November 11, 2014

BYRNE | Meaningless Clichés and How to Use Them

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By SARAH BYRNE

My favorite cliché, and by that of course I mean my least favorite, is this: Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars. First and foremost, I take scientific issue with it. All stars are, in fact, much, much, incredibly much further than the moon from earth. But, even if we allow that the saying might be trying to communicate that if you aim wrong, you will overshoot the moon and hit a star, I take metaphorical issue with it.

What is better in this scenario, the stars or the moon? Which is the more desirable, outlandish or impossible goal? If it is the moon, then I completely agree, shoot for the moon. Try for what you know you cannot achieve so that you can achieve it. Except, who would rather have the moon than the stars? Stars are sparkly, stars are flaming spheres of gas, stars are beautiful and daring and burn out quickly but fantastically. The moon is a rock, and it’s not even perfect; it’s full of craters. Personally, I’d rather have stars.

Plus, there are multiple other clichés that contradict this idea of the moon being the most perfect of goals, most notably, “Reach for the sky” (made famous by Woody in Toy Story), because what we need cannot be found on this earth. Okay, so I know he’s just telling his prisoners to put their hands up, but there has to be a deeper meaning, right? Clearly Woody knows better than anyone else, because no other franchise has made as successful and high quality a three-quel as Toy Story 3. And what about “Wish upon a star,” of Pinocchio fame? The star is prime wishing and dreaming fodder. So, where does the moon come into the equation?

I would pose that the moon represents, in some way, the potential of mankind. After all, so much of human history has revolved around trying to understand and reach the moon. If we look at the NASA program and Space Race, billions of dollars and ridiculous amounts of manpower went into getting man to the moon. Once that was attained, we continued to reach further, for other planets, other astronomical bodies, other galaxies. Today, though we have transitioned to mainly unmanned space flights, kids still want to be astronauts. What in the world could possibly be cooler or more impactful than walking on the moon? For whatever reason, even after 1969, we still see space as the pinnacle of human achievement.

So, why not the stars? Why not the sun? Last weekend, Pippin, which I produced, was performed at the Schwartz. In the finale, the players of a troupe give Pippin a chance to fly into the sun, to burn up in one flaming, sparkling blaze and be remembered forever as great. The Leading Player sings, “Think about the sun, Pippin. Think about her golden glance. How she lights the world up, well, now it’s your chance.” In the end, Pippin chooses his life, chooses a long life of simple joy rather than a moment of fantastic sacrifice. He chooses to define success as a personal entity, and gives up in a way on the need to have that success recognized by anyone else.

Perhaps we see success as something extraterrestrial because we want glory, the sense that everything we have done matters because it is new, different, even irrational or outrageous. But if I’ve learned anything from three-going-on-four Toy Story movies, it’s that nothing lasts forever. No success is so overwhelming and all consuming that it cannot be forgotten or questioned, even the moon landing (has anyone seen Interstellar?). You might be someone’s favorite toy one day, then he might get a literal space commander for his birthday, and you’re suddenly cast aside. Outer space is amazing and crazy and cool because it’s new and unexplored, and that’s why so much media and so many silly clichés urge us to aim for it. It is what is furthest from us, what is most “other” to the world we experience on a day-to-day basis, so we imagine it is also the most desirable. Why don’t we aim for the trees? I don’t know about you, but I certainly cannot climb a tree to its apex. Yet, we know what trees are. We understand how they work. We don’t understand quite what our dreams are, or how to reach them, and so, in labeling them as planetary bodies, we label them as “other.” Our goals are mysterious even to ourselves, so we continue to shoot for the moon, shoot for the stars or want to be an astronaut when we grow up, even after NASA has discontinued manned space flights.

The moon is pretty great and all, but a couple guys have already been there. Shoot for Pluto, because even if you can’t reach it you’ll land on Uranus. And maybe you can pick yourself back up and start to dream again.

Sarah Byrne is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. She be reached at sbyrne@cornellsun.com. Let It Byrne appears alternate Wednesdays this semester.

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