Something has to be done about this perception of crying as some ultimate expression of being human or, perversely, as some ultimate statement of praise for an artwork. It is wrong.
I’m not trying to diminish genuine
human pain, which is very real and acutely felt at various times by everyone.
And crying can be a natural expression of this pain. But, oftentimes, public
crying, or freely telling someone that you cried, has an aspect of performance
to it, which makes us feel queasy at first, and then angers us. At some point
in our lives, we have had (or continue to have) meaningful bouts of crying,
where something has struck us so profoundly that crying is the only option. It’s
almost an out-of-body experience, crying for real. It’s sacred. And seeing this
done in public can feel like an affront to our own pain, a parody of our own
grief. And that angers us.
Again, this is not meant to diminish
the pain of others. If someone is hit by awful news in public, an open display
of grief might be unavoidable. But oftentimes it’s a choice. Grief is sacred.
To do it in public can diminish it. I’m not saying you shouldn’t cry in public
out of consideration for the other people. I’m saying you shouldn’t because you
should have too much respect for the act of crying. It’s sacred, treat it as
Too many people use it as a way to
show everyone they are more human than other people, as a way of guilting them
into sharing some of their very subjective pain somehow. Take Project
Greenlight, season one. Pete Jones frequently threatened to cry in front of the
producers of his movie in order to get what he wanted. This calculated way of
using crying is all too common, and by the definitions I’ve set forth it is literally
profane. Go back and watch everyone around Pete cringe every time he threatens
to cry publicly. There was an extreme uneasiness about someone crying over funding for a movie, and this was before 9/11. I’m trying to illustrate
that people felt uneasy about calculated crying even even before what most Americans now consider
to be the profound sadness in their lives.
I’m not trying to minimize others’ pain.
I am a big believer in everyone has pain, whether you’re homeless or Justin
Timberlake. Everyone feels their individual pain just as acutely as the next
person. But cry about your own pain, not as a way of showing your empathy for
something you perceive as a universal sadness. You are not more human because
you’re showing everyone you can cry. We all know we live in a universe of
omnipresent sadness. There is something to be crushed by every day. If you take
the whole world, the top 1% of wealth belongs to the average American
($35,000/year puts you in the top 1% if you consider everyone on the planet).
The heat death of the universe hovers like a shroud over everything. The point
is, no one is truly and completely empathetic, because if one were, that person
would be an incapacitated puddle every day. So to decide to let one thing
affect you so traumatically, and to advertise this to others, evokes an
uneasiness because it’s like you’ve decided that everything else that’s sad
about life doesn’t matter. Public crying is, in a way, minimizing everyone else’s
pain. Plus it has an aspect of arrogance to it. It seems to be a way to say “I’m
more human than you.” You are not. There is pain everywhere.
I’m not trying to dismiss other people’s
individual pain. Pain is real, crying can be unavoidable. Very young people cry
too freely, though. They have yet to cry before someone who they want to share
their pain, and have that person look back at them impassively, with a dry,
hard stare. It is at that point that everyone realizes that their pain is too
sacred to be put out where anyone can sneer at it or diminish it. We respect
our pain too much to do that.
The other thing people do that is
wrong is think that the movement to tears is the ultimate approbation of a work
of art. If a work of art makes you cry, it is a great work of art, this line of
thinking goes. This is wrong. To be clear: It’s not a directly causal
relationship. Some great works of art make you cry, but not all works of art
that make you cry are great works of art. We live in a day and age of ultimate
manipulation. People don’t even know when they’re watching an advertisement
anymore. I posit that you can’t watch The
Notebook (and I mean really watch it, not just have it on and be doing
something else while it’s on, but watch every single frame of that movie)
without being moved and misty-eyed. I’m not even going to rhetorically ask if The Notebook is great art. It will never
be considered such by the hipster, film snobbish critics who (currently, but
maybe not for long) decide these things for the culture at large. Yet these
same critics will cry at some obscure Belgian black-and-white film (or
whatever), and fine whatever maybe that Belgian black-and-white film actually
is great art, but they will use their tears as evidence of the art’s greatness.
Well, I stand before them, dry-eyed and unmoved. Great art is so much more than
your public declaration that you are more human than someone who isn’t moved to
cry. Great art is more than you. Get over yourself.
I am not minimizing anyone’s pain.
Pain is felt by each individual person and no one’s pain is greater than anyone
else’s. I respect the freedom of everyone to feel their individual pain and to
cry about that pain. This is just a response to those who use a public display
of crying, or declaration of such, as a way to position themselves as better or
more human than others, because they are not.