The great blubbing debate has just moved to a new, decisive phase, with those of us who hold that crying in public is almost always a form of showing off in danger of being swept away on a tide of tears.
Crying, according to the latest research, is good for us all. It makes us feel purged of grief and relieves stress; it might even reduce pain. When men cry, it is said, they become more attractive and even appear stronger than those who remain dry-eyed. “Certain types of tears are no longer associated with powerlessness,” says Professor Stephanie Shields, of Pennsylvania, “and thus no longer conflict with assertions of masculinity”.
There is here a dangerous blurring of the distinction between private and public crying. Any person of normal sensitivity will be susceptible to the odd crying jag when alone or among those he knows well.
It is with social crying, boastful public boo-hooing, where the problems start. There really is no evidence to suggest that those who like to share their tears with others are more emotionally evolved, and therefore stronger, than those who prefer to keep the expression of private feelings for private occasions.
On the contrary, we have surely learnt by now that tears shed by public figures in front of the cameras are usually strategic and cynical. When a celebrity breaks down on a chat show, or a politician blubs to show his remorse or sensitivity, their motives are rarely, if ever, genuine. Believing that, in an age of sentimentality, tears will be associated with sincerity, they are engaged in acts of emotional flashing.
Yet, even when we know in our hearts that public displays of damp emotion are to be distrusted, social crying is generally approved. So afraid have we become of being thought repressed and out of touch with our feelings that any idea of self-control has become suspect. Few people dare to say what most of us think: there are times, particularly for politicians, when wallowing in emotion is unhelpful and inappropriate.
The American election provided a useful update on the status of public crying. The outgoing President, a serial blubber, is profoundly mistrusted. The moment when Hillary Clinton became tearful was regarded a tactical gaffe. John McCain has made a rather good joke about how he has slept since the election (“I sleep like a baby – wake up every two hours and cry”) but, in fact, remained laudably dry-eyed during his campaign.
Then there was the now-famous photograph of Jesse Jackson with tears coursing down his cheek on election night. Jackson had, more than almost anyone else in America, earned his right to cry, and the election was the most moving moment of modern political history. All the same, there was something showy about the way he let his tears shine on his cheeks while knowing that he was on camera. It was as much a public gesture as expression of private joy.
The least tearful man that night was Barack Obama. Even at a time of high emotion, he refused to play the crying game, to treat politics like show business. Previously he had admitted that he often cried on family occasions, but when campaigning, even on the day before the election when his grandmother died, he had remained in control as but a single tear rolled down his face.
No one in his right mind would suggest that Obama was less in touch with his feelings than his lachrymose predecessor. Unfashionably, he has shown that true strength lies in restraint, not emotional exhibitionism.
With friends like these, the London Olympics hardly need enemies
Nobody could accuse Tessa Jowell of hyping the London Olympics. After she and Boris Johnson had placed depressing emphasis on how little our cut-price games were going to cost, she has now admitted that, had the Government known about the economic downturn, it would never have bid for them in the first place.
By any standards, it is an odd statement If, as we are told, the way out of recession is through government spending, then the timing of the Games, with the jobs and opportunity for public investment that they offer, would seem to be particularly fortuitous.
Buried in the graveyard of ambition
The unveiling of the cast-list of victims for the reality TV show I’m a Celebrity… Get Me Out of Here provides its own ghoulish satisfaction. It reveals precisely which public figures have pretty much given up on their careers and are prepared to be a small, embarrassing joke on TV.
There are exceptions. Minor models and the girlfriends of footballers can actually advance their careers. Others believe they can publicise a cause. This year, the great Martina Navratilova is taking part in the innocent belief that she can make the case for gay marriage in America.
The advance publicity for this year’s programme has offered an additional treat. We discover how much it costs to get celebrities to trade in their careers.
The figures are surprisingly low. Robert Kilroy-Silk, at £15,000, is rated slightly higher than a footballer’s girlfriend, and is worth just over a third of Danni Behr, the former TV presenter. Esther Rantzen has been rated at £25,000, rather more, one assumes, than the former senior policeman and Liberal Democrat candidate Brian Paddick.
There’s something almost moving about these various admissions of professional defeat. If she has any sense, Martina Navratilova will make her gay rights speech and leave the show, pocketing her £30,000 fee.