeed, when we say a song or a movie is cheesy, we don’t only accuse it of the crime of being overused and commonplace; we despise it for being downright inferior.

Have you ever noticed that the usual victims of this derogatory term are always associated with love and similar sentiments, be they prosaic “boy-loves-girl” ballads or corny “mom-loves-kid” movies? Are these really worse than song lyrics rife with foul language and movies with either bullets and blood flying across the screen or supernatural beings harassing the earthlings?

We seem to be more accepting of badly written songs, movies, or books when they refrain from sentimental themes. We might not like them, but we don’t label them “cheesy.” Although there are just as many mediocre or even substandard songs, movies, and books as there are cheesy ones, as long as they’re about something novel or even strange, we’re willing to give them a try. Academy Award winners and top five box office leaders also generally have unusual themes and plots. Many explore social problems, historical events, or human psychology. The acclamations are often well deserved and rightfully given, but you just won’t easily find a simple love story or family-oriented movie at the top of the list.

On the contrary, as soon as a song, movie, or book is branded cheesy, most people quarantine it because touching them will spread the disease of sentimentality. With so many almost identical boy bands singing the same love songs, and so many movies featuring star-crossed lovers who face numerous obstacles yet still end up together, I don’t blame the public for tagging every sentiment-related creation “cheesy.” But why are we so afraid of being moved or touched in the first place? Why do we openly praise songs and books for their exploration of human anger and madness but hide our faces when our tears drop from a sad movie in the theater, afraid that our friends will laugh?

One common argument is that tear-inducing movies, books, etc. are cheesy because they are usually impractical and unrealistic. In a world where only the fittest survive, we don’t have the time or the energy to deal with soft emotions. Under the pressure of competition, we all strive to be the only one to withstand all struggles and remain dry-eyed no matter how tough it gets. During the transformation into invincible beings, we build an armor around ourselves. Obstacles that come our way are deflected, leaving at most a dent behind. But when something comes right through the steel and touches our heart, we recoil as if electrically shocked.

It is far easier to systematically call cheesy anything that has even the slightest possibility of moving us than it is to separate those that are truly mawkish from those that can truly touch us. Besides, we don’t really need much sentiment to make it in the world, so why bother?

We are not just amalgamations of determination, intellect, and drives; we are multi-faceted beings, and life would be much more exciting if we could enjoy all sorts of emotions. So next time you are asked if you are cheesy, answer “yes, I am cheesy, but only just enough!”