The crying game

Ros Dodd has a request……

Can I, first of all, beg you to set aside judgement over my choice of television viewing: I know it’s pretty low-grade, but it gives me pleasure.

It also gives me a lump in my throat and, at times, eyes that are far from dry. I’m talking about X Factor, that cornucopia of talent, tantrums and tears. Little of the first, you might argue, but certainly bucketfuls of the last.

At the “judges’ houses” stage of the competition, when 36 hopefuls were whittled down to 12, I actually wrote down the number of people who blubbed – and it was 23! The rejected singers wept with disappointment; the successful ones cried for joy. Judge Cheryl Cole had tears streaming down her beautifully made-up face at least twice and even Little Louis Walsh’s lips quivered as he put Dublin supermarket cashier Mary Byrne through to the live finals, which start tomorrow.

One of the contestants, Malvern teenager Cher Lloyd, who was suffering from a throat infection, managed to cry even though she was incapable of singing and then, when she was told “you’re in my final three” by Cheryl, couldn’t speak for sobbing her heart out.

Oh dear, oh dear. Whatever happened to the British stiff upper lip?

Weeping openly has become part and parcel of modern life. Gazza kicked it off during the 1990 World Cup; Princess Diana followed suit a few years later when she cried during a public appearance and then, when she died, the entire country dissolved into an ocean of tears.

Crying, it seems, is not only acceptable, it’s something to aspire to if you want to be taken seriously as a “real” human being. Gordon Brown went suitably misty-eyed when interviewed by Piers Morgan and evoked more sympathy than derision for having done so.

Last weekend, Mr Morgan appeared to do his best to reduce S’Alan to a snivelling wreck on When Piers met Lord Sugar. Happily, the Apprentice hard man was having none of it.

The “crying game”, it seems to me, is an example of how, as a society, we swing from one extreme to the other. It’s not very long ago that adults – and men especially – would have considered it the ultimate sign of weakness to start sobbing like a baby in front of other people, even when faced with the sort of horrors most of us confront only on the big screen. Now, the slightest thing sets us off – from missing a goal in a football match to being told “I’m sorry, I can’t take you any further in the competition”.

Whilst I’m all in favour of people expressing their feelings rather than bottling them up, I have a more than sneaking suspicion that turning on the waterworks has become a cynical tool rather than an involuntary reaction to sadness/joy.

But the biggest danger with weeping and wailing at the drop of a hat is that it undermines the power of tears. Like the boy who cried wolf, if we cry me a river when our pet hamster dies/we don’t win a pub quiz, how do we convey the depth of our emotion when something truly terrible happens?