I cry at a lot of things. I'm really quite sob-prone. I don't, thank heavens, break into manly tears about what the evil socialists are doing to our country1, but my goodness there certainly are a lot of things that get me all teary-eyed. I have, more than once, nearly burst into tears in the middle of a crowded art museum. It really gets to be kind of a problem after a while.
I bring all this up because it's a difficult thing to talk about. Not because I really have a problem with my own emotions, but because... well... here, let me give you a concrete example. There's this rather wonderful little song by the (sometimes) metalhead Devin Townsend called Ghost. It's a rather intriguing little ambiant piece. Check it out:
I really enjoy the ambiance of the piece, and the way the upbeat music works against the implication in the lyrics of the fear of connecting too deeply with a person you care for. It's a fascinating song, and one that has, more than once, moved me to tears. Turns out I'm not alone. Check out this comment from another youtube user:
"When I heard this for the first time, I sat down and wept for 30 minutes straight. It's been a really shitty year, and I had been looking forward to this for such a long time. It's so beautiful."--twoheadedboy
I've never cried at a song for a whole half hour... but then, I only have one head. I suppose that makes a difference. But still, I can empathize with this guy. I find the song very moving. I find a lot of his music very moving. And I cry not because I'm sad (I'll be coming back to this later, incidentally) but because I'm moved--because the music, or movie, or painting, or whatever, is beautiful, or touching, or just incredibly, overwhelmingly awesome and badass. No matter what the emotion is, a work of art can be so full to the brim, so overflowing, that the only real response I can have is to cry.
Observe, however, the reaction to this guy baring his fucking soul:
"lol emo" --TheTomWilliams
"Emotions r gia lol" --CyanideSovereign
"get a girlfriend you depressed piece of shit." --xXyourmomsballsXx
"Your such a fag..." --ChainsawVsGod
"fag song" --jsiooa
Now, obviously the Greater Internet Fuckwad theory is in full effect here, and these people aren't exactly the absolute pinnacle of the intellectual elite of the Internet (except maybe xXyourmomsballsXx... that kid is going places artistically) but it's worth unpacking these statements a little to explore the social forces behind them. You should immediately have observed, at least, that four of the five comments picked out here used the same type of language in response to twoheadedboy's comment: they challenge his masculinity and sexuality. Ultimately, those comments share a basic, core assumption.
It's simply not the masculine thing to do. Even crying at things like funerals, for example, is rather strictly verbotten in our masculine codes, let alone crying at something particularly beautiful or romantic. These sorts of outward expressions of emotion are, flat out, straight up, locked away to Western males. And this is a problem, as this particular TED Talk by Tony Porter points out:
If I can speak personally for a moment here, I cried a single digit number of times from the time I was in the fifth grade to the time I entered my Junior Year of College. None of this was because I didn't want or need to at times; I simply pushed that impulse down--and the strong emotions that went with it. I locked them both away, and was miserable without a way of expressing misery (besides being wrathful and sullen, as teenagers are prone to be. I never started listening to Fall Out Boy, though, thank heaven). It was my growing involvement with gender and sexuality studies and clubs on campus that allowed me to begin to see how stupid this was. And, of course, it helped that I was beginning to feel less dreadful about my life, and finding other people that were open to expressing their emotions when it came to beauty. I can never, ever thank my girlfriend enough for accepting my teary-eyed tendencies. I can easily picture several of my previous girlfriends criticizing me harshly for that kind of sissyboy behavior.
So, it's difficult to even talk about these things, because it's difficult to find a space where one can feel safe talking about these things, or even a space--even a totally private space--where it's ok to express emotions this way.
Now, it would be both tempting and easy for me to conclude this article with a boilerplate description of how this is a perfect example of the negative impact that gender inequality and heterosexism has upon men. It would be easy because, well, it's true. This is a staggering example of how gender inequality hurts men as well as women. It's a striking argument for why we desperately need to rethink our way of treating gender in the supposedly civilized West.
But there's more to it than that.
Because, the fact of the matter is, men aren't the only ones limited by why and when they can cry. From what I've seen, women are similarly limited, their limits are just a bit wider. Ask yourself honestly, now. If you saw a girl standing in front of the following painting, bawling her eyes out, wouldn't you find that just a little weird?
(Yes, this is one of these paintings that I nearly broke down in front of... sometime I'll do an article on this piece, and Futurism, and what a hideous waste of genius the First World War was.)
Or, if we want to go even weirder, can you imagine a teenaged girl bursting into tears at the sight of Lucy, the evolutionary ancestor of the entire human race? I mean, we're talking about the start of all humanity here. It's deeply powerful stuff, especially for someone that finds science to be a deeply awe-inspiring way of understanding the universe. And yet... I doubt that may people besides my wonderful girlfriend would burst into tears at the sign of this ancestor.
So, we've got a situation where there are only certain things that we can cry at. There's sadness (men can cry here sometimes), and occasionally joy and romance (this isn't so great for men), and things like awe at the pure power of the human spirit... or virtuoso art... or awe at the vastness and brilliance of the universe or the natural world... or the sudden return of hope where there was none before... these nuances, these complex areas of human experience, these overwhelming emotions, these are all things that are strange to cry about, aren't they?
But I think we're getting to the point now where this sort of thing can be more respected. And it's partly because us wimps don't particularly feel inclined to put up with this nonsense anymore. Isn't that right, twoheadedboy?
"@TheTomWilliams Yes, music sometimes makes people feel things!" --twoheadedboyI guess two heads makes for double the snark, huh? Good work, kiddo.
So, as a final thought, in honor of all those crybabies out there, enjoy the fourth movement of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, with a lovely Eva background. 2 I'll be over here sobbing proudly, if you need me.
As always, feel free to leave comments, complaints, or, best of all, your own interpretations, or e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org . And, if you like what you've read here, share it on Facebook, Google+, Twitter, Xanga, Netscape, or whatever else you crazy kids are using to surf the blogoblag these days.
1. Christ, Glen Beck really is a disgusting sack of shit, isn't he?
2. Shinji Stares At Kaworu While I Play Unfitting Music