We’re having a moment for male tears — no, not the kind that the popular feminist mug metaphorically collects in pursuit of bringing down the patriarchy. We’re talking literal tears that men shed in moments of televised vulnerability.
Take the Netflix reboot of “Queer Eye,” just renewed for a second season. Yes, it’s a makeover show with bubbly experts instructing schleppy men on the wonders of slim-cut jeans, five-minute grooming routines, Ikea and avocados. But it’s also a show about men who are stuck and held in place by fear, insecurity, past trauma or rigid norms of what it means to be a man.
Just like the old series, a group of gay men deemed “experts” in areas such as food and culture enter a stranger’s life and try to improve it. “The original show was fighting for tolerance,” says one member of the new Fab Five at the top of the 2018 series. “We’re fighting for acceptance.”
In the process, Netflix’s “Queer Eye” subtly dings toxic masculinity. Giving these strangers haircuts and time to spend a few minutes taking care of themselves also gives them a chance — or a push — to open up a bit about what’s bubbling below the surface. Sometimes these guys cry, surprising even themselves.
“We have fallen in love with you, and I didn’t really expect to have this moment with you, and you’re such an amazing man,” Fab Five member Karamo Brown says to Tom Jackson, a bearded 57-year-old Georgia man who lives in a basement apartment and drinks “redneck margaritas.”
Another Fab Five member puts his hand on Tom’s. The emotions build to a breaking point. “You guys are making me cry,” Tom says through sobs. “I’m sorry. … I’m going to miss all of you guys.”
This is reality TV after all, so the scene was probably edited to maximize the drama. Still, America saw a pretty rare sight: an older guy crying simply because other men showed him he was worthy of attention and love.
TV and movies have shown us men crying on camera before. Some have shed manly tears when dealing with grave stuff, like families dying, or war (Rambo). Then there are the stoic ones who get choked up but keep the tears back, like Clint Eastwood in “In the Line of Fire.” But crying guys have often been punchlines to jokes, either as blubbering messes (“Forgetting Sarah Marshall”) or embarrassed dudes with “something in my eye.”
Comedies have tackled the manly tears trope. “Crying: acceptable at funerals, and the Grand Canyon,” Ron Swanson declared on “Parks and Recreation.” When Jerry Seinfeld cries over a breakup on his series, he remarks: “What is this salty discharge?!” In a “Key and Peele” sketch called “Manly Tears,” a tough-guy drug dealer (Jordan Peele) mourns the loss of a childhood friend, but he’s sobbing like a child. Another tough guy (Keegan Michael Key) tells those assembled that these are manly tears, and not to be laughed at.
In recent years, we’ve gotten different kinds of male tears.
Some of it has come spontaneously from politicians. President Barack Obama cried while talking about the Sandy Hook shooting. Former Speaker of the House John A. Boehner cried in public constantly: when asked a simple question on “60 Minutes;” when paying tribute to golfer Arnold Palmer; during signing ceremonies; and when Pope Francis came to Washington.
Late-night comic Jimmy Kimmel has cried repeatedly during his show’s monologue — a time typically reserved for topical jokes — about his newborn son’s heart surgery, mass shootings and a dentist killing a lion.
For Kimmel’s part, he hates that he cries on TV: “When I see a screen grab of me that night, I was talking about my son, or I was talking about Las Vegas, and my face is all red and I have tears in my eyes, I can’t browse away from it quickly enough,” he told The Post’s Geoff Edgers.
But the impact of Kimmel’s raw emotions have influenced policy debates, even spurring a proposal called “The Jimmy Kimmel Test.”
“You can’t not remember that night,” Kimmel’s longtime friend, Ellen DeGeneres, told Edgers about the health-care monologue. “The fact that you’re seeing a really strong, smart funny man cry is beautiful. He’s not trying to be tough. He’s not trying to pretend. He’s not trying to act like a talk-show host. And it wasn’t salacious. It wasn’t to get ratings. It was just raw, and you don’t see that on television that much.”
NBC’s weepy drama “This Is Us” may be best known as a show that makes America cry each week, but a lot of the crying on camera is done by men.
There was the time that Justin Hartley’s Kevin broke down on a lawn, weeping over his addiction and openly declaring, “I’m in pain out here! Can’t you see I’m in pain? I just need somebody to help me.”
Sterling K. Brown’s Randall cries all over the place: when he says goodbye to his foster daughter; when he gets parenting advice from the hardware-store employee; when he has a nervous breakdown in his office.
In fact, we see Randall cry way more than his wife, Beth (Susan Kelechi Watson), does. While Randall wears his emotions on his sleeve, Beth’s are kept below the surface. “I guess I can’t detach like you,” Randall tells Beth in a scene. “You know, I’m the heart, you’re the head.”
Later, Randall almost tells Beth that she’s heartless as they argue about their former foster daughter. By the end of the episode, we finally see Beth open up and cry as she explains how she’s coping with missing the girl.
At a time when pop culture is grappling with sexism behind the scenes and how women are represented on screen, depictions of masculinity are slowly being rewritten, too.
It’s been surprisingly refreshing for this woman to see men cry and be vulnerable in these ways. But for men watching, these scenes give them permission to do the same — without explaining it away as just something in their eye.