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crying on the internet
I recently unearthed a Dropbox folder full of webcam videos of myself crying. I had sent them to someone to use in a music video that never ended up happening. I dug through my inbox to find our decades-old email exchange. I write, “for some reason it is rly hard for me to cry lately.”
Movie on 2013-3-21 at 19.30.mov
Movie on 2013-3-21 at 19.41.mov
Movie on 2013-3-21 at 21.14.mov
Movie on 2013-3-21 at 22.02.mov
Movie on 2013-3-21 at 22.23.mov
There are five videos in this folder, all taken on the same night. In two of them, I’m sitting in the bathtub, listening to music (Julie Doiron, Vashti Bunyan) and trying to conjure up tears. I am able to cry but I remember having to really work for it. In another video, I’m curled up in bed watching the movie Dancer in the Dark. Bjӧrk is singing “I’ve Seen It All” as my laptop screen flickers across my face. Halfway through the video, I sit up and smile a little bit, tears start to well up in my eyes. In the next video, taken 45 minutes later, I’m audibly sobbing as the movie continues to play. The last clip is 10 minutes long, the movie is coming to an end and the wailing is coming from both myself and the laptop. Bjӧrk starts singing again, tears continue to stream down my face, my pet rat, Butt Loaf (RIP), runs around on the bed.
These aren’t posted anywhere, but there is plenty of documentation of me crying on the Internet. A month after these videos were taken, I uploaded a video to YouTube titled WAH. I’m in bed, listening to Death Cab for Cutie and crying. My mascara runs down my face.
Despite these videos being taken around the same time, there’s a marked difference between them. Watching the first group back, I get the feeling that I’m completing a homework assignment. I’m attempting to perform a feeling, using sad music and movies as a spark. And while the tears are successful, it lacks the emotional urgency I feel when watching a video like WAH.
A few months ago, the NFT marketplace Zora shared a graph made by Instagram user fotolog.wtf titled “Types of Crying.” The graph has two metrics: “Sympathy Elicited” and “Pathetic-ness.” Within this spectrum, multiple videos of people crying online are featured, with different labels beneath them: blubbering; sniveling; whimpering; hyperventilate-crying; scream-crying; silent tears. My video, WAH, is featured amongst the others, next to a video of Trisha Paytas labeled “weeping.” Mine is labeled “sobbing” and falls higher on the “Sympathy Elicited” spectrum, and slightly lower on the “Pathetic-ness” spectrum.
I can’t remember what brought on the tears that night, 10 years ago. The video has nearly 27,000 views on YouTube. There are 44 comments, which range from supportive to commiserating to telling me to pull it together.
reaper8853: I hope you feel better with what ever is going on in your life if its a break up or your sad I been there but trust me everything will work out better later in life for you and be happy n positive keep moving forward and stay strong no likes to cry and be sad either so keep your head up high I'm here if you need me
TheL0wner: random girl crying for no discernible reason, yup didn't have to go on youtube to see that.
A few months after that video was posted, I would go on to make another one, crying on the floor, detailing my recent breakup. My most viewed crying video was made a year prior, in 2012. I’m laying in bed with my pet rat Sarah Michelle Gellar (RIP). Many of the comments are about her passing. It’s unclear if I posted the video after she died or if I had just gotten bad news about her health. Someone in the comments accuses me of pretending to cry.
betaville72: No tears. I guess you have a desire for attention but pretending to cry is pretty lame.
The first time I encountered any form of public crying was when I saw Laurel Nakadate’s 365 Days: A Catalogue of Tears at MoMA PS1 in 2011. I remember feeling annoyed. I had to sit with that feeling and ask myself why it bothered me so much. I don’t think my initial reaction was that dissimilar from the YouTube user who would accuse me of faking my tears for attention a year later. The initial discomfort I felt with Laurel’s work was probably one of the more influential things to happen to me as a young artist.
This skepticism of (mostly) girls documenting their sadness feels emblematic of our approach to how we view being online in the first place. Is it real, is it fake, is it attention-seeking? Who cares? Authenticity is an aesthetic, and I’d like to think we are all aware by now that we’re posting for attention, no matter the content.
In my 2017 piece, Who’s Sorry Now, I edited together three webcam videos taken on the same night in 2016. I’m sitting in a hotel room in London, watching television in the dark, crying and looking at my phone. Halfway through, I start taking photos of myself. My face goes from contorting out of emotional anguish to posing. I fix my hair, turn the phone around, the flash goes off, lighting up the room. I look at the photo and take another. Eventually, I begin to cry again.
I often think about TikTok user @reesehardy_ ‘s viral video from 2019. She’s crying while doing a dance to Mariah Carey’s “Obsessed.” The video has over 37 million views with supportive comments like “mood”—to accusations of her crying on camera for “clout.” Those 15 seconds, and the attention they received, are able to say so much.
Tear-soaked content and the interactions that follow carry a level of absurdity. Perhaps the act of posting oneself crying will always end up lightening the mood. In December 2017, I posted a photo of myself crying in bed to Instagram and captioned it, “full moon feels.”
Lilbisgod: I’m verified now nd famous nd u still don’t reply to your fans 😩 - lil b
Shadylane86: Do u have a tooth ache
A few months ago, I posted a picture of myself crying while holding up a peace sign to my Twitter account with 11 followers. I wonder where that gesture falls on the sympathy elicited and pathetic-ness axis.