#3. "Don't Take Shit From Anyone"
Hollywood plots, especially those aimed at people under 30, are built on heroes defying authority. You have the plucky Ferris Bueller types who make their teachers or principal look like a fool. In Fight Club, Edward Norton finally has enough of his boss's shit and gets him back by beating himself up in the big guy's office. He makes it look like the boss was the one who did it, and even goes as far as threatening to go on a fucking shooting spree. He then uses that scenario to extort money from the company, frightening the boss into sending him checks -- in return, he'd never show up to work again. He not only gets away with it by not going to prison, but he profits from it.
Nope, no way to prove he did this to himself at all. None whatsoever.
In movies, the defiant characters are always, always rewarded for their defiance. That's right, kids! If an authority figure is a dick, he or she automatically loses all right to ever tell you what to do, ever!
A Better Alternative:
"Pick your battles."
This is such an easy message to get the public to accept because everyone loves a good payback story. Everyone wants to punch their asshole boss in the dick with no repercussions. Every kid wants to make the bully cry in front of the whole school. The problem, of course, is that pulling either of those things off is exceptionally rare. Especially doing it in a way that won't land you in jail or get you suspended from school or fired from work or on the ass end of a lawsuit or laid out in the emergency room with a cat lodged in your colon.
The person exacting revenge in these films never sees consequences. Ferris Bueller's sister covers his ass. The kids from The Breakfast Club destroy the library and don't do their mandatory reports. With dozens of police around, Holly punches a reporter in the face at the end of Die Hard and walks away, no problem.
"Just let her go, man. She didn't get to kill anyone -- she deserves to at least punch someone in the face."
Unfortunately, life is filled with moments where you just have to grit your teeth and take it, because the consequences of fighting back are much worse than the damage to your pride. Yep, it absolutely sucks to be at the mercy of some dickhead cop with a superiority complex, writing you a ticket for something that could have easily been brushed off with a warning. But believe me, it's a whole lot better to just pay it or contest it in court than pissing off the guy who's carrying a gun, Taser, billy club, handcuffs, pepper spray, 200-page ticket book and the weight of a hundred other assholes he's dealt with in the past week. The satisfaction you'd feel from telling him to stick his tongue in your ass is temporary, but the marks on your record (and the boot print on your forehead) stay there for years.
That's what Hollywood will never accept, but its audience has to. Although it's completely awesome to see the corporate bad guy from RoboCop getting shot out of the top window of a skyscraper, in real life that guy wins more often than not. He's the one who controls who has a job in the company. The one who's on a binding contract. The one with the money for the best lawyers. And even in the worst case scenario where he gets fired for being a douche -- which quite frankly isn't going to happen -- he can simply walk into the next company and have a high paying job secured by the end of the day.
"Oh, and I'm taking the robot with me. Anyone have a fucking problem with that?"
Of course, if some psychopath tries to curb-stomp you every other Monday, or someone -- boss or not -- is consistently trying to take advantage of you, you have to do something about it. But standing up like an action star and thinking your next move is going to put an end to the mess, followed by growing orchestra music and credits ... it ain't gonna happen, McClane. The reason those movies are so popular is because it's the only place in life we can experience that feeling of justified revenge.
#2. "Face Your Fears"
Indiana Jones has to confront his fear of snakes in order to discover the Arc. Luke's physical battle with Vader isn't what completes his Jedi training -- that fight in Empire is about confronting and mastering his fear. Hell, the entire shitty movie Green Lantern doesn't even bother being subtle about it. That idea is literally the plot.
No, seriously, that's it. The monster is actually fear itself. I totally wish I was joking.
A Better Alternative:
"Deal with what's holding you back."
I have two big phobias: heights and spiders. When I say "phobia," I'm not talking about having a normal, healthy fear. I'm talking about actual phobias that are so bad, I can't even look at photos of them. However, one of my jobs here at Cracked is layout, which includes coming up with the pictures and captions for some of the articles you see each week on the site. Including the ones about -- blegh -- spiders. In order for my fears to not affect my job (and by association, my life), I did indeed have to confront that fear.
Now, does that mean I can pick one up and play with it? Ew, no, fuck you for even thinking that. But I did learn to keep myself at least somewhat calm while doing my job. On the other side of that coin:
I can't watch even five seconds of that video without getting so dizzy that I come close to passing out. Even looking at the still shot that YouTube provides before you hit "Play" is enough to take my breath and send bursts of adrenaline up my gut.
There is no goddamn reason for me to face that fear. I'm never going to be in a situation where I have to climb a radio tower or even the stairway to the top of a water slide. I'm not going to wake up to find that I've sleepwalked my way to the rooftop ledge of a skyscraper. Even where spiders are concerned, I only had to confront it enough to get me through the pictures and videos. I'm not going to ever be in a situation where I'm forced to interact with one in a manner that doesn't involve the bottom of my shoe and high pitched, girly screaming.
Though I suppose if I ever get superpowers and am forced to climb a building in order to fight the giant spider that's destroying the city, we're all kind of fucked.
"I say we just let him have the city."
Now, if you have a fear of intimacy, or of working outside of your comfort zone, or meeting new people, or cars, or toothpaste, yeah, you need to sort that shit out. But it's a long process of dealing with these mundane, uncomfortable situations and developing strategies to deal with them. And yes, one of those strategies is to prohibit yourself from simply avoiding those situations at every opportunity. But the Hollywood process of "Bob is afraid of heights, so we show him conquering his fear by bungee jumping" is avoiding the point. If you can get over your fear of job interviews, you can keep right on being afraid of snakes.
#1. "Don't Worry About What Other People Think"
This is the one that drives me crazy, because not only is it just half right, but it's usually the false half that we end up believing. In the movies, what they want you to take from it is that "It's what's inside that matters." Some Kind of Wonderful, Mask (Eric Stoltz, not Jim Carrey), any '80s teen romance that involves a makeover. In many ways, that can be true. But there's another side to that advice.
In a purely literal sense, it's just blatantly false. There are all kinds of situations in which you need to worry about what other people think: job interviews, meeting your girlfriend's parents, the court appearance for your charge of public nudity. On the superficial movie level, yes, it's probably best for your mental health to not let it get to you when the kids in gym class make fun of you for your ridiculously enormous penis.
"Hey, Freak Penis, make sure you don't use up all the soap trying to wash that thing."
A Better Alternative:
"Judge criticism based on the source and situation. Also, don't be a shithead."
But it's really not an issue of acceptance. It's about respect and avoiding misunderstandings. If the person you're talking to doesn't get sarcasm, you modify your communication to avoid using it. It's not about bowing in submission to The Man -- you do it to prevent hurting other people. I have a friend who doesn't eat meat out of a personal moral belief. I'm not going to walk into her house and start cooking a steak, and she's not going to demand that I change my habits when I visit her. It's a mutual respect. In that sense, the advice holds up.
"That looks really good. Hey, you know what would go great with that? Fried hamster."
Where it implodes is when the person following that advice turns their emotions inward and stops caring how their actions are affecting other people. And it's entirely too common. Someone letting loose with a string of cursing around your grandma, who doesn't want to be around that sort of language. When you say something about it, he responds with "Hey, this is just the way I am. If you don't like it, fuck off -- I don't give a shit what you think." I've been that guy to a certain extent, and in some ways I still am. Self-centeredness is a hard demon to kill, and it's harder to recognize that it's even there. I suppose that's why it's still around: Most people don't realize there's even an enemy in the room.
Now does that mean you have to worry about what everyone thinks? Hell no, that's impossible. Ninety percent of the people you encounter in life are random faces you just pass by in the pizza rolls aisle. But you do need to have certain peers and respected figures in your life to prevent you from wearing your pajamas to a funeral or tattooing Boba Fett on your neck.
"No, no, no, I love the outfit. It's just that the other guys might get jealous of how awesome and fancy you look."
No, the problem is when you confront somebody on behavior that's alienating everyone in their life. They will almost certainly play the "I don't care what other people think!" card, as if that is a universal truth that trumps all context or consequences. That really goes for everything on this list; I'm not denying that every piece of advice here has its place. There's a reason phrases like them become cliches. But the temptation is to use them to boil every difficult decision down into a simple phrase that can't be argued with. And I've learned that if life ever seems that simple, you're probably doing it wrong.
For more Cheese, check out 4 Awful Ways The Internet Is Tainting Everything Else and 5 Reasons You Don't Miss Your 20s When They're Over.