Cooking shows. Dancing shows. Pottery shows. Sewing shows. There’s one thing they have in common. Crying. When my husband and I were watching the MasterChef final, I asked him whether tears were now an essential condiment of the culinary competition but he was too misty-eyed to answer. Same goes for The Repair Shop.
When someone clutches a clapped-out footstool, it feels like the upholsterer is only adjudged to have done a solid job if the recipient blubs on seeing it freshly stuffed.
As for talent shows, they’ve long been awash. Recently, I caught a bit of BGT. The Barnsley Youth Choir had barely sang a few bars of Fix You before the audience fell apart. And while I only saw a few segments of the last series of Strictly, there seemed to be as much weeping as waltzing. Made me think of the original Come Dancing when the full extent of personal info revealed was that the formation team from Penge had sewn every sequin on by hand. At this, nobody cried.
Don’t get me wrong. I do my fair share of sobbing. I dissolve during charity videos and special moments in dramas, like when David and Patrick got together in Schitt’s Creek. And when the world and my worries get the better of me, a good cry, shoulders heaving, offers a real sense of release (although I’m not crazy about my post-cry face because, unlike a Man Ray image, my eyes resemble two uncooked chipolatas).
But goodness me, light entertainment is relentlessly lachrymose. We’re now at a place where baking a faultless Victoria sandwich or f-----g up a foxtrot can warrant a torrent of tears. Surely it can’t be the sponginess of the sponge or a fleeting misstep that sets them off. More likely, it’s the pressure-cooker existence of the reality show, where emotions are expected, nay encouraged, to bubble over.
Certainly, our collective stiff upper lip is wobbling ever more liberally, especially on social media. There’s been a flood of crying selfies (think Bella Hadid’s shots of snottiness and wretchedness), many posted to express authenticity and turn the tide of feeling obliged to make one’s online life look tickety-boo when, in reality, you might feel lonely and shit – although I can’t help but wonder whether too much social media might be part of the problem in the first place.
There’s no denying crying can be good for you. Apart from being a signal to elicit support, it can self-soothe, releasing feel-good oxytocin and endorphins. In fact, some studies suggest repressive coping (ie bottling things up) can be bad for your health. Henry Maudsley, a pioneering 19th-century psychiatrist, pronounced that: “The sorrow which has no vent in tears may make other organs weep”. Or as my gran used to tell me as a child: “Better out than in.”
Mind you, I rarely saw the adults in my life cry. They would usually attempt to conceal tears or let it all hang out behind closed doors.
That’s changing. Even TV news reporters and presenters, renowned for their composure, are now revealing more emotion. And when they do, below-the-line debates ensue, opinions falling into two camps – either it’s deemed inappropriate or understandable and relatable. Interestingly, new scientific research has found that when criers are presented as weeping within a context of honesty, their competency rating increases.
Will we eventually reach a point where if we’re talking about, or witnessing, something extremely moving, we might be judged in a negative light if we don’t cry?
For me, paradoxically, the more serious or heartbreaking a situation, the less I blub. Tragic news stories make me freeze with shock. Subdue me into silence. And at my dad’s funeral, as the sole organiser desperately wanting it to go right, I didn’t break down at all.
Yet recently, at London Children’s Ballet’s production of Anne of Green Gables, when Matthew Cuthbert kicked the bucket and little skippity Anne (with red plaits of the kind I used to sport) sat by his body, tears cascaded down my cheeks.
Was I crying for Matthew (portrayed rather splendidly by a 17-year-old)? Of course not. It was simply that as I followed a sentimental story in a darkened theatre, it allowed me to acknowledge the big, sad moments in my own life. And maybe that’s what art and entertainment give people the chance to do. Go lefty-loosey and open the taps.
That said, I draw the line at Simon Cowell pointing to his eyes with emotion after being reacquainted on stage with the Teletubbies. That made me want to weep. But not in a good way.