That’s So Cheesy!

Brie cheese, Sharp Cheese, sentimentalI applaud Patty Jenkins, the director of the well-reviewed Wonder Woman movie, and her response to a question in a Time magazine interview, “Why have you banned the word cheesy?”

“When artists, who are supposed to speak freely, are afraid to be earnest and do beauty and sincerity, you’ve got a serious problem on your hands. Cheesy makes people afraid to be emotional. And I won’t have it..” Jenkins declared. (Time, 6/26/17, B. Luscombe)

I won’t either, Patty. Since when did sentimentality and heartfelt emotion become “cheesy”?

A cheesy photo of great-grandmom and great-grandson.

I looked up the word Cheesy in the Oxford Learner’s Dictionary:

  1. (informal) not very good or original, and without style, in a way that is embarrassing but amusing:  a cheesy horror movie.
  2. (informal) too emotional or romantic, in a way that is embarrassing: a cheesy love song, a cheesy romance novel
  3. (of a smile) done in an exaggerated and probably not sincere way:  She had a cheesy grin on her face.
  4. smelling or tasting of cheese

Cheesy way to say HAPPY ANNIVERSARY to my guy today.

Many times in my Creative Writing classes, an adult student writes a beautiful non-fiction piece about a mother, or a spouse, or a child that seeps in gratefulness and love. That student then downgrades her story by saying, “but it’s too cheesy.”

“What makes it cheesy?” I ask.

“Well, it’s sentimental. There’s nothing edgy in it, or dark, or negative.”

Starfish Dance Studio, dancing, yoga

Cheesy friends frolic in dance class.

Aha. So if we write/photograph/draw/paint/dance out of a joyful or inspired or thankful or heart-felt emotion, then that creative piece is …. Cheesy? If we write about deep love or intense romance or extraordinary friendship, that’s . . . Cheesy?

Well, bring on the cheese.

golden retriever, boating, Martha's Vineyard

Cheesy photo of a man and his dog.

I celebrate sentimentality.

According to Wikipedia, “Sentimentality originally indicated the reliance on feelings as a guide to truth, but current usage defines it as an appeal to shallow, uncomplicated emotions at the expense of reason.”

husking corn, summertime, fresh corn

Summertime sap – husking corn lesson.

Call me old-fashioned,  but I like using my heart as a guide to truth.

In my Thesaurus, sentimentality is called: mawkishness, soppiness, schmaltziness and sappiness.

I say, BRING ON THE SAP!

Ocean City NJ, summertime fun, the beach

Syrupy sweet photo of summertime at the beach.

Without sap,  we’d have no luscious syrup to spread on our dry pancakes or waffles.

Sappy syrup sweetens up what could be dull and tasteless.

What about you? Do you like your creative spirit sweetened, or dulled into political non-emotional correctness?

Is that a cheesy question?  

Happy Sappy 4th of July Firework Fun to you all!

105 thoughts on “That’s So Cheesy!

  1. Well, you know me well enough by now. Cheesy it is then. Bring on all the syrup , emotional in-correctness, soft feelings, sad feelings. Let us share them and be proud to be true.
    It is nothing intelligent about hiding yourself behind a shield.
    Miriam

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  2. Cheesy it is—but then I’ve always loved cheese! I’m so tired of dark and edgy. I gladly count myself among all the other fun-loving cheese puffs in writer land. If we don’t carry the banner forward and write true emotional feelings, what will readers have to look forward to in a hundred years?

    Loved the photos, thanks for sharing. 🙂

    MaryJ

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  3. Cheesy is a very American word isn’t it? I did not grow up with that word and I only associate it with extreme sap. Not with sentimentality which I am all for… For example that photo of great grandma and great grandson, to me, is just so lovely!! Perhaps the key to it all is in the very definition…. if it makes you feel embarrassed or you cringe, then it is justifiably cheesy.

    Peta

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    • Good point, Peta. Perhaps ‘cheesy’ is just an American idiom. And I agree with you totally, We all can get sick if we eat TOO much cheese (or if something is above-the-top cheesy). But UP with sentimentality – the new age reaction against all the negative ‘stuff’ out there. ❤

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    • A cracker is rather dry without the cheese, Arlene. Of course, we’re not talking about ‘stinky’ cheese or the kind that sticks to the roof of our mouth. We’re talking about lovely ‘cheese’ that allows us all to respond emotionally to “life.” Many thanks for reading my cheesy post! 🙂

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  4. Interesting angle here, Pam. I’m a big believer in the use of emotion, the power of heartfelt, deep emotion to guide us to our Truth. But (yes, But), too often I find emotion (the big five come to mind: mad, glad, sad, afraid, and hurt) offered as a token without the work, without the heart that is needed. That, to me, is the downside of sentimentality. It’s superficial. Easy. And, yes, syrupy. So yes I’m all for emotion as a way to knowledge. It’s out body’s way of talking to us. But I want it to be backed up with the work, the effort or energy that makes it, for me, real. I love the photos you used. In them I see connection, love, joy … all the things that make life worthwhile.

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    • Thank you for your strong and thoughtful comment, Janet. Of course I wrote this piece a bit tongue in cheek. I don’t appreciate stories that are so sappy sweet that there unrealistic. On the other hand, I don’t think we should be afraid to read or write stories that show the true depth of feelings, whether they are feelings of happiness or fear or joy or pain. It’s all part of the human connection to ourselves and to our inner being. I’m surprised but really grateful that this post has created some good discussion here. Of course in a lot of ways it kind of depends on a reader’s perspective. Some people only like dark edgy even violent stories. Some people only like really sweet romance stories. Personally I don’t like either. But I do like strong stories that don’t skip on the wonder and pain and joy of ‘life.’ 🙏🌼

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  5. Happy Anniversary, Pam! (Another bond–we were married the same week.) 🙂

    I assume you weren’t being serious with: “Do you like your creative spirit sweetened, or dulled into political non-emotional correctness?” Because, surely that is not the only choice?
    Something can be sentimental, but still have a message–for example, “It’s a Wonderful Life.” I think most of the books I read and most of the movies I watch are not sentimental, but they are not “dulled into political non-emotional correctness either.” I think most of them are creative and emotional, but not dull, but definitely not sentimental or “cheesy.”
    I agree with Janet’s comment.
    The good thing is that we have a choice in what we read, watch, or write!

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    • And happy anniversary to you two also! Hope you’ve had a wonderful week of celebrating. And yes, Merril, I think you and I are definitely on the same page as far as writing and the intensity and emotion we both put into our poetry (you especially), and our prose. I oversimplified in my post here just to make a point. And in a good way that got a lot of response and discussion here! Yes, I do think there is a great middle ground between too sappy sweet and too politically correctly dry and non- emotional. But I really enjoyed Patty Jenkin’s quote, above, and I hope it gives us all pause to realize that being sentimental and expressing our emotions does not necessarily make us “cheesy.” 🧀😏💚

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  6. I think you make the right points here! There’s nothing wrong with being sentimental. I think people label it cheesy because it embarrasses them to see, hear or read it. But you are right, the good stuff is in the sentimental moments and thoughts.

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    • Thank you thank you for understanding my point here. And for agreeing with it! Bring on the cheese if it means we can stop being afraid of writing emotionally about the glories and challenges of “life.” 🧀😊💚

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    • EXACTLY MY POINT, Andrea. Thank you so much for ‘getting’ what I’m saying with a bit of hyperbole. Using some sentimentality (or cheese) in a piece of art/writing is just a part of life that shouldn’t be discounted or put down. Big hug and Happy July!

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  7. Sure beats the division and violence that is depicted in many movies and TV programs. That’s not entertainment for me. I much prefer watching and reading something that makes me feel good.
    Happy Anniversary, Pam!

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  8. I thought cheesy meant cheap. Now that I know more, I’m happy to say that I like a bit of cheesy-ness in my life. Have a great 4th of July, make it a cheesy one. 🙂

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  9. I have not heard this word ‘cheesy’ much…it seems alien to me but I have always respected emotions, sentiments, feelings as they are innate…we are born with them. Whatever words we use to let them flow is immaterial.
    Happy Anniversary to both of you Pam…nothing can be more blissful than being together! Stay blessed! 🙂

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  10. I agree–honest emotion makes us human, not “cheesy.” Cynicism and irony became a cultural attitude that supposedly marked sophistication. It’s a trend that grew and grew began in the late 1950’s among the intellectual elite, and then began waning in the late 1990’s–influenced by David Foster Wallace (Infinite Jest), who wrote, ““What passes for hip cynical transcendence of sentiment is really some kind of fear of being really human, since to be really human […] is probably to be unavoidably sentimental and naïve and goo-prone and generally pathetic.”

    A balance between emotion and reason is best, I think. And many people are weary of cynicism, as it offers no hope or redemption! It’s nihilistic and leads only to despair, which is blatantly unhealthy.

    Well said, Joan!

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    • Thank you for introducing me to David Foster Wallace, Tracey. “The fear of being fully human.” Yes yes. That pretty much sums up what cheesy, overly sentimental, and maudlin have meant for me. I have watched a family member live at this level and perhaps that’s why I react so strongly to the idea of giving it an elevated level of importance.

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    • Hi Tracy – What a wonderful David Foster Wallace quote. An excellent example of what I try to say here in a rather oversimplified way. Thank you so much for sharing the quote and your perfect comment that ‘a balance between emotion and reason is best.’ ❤

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  11. Agree that sentiment has its place and should be defended from the cynics and pseudo intellectuals of this world. That said, for me it is like sugar: a little goes a long way. A too-sweet story just like an overly sweetened treat will send me into sugar shock. So let’s embrace sentiment but go lightly on the dosing. My two cents!

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  12. The change in the meaning of sentimentality was the most interesting to me. I, too, am often led by the heart and I like it that way. (I know a few politicians who could use a little sentimentality!). Cheesy? I always think of that as an over-cooked cliche that actually lacks genuine sentimentality – like the fake smile. A cliched or scripted romance scene with no genuine emotional tug comes off as cheesy, I think. Makes me think of the posturing and swooning in old movies. Cheesy! Ha ha.

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  13. I am sending good wishes and congratulations to you and your husband for a happy anniversary. May it be filled with cheese and lots of sappiness and sentimentality. I love cheesy. Life for me would not exist if I were not a cheesy person. 🙂

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  14. Cheesy has it’s place in the world. What’s one man’s cheesy is someone else’s dying declaration of love and that can’t be missed as it might be all someone has to hang on too.
    xxx Huge Hugs xxx

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    • WISE AS ALWAYS, David. And someone who’s afraid of cheese doesn’t know what he’s missing, yes? Here’s to dying declarations of love that last a lifetime — and beyond. And you know I know what you’re talking about. Special hugs to you my friend. xoxoxoxoxoxxo

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  15. No, there’s a difference. I love sentimentality, sincerity, gentle thoughts expressed with real feeling. Hell, I’ll even accept a bit of romance. But ‘cheesy’ is insincere, a forced smile, weasel words to please. (I think you and your commenters agree.)

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  16. To me, “cheesy” means insincere sentimentality and manipulative emotion. As long as it is genuine, I think feelings and emotions absolutely belong in our writing, whether happy or not. It is too easy to begin to write in fear of criticism, and that is just stifling!

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    • Thank you, Ann, for your insightful comment. YES, yucky insincere sentimentality is hard to swallow. But REAL emotions, whether anger or fear or love, that’s what we writers must always feel free to express.

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  17. Even though I lived in the US for over 40 years I don’t think I ever used the word cheesy. From now on it will be part of my vocabulary. I am an emotional and sympathetic person, does that make me cheesy? This shows me again that I have never in all these years mastered the english language.
    Happy anniversary and your photos are great.

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    • I know, Jacqui. I think I’ve had it with all the dark and dreary news out there. When I sit and read (and write) I’m more and more in the mood for some good ole love and magic and friendship. If that’s cheesy or “sentimental,” I’m all for it. 🙂

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  18. Yeah! A celebration of sentimental, emotional! 😀❤️ I feel all soft and gushy reading your post! Heartfelt feelings should only be encouraged, the love spread as far and wide as possible, brightening the dark corners of the world. However, I must admit a problem with the word ‘cheesy’, it has gained negative connotations over the years…your other suggestions ring truer! A very Happy Anniversary to you and your husband – you look so happy and loving.❤️🎉

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    • Yes, in the past I never used the word “cheesy,” and I totally understand what Patty Jenkins is saying in her quote. I got a bit rebellious here and over-exaggerated the word cheesy just to make a point. What’s cheesy to some is romantic soft and sentimental to others. And you know what? I like your idea of brightening up the dark corners of the world. “Let the sunshine in….” — or the cheese. 🙂

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  19. I’m glad you wrote this, Pam. I’m afraid there’s a fear of sentiment in art, not because we fear sentiment, but because we’re afraid of appearing un-cool. I think it’s related to the oh-so-popular use of irony. So I googled irony. One definition is “a usually humorous or sardonic literary style or form characterized by irony.” Then I looked up sardonic: “disdainfully or skeptically humorous : derisively mocking.”

    Zoe Williams wrote an excellent article in the Guardian. I’ll quote just a little bit from the long article: “Our age has not so much redefined irony, as focused on just one of its aspects. … Its entirely self-conscious stance precludes sincerity, sentiment, emoting of any kind, and thus has to rule out the existence of ultimate truth or moral certainty. Irony, in this context, is not there to lance a boil of duplicity, but rather to undermine sincerity altogether, to beggar the mere possibility of a meaningful moral position. In this sense it is, indeed, indivisible from cynicism.”
    https://www.theguardian.com/theguardian/2003/jun/28/weekend7.weekend2

    This is something I’ve been wondering about for a while. Again, thank you for writing about the value of cheesy.

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    • Oh, this Zoe Williams quote is perfect. And I’m grateful that you not only agree with me (and understand what I’m trying to express in a bit of hyperbole), but that you add even more to the discussion. THANK YOU.

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  20. Funny, I was just expressing this very thought to a group of friends this past week. I do enjoy complexity of plot on occasion. But I have to admit that I’m still drawn to fairy tales, the adventures of real or realistic people, musicals and happy endings: Beauty and the Beast, Singin’ in the Rain, Ever After, Anne of Green Gables.

    I enjoyed La La Land quite a bit, but I found myself disappointed at the “happiness montage” followed by the harsh reality check at the end. I thought, “No, no, no! This was the time for a happy ending.”

    Would it have been cheesy to go that route? Someone apparently thought so. But it still left me disappointed not to have had it.

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    • I’m in total agreement with you here. In fact, I think La L Land is a perfect example of the movie’s writers/director/producer afraid of being called cheesy (after all, they had the audacity to make a contemporary musical!) so they ended it on a sad, melancholic note. I was disappointed. The ending did not relate to the rest of the story.

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  21. No, I include genuine feelings of the heart. This was a valuable post to remind us, it is okay to express heartfelt occasions, love, death and nature which moves us!
    Hurray for both director whose quote is awkwardly phrased and articulate You. Maybe she meant to have quotes around “do?”

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