Sunday, June 2, 2013

I Always Think About the Dropped Groceries...Do You?

(Crash) "The aliens landed WHERE??! / WHO'S in the hospital??! / I won a WHAT???"

There is a trope I've noticed in both film and literature over the years, where startling news is told to someone holding a full, brown paper grocery bag (usually in their driveway, or on their front porch) which is inevitably dropped, and the resulting mess is completely forgotten in order for this person to sob/scream/run from the zombies. I assume this is supposed to be fully understandable in the moment, but I've never been completely convinced. I realize it's just storytelling shorthand: for a character to be SO SHOCKED by a piece of news that he-or-she drops what they're holding--well, that is some serious effin' news. However, this device always brings me out of the story, just like seeing a pair of lovers emerge from bed in the morning wearing underwear after a night of heedless sex breaks the Third Wall. There is something disingenuous about a film or book character--often one who is not wealthy--dropping what amounts to $60-80 on the ground ('cos it's always milk & eggs & orange juice, plus a few items in glass jars, then loose leafy greens and a whole uncooked chicken) and not looking back or commenting on the grocery carnage before moving on with the story. I myself have thankfully never been approached with devastating news while holding groceries, but I do have insight as to the morning-after-underwear issue (although we shan't go into that here).

 One of my very favorite moments of the delightful Janeane Garofalo film "The Truth About Cats & Dogs" is when her character, veterinarian Abby Barnes, faced with a surprise stressful visitor/situation at home, responds by grabbing a hairbrush and running it through her hair for a few beats while she thinks of what to do next. Almost exactly ten years ago, I did much the same thing when a fire broke out in my apartment building--in the middle of the night, I opened my front door to a wall of black curling smoke, then absent-mindedly brushed my hair while weighing my escape options. It was a ridiculous thing to do, but I was faced with either braving the black smoke of my apartment hallway or jumping out of my third-floor window onto the parking garage roof below and hoping I didn't break one or more legs in the process.To go--within the space of two minutes--from being sound asleep to possibly dying years before my parents was a bit much for my delicate mind, and the hairbrush was handily in reach. I ended up crawling out into that black hallway smoke, and down the nearby stairs to the lobby and safety. Well, then I was homeless for a week, but that's another blog post...

What I'm trying to convey is that I would love--LOVE--for a film/book character to put the groceries safely down--or even neatly away!--before losing it over whatever news they've received. Because that just seems more real--you'd be in denial for a minute or two after terrible news, so putting the groceries down/away would be the most natural thing in the world. I will always consider THAT the more realistic response, rather than dropping everything and running. And don't get me started on characters who lose their appetite upon hearing bad news, that's a whole other blog post....

Am I the only one who's noticed the dropped groceries thing?? Or have any of you readers, as well? Write in, comment, SHARE!!!


  1. I love this, Paullette! We talk so much about eradicating verbal cliches, but we really don't spend enough time looking at these bits of shorthand that are used over and over. I will now watch much more carefully for this sort of thing. And I love The Truth About Cats and Dogs too!

  2. Thanks for weighing in, Isla! Roger Ebert used to have a sidebar on his website where readers could submit humorous movie cliches, like how answering machines / audio tapes are always cued to the exact pertinent segment, or how a solitary character, finding something unusual, will always say OUT LOUD: "What the...??" before chaos ensues. Over the years this sidebar got a little nit-picky/too specific to be generally applicable, but its underlying spirit remained: are cliches perpetuated because they're true, or because they're cliches? A recent Kill entry discussed how Miranda Rights aren't *really* given to criminals directly upon arrest, but since we've seen that on so many films / tv shows, to do it the "right" way would now ring false to readers / viewers. I think tropes are just something to be aware of, as well as providing an opportunity for change. And YES, "The Truth About Cats and Dogs" rules!!!