REAR WINDOW / PUBLIC TEARS: The crying game: what a difference a few decades makes

Share
Related Topics
THEY cry now, but they did not cry then, at least not in public. The 10 days that have followed the death of Sir Matt Busby, days of tributes, flowers and minutes of silence, have brought forth tears from both the fans and their heroes. Sir Matt was held in great affection by many, and they showed it.

When the television tributes recalled the Munich crash of 1958, however, they told another story of public mourning. Here again a minute of silence was observed at sports events around the country, but when the newsreels panned around the crowds they showed solemnity, not tears. Some may have cried, but the broadcasters did not dwell upon them.

Today, a popular man dies in the fullness of his years and his admirers weep. In another era, half a team of young sportsmen are robbed of their futures by a crash and the nation responds with studied stoicism. It is a striking testimony to the power of social restraint.

There was another example of this last week. After the death of Brian Redhead, many listeners wrote to the Today programme to express their sadness, and a number of the letters read out spoke of tears shed at the news. But when, as an example of Redhead's journalism, Today replayed his recollections of the Munich crash, he spoke of Manchester people in 1958 'frozen' in the street on learning the news. Frozen, but not crying.

High and low alike, we cry now in a way that we did not a generation ago.

Tears are produced mainly by the lacrimal gland, an almond-shaped sliver of tissue tucked under the bone of the eye socket just above the eyeball. Most of the time, it produces about one microlitre per minute, enough to keep the surface of the eye moist. When we cry, that increases by 50 or 100 times and the tears flood over the pupil to the point where vision is impaired.

This can happen for two reasons, either as a reflex response to an irritation of the eye, when the effect is to wash away the irritant, or because of an emotional stimulus. Many scientists believe that tears of emotion contain certain chemicals related to stress, and that stress is relieved by allowing them to spill out - giving a medical basis to the notion that 'a good cry' leaves you feeling better.

It seems likely that some nationalities cry more than others. No comparative work has been done on the British, but William Frey, who runs a tear research centre in Minnesota, points to work which shows that Hungarian women cry 3.1 times a month while American women cry 5.3 times a month, and Hungarian men cry 0.7 times a month, against 1.4 times a month for American men.

That said, the notion that British people do not cry - the 'stiff upper lip' of national caricature - may not be as old as we imagine. Historians believe that the Victorians cried relatively readily and it is only over the past 80 years or so that restraint has been the rule.

Even today, few of us welcome tears when they come. We still fight them and try to conceal them. As Dr Frey, author of Crying and the Mystery of Tears, puts it: 'In any given instance, it is clear that we can't control this. But in a more general way people appear able to condition themselves out of crying by separating themselves from their feelings.'

It is this conditioning that appears to have weakened. Dr John Tiffany, of the Nuffield Laboratory of Ophthalmology in Oxford, suggests that the collective tear threshold has shifted downward. 'Perhaps there has been an alteration in our willingness to accept certain levels of stress,' he says. Why this should be so is a matter of guesswork. Society as a whole is certainly more tolerant of displays of emotion. Television also explores distress in a way never done before, making tears more familiar.

The world wars, which made sudden bereavement commonplace and stoicism a necessity, and which in 1958 were still a matter of recent memory, are much more remote to us today.

(Photographs omitted)

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Sauce Recruitment: Retail Planning Manager - Home Entertainment UK

salary equal to £40K pro-rata: Sauce Recruitment: Are you available to start a...

Ashdown Group: Front-End Developer - London - up to £40,000

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Creative Front-End Developer - Claph...

Recruitment Genius: Product Quality Assurance Technologist - Hardline & Electric

£18000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The role in this successful eco...

Ashdown Group: QA Tester - London - £30,000

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: QA Tester - London - £30,000 QA Tes...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

CPAC 2015: What I learnt from the US — and what the US could learn from Ukip

Nigel Farage
 

If I were Prime Minister: I would create a government that actually reflects its people

Kaliya Franklin
HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower