Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 18 December 2014

For crying out loud, will 'emotional journeys' ever end?

Ed Balls blubs; not because more young men rot in jail than attend university, but at the price of a pot on Antiques Roadshow.

Our emotional wiring seems to be in meltdown. Soon we'll be offering a GCSE in crying. Getting us to sob on demand is a highly technical achievement employed in millions of ways every day.

Television programmes, films, pop music and advertisements all employ similar tactics to snare us. The brains behind the likes of X Factor know exactly how to create heartbreaking moments that have us reaching for a hankie.

Take the film The Help, for example - a simple story of black maids in 1960s Mississippi. Social history lite, nothing too raw.

All the maids are brilliant actresses and their shameful treatment is entertainingly told. But every 10 minutes there is what I can only call a 'sob' break - a little bit of mawkishness designed to make you feel noble about watching this rather fluffy piece of work.

From Downton Abbey, Antiques Roadshow, Grand Designs to anything fronted by Gok Wan, programme-makers drag us on an emotional 'journey', creating a fake bond with what's happening on screen. That family in Downton aren't our relatives with serious illnesses, but we care just as much for them - if not more.

The old family heirloom on Antiques Roadshow brings a tear to Ed Balls's eye, but if any of us found a treasure in the attic, would we be happily sharing the proceeds with our relatives?

Event movies such as The Sound of Music, a wonderful piece of high quality film-making, combining memorable music and performance, have been replaced with everyday tawdriness and an emotional rollercoaster.

We've become a country of blubbers - and it all started with Princess Diana's funeral. That massive outpouring of hysterical grief was out of all proportion to what had happened.

When psychologist Oliver James was brave enough to point this out, he was roundly abused. Diana opened the floodgates and her successor is Cheryl Cole - the human faucet.

Watching a preview of The Iron Lady, I was reminded that Maggie Thatcher only cried when son Mark got lost in the desert and on the day she left Downing Street.

Now, dozens of politicians, from Blair to Balls, Cameron to Clegg, proudly blub. Even Yvette Cooper and Louise Mensch.

These tears are nothing more than feeble attempts to re-interest the public in politics as we are more cynical. Hey - they even have the same emotions as us.

But we don't have their expenses, pensions, sense of entitlement. The political world, the lobbyists, the powerful rich pals, is still one ordinary people find repugnant, whether its members cry or not.

As for the teenage burglar who didn't see why he should write a letter of apology to his victims - consider the warped world this kid has grown up in.

Newspapers hack into the phone of a murdered girl, print the secret diary of a mum whose little girl has gone missing, pay for the medical records of the famous. Worse, they allege a teenage girl murdered in a Scottish playground was a bully (completely untrue), with the result her brother kills himself and parents lose both children.

Doesn't that take your breath away? Raised on a diet of these headlines and level of intrusion into private catastrophe and a television culture where sobbing means nothing and winning on a talent show is the highest form of human endeavour, a thief can't be expected to have much of a moral code.

And if we can't be bothered to thank each other and mean it, what right do we have to criticise a nasty little kid who can't even spell remorse?

We talk about our emotions all the time, but - deep down - what are our values? Show less, mean more is my mantra - there's a lot to be said for traditional reserve, even if it is out of fashion.

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