Mile cry club noth­ing to laugh at

Ready to sob? Just watch an in-flight movie, writes Josh Martin.

Sunday Star-Times - Escape - - FRONT PAGE -

We’re more likely to be sooks when watch­ing films in flight. That’s ac­cord­ing to a re­cent sur­vey from Lon­don’s Gatwick air­port, which found more than one in 10 sur­veyed ad­mit­ted to hav­ing cried at a film on a plane, while one in six men be­lieved they were more likely to sob while watch­ing a movie in the air than on the ground.

What a re­lief. I used to think it was only me who got un­nec­es­sar­ily emo­tional at 36,000 feet. In nor­mal life I’m not a crier. In a hurtling dimly lit steel tube, I have sobbed and splut­tered watch­ing Amer­i­can Dad The Of­fice for no fea­si­ble rea­son.

The in­dus­try has been aware of the Mile Cry Club’s ex­is­tence for a while. Back in 2011, this sob­bing ten­dency prompted Vir­gin At­lantic to add ‘‘weepy warn­ings’’ be­fore some of their films, af­ter sur­veys found a ma­jor­ity of pas­sen­gers ad­mit­ted to height­ened emo­tions dur­ing flights.

It went some­thing like ‘‘the fol­low­ing film con­tains scenes which may cause view­ers of a sen­si­tive dis­po­si­tion to cry, weep, sob, wail, howl, bawl, bleat or mewl’’. Weirdly, the in-flight en­ter­tain­ment cu­ra­tors picked a film like Adam San­dler’s un­funny comedy Just Go With It as the first to carry this warn­ing. Maybe the blub­ber­ers just wanted it to end.

If the anec­do­tal ev­i­dence was so plain to Vir­gin At­lantic cabin crew that even for­mu­laic rom-coms were be­ing or re­ceived as though au­di­ences were watch­ing Bambi, Terms of En­dear­ment or My Girl , then I’m glad I’m not the only one feel­ing emo­tion­ally fraught in flight. But there is scant sci­en­tific re­search on the sub­ject.

How­ever, the pos­si­ble rea­sons are plen­ti­ful and fairly log­i­cal. A psy­chol­o­gist and lead­ing ex­pert on cry­ing, Ad Vinger­hoets, ex­plained to The New States­man that adults cry for many of the same rea­sons as ba­bies: feel­ings of pow­er­less­ness, loss or sep­a­ra­tion. Vinger­hoets’ work also found that peo­ple are most likely to cry by them­selves, when they have space and men­tal ca­pac­ity to re­flect – an en­vi­ron­ment we of­ten get when trav­el­ling alone on a flight.

So why does in-flight en­ter­tain­ment (rather than cramped con­di­tions) set off the wa­ter­works? A re­search pa­per by Stephen Groen­ing at Ge­orge Ma­son Univer­sity sug­gests IFE screens ‘‘gen­er­ate a cul­ture of in­ti­macy’’.

Groen­ing says ‘‘air­plane me­dia tech­nol­ogy cre­ates a re­la­tion­ship of ex­treme prox­im­ity be­tween pas­sen­ger and me­dia form: the screen is but a few feet away from the viewer and the head­phones put speak­ers vir­tu­ally in­side the body.’’

His anal­y­sis found mid­dle-of-theroad come­dies like Sweet Home Alabama, Freaky Fri­day and even block­buster Thor be­came tear-jerk­ers when viewed tens of thou­sands of feet above Earth.

At the very least an air­craft cabin with­out the dis­trac­tions of tech­nol­ogy, sched­ules or de­mands gives a win­dow of re­flec­tion or pro­vokes ex­is­ten­tial assessment that we are rarely af­forded.

It’s an en­vi­ron­ment like no other: we’re stim­u­lated through in-flight en­ter­tain­ment, but with no dis­tract­ing so­cial me­dia or emails; we are of­ten sleep-de­prived or with cir­ca­dian rhythms in an­other time zone; and we could be ei­ther fresh from emo­tional good­byes or pre­par­ing for re­unions.

Just get­ting to your al­lo­cated seat can be like a post-exam burst of re­lief – af­ter bat­tling ev­ery­thing from bank bal­ances to bosses to traf­fic and se­cu­rity checks, just to fi­nally sit in the dark­ened cabin and be on your way to some­where new. That’s be­fore you even re­alise you’re speed­ing high above the Earth’s sur­face, it’s well be­low freez­ing out­side, you have zero con­trol and your fate’s in the hands of the pi­lot and crew.

With that in mind, it’s no won­der we’d rather dis­tract our­selves with For­rest Gump or Brid­get Jones – and it’s good to know there’ll be plenty of pas­sen­gers car­ry­ing a Kleenex on board. Email if you have a travel is­sue you’d like Josh Martin, a Lon­don-based travel jour­nal­ist, to write about.

Watch­ing movies at 10,000 me­tres can be a cry­ing game.

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