Tuesday, June 15, 2010

I will NOT be there for you, nor do I want you to be there for me.

I swear.  There is one trite, annoying, meaningless, banal, cliche, hackneyed phrase that English speakers and writers rely upon to express the concept of emotional support that I believe has lost all meaning, if it ever had any to begin with.  It is "is there for [personal pronoun]," as in "he is always there for me," or "my mother was never there for me," or "What the hell do you want from me? I just want you to be there for me."

Maybe the long-lasting sit-com Friends started it 16 years ago, giving U.S. popularity to the catchy but lyrically lame song by The Rembrandts, "I'll Be There for You."

I'll be there for you
When the rain starts to pour
I'll be there for you
Like I've been there before
I'll be there for you
'Cuz you're there for me too...

But it's not just a sitcom theme song.  It's all over pop music:

Wyclef Jean, in Class Reunion:  

Baby girl, the world is yours, just look through
That open door, I'll be there for you
If you ever feeling blue (oh), it's a beautiful world

Until the end of time
I'll be there for you.
You own my heart and mind
I truly adore you.

Bon Jovi succumbed to the allure of the cliche, with "I'll Be There for You"

I'll be there for you
These five words I swear to you
When you breathe I want to be the air for you
I'll be there for you
I'd live and I'd die for you
Steal the sun from the sky for you
Words can't say what a love can do
I'll be there for you

It's all over TV and movie dialogue, all over eavesdropped conversations on the El. It has become the catchphrase of a generation, and it makes me want to puke.  (Although I do kind of like the Bon Jovi song, in spite of the hated phrase.)

When I was teaching freshman composition, I gave my students the assignment of writing an essay on a person they admired.  The phrase "she was always there for me," or some variation, showed up more times than the word maverick in a Sarah Palin speech.  I made my students rewrite their essays without using that phrase even once--and they complained like I asked them to make their own ink out of mangos and Elmer's Glue.  But when those essays came back, the students instead discovered creative and thoughtful language, images and illustrations to convey the love and support they received from their admired one.

"She stayed up listening to me until 2 a.m. the night my boyfriend broke up with me," one girl wrote about her mother.  Another wrote about her best friend, "She's a great listener, and she lets me borrow her clothes, even after I got a stain on her sweater."  See what I mean?  Specific, meaningful illustrations that put a clear picture in your head of what the speakers/writers appreciate in their friends.

Here's my challenge to you, my readers, who are clearly smarter and more talented than all the rest:  Count how many times you hear or read this phrase in a week--on TV, in music, from your friends and colleagues.  I heard it six times the other day on TV and in the grocery store.  In one day! 

Each time you hear it, ask yourself if the phrase gives you a clear sense of what the person means when he uses it, or if he could use more specific and descriptive language to communicate more effectively.  And then take the pledge to rid the English-speaking world of this phrase which is the zucchini of language--it's all over the place, and virtually tasteless.


Boy George said...

Nice post, E. (I tried to come up with an original way of saying that, but couldn't. So sue me. Oops, used another cliche. I'm hopeless, I guess.)

Loved your zucchini analogy, too!

jeanie said...

Wow E. I can't believe I read your blog today. A dear friend of mine got some difficult news and as I was thinking about how I could "be there" for her, I remembered what was said of the rescue workers running into those burning buildings during 9/11. While everyone else was running out these brave people were running in. I called my friend and told her that I wanted to be like those rescue workers during 9/11, I wanted to run toward her. We both cried. I hope I can live up to the example set by those brave men and women on that tragic day.

E. Peevie said...

Boy--Yes, hopeless. But thanks.

Jeanie--beautiful sentiment, beautiful way to express it. I'll bet that meant more to your friend than if you had said, "I want to be there for you," because your words painted a picture of sacrificial love that the cliche just doesn't communicate.

And yes, me too--I will never stop admiring and being grateful for those heroes on that Infamous Day.

M said...

"What do you WANT from me?"

"I'll tell you what I want, what I really really want,
So tell me what you want, what you really really want, I wanna, I wanna, I wanna, I wanna, I wanna really really really wanna zigazig ha. "

E. Peevie said...


Ah. Profound. And contemporary. Excellent.