Why embracing melodrama and big emotions can be healthy

Are you ever melodramatic? If so, you’re in the right place. For you’re about to explore the delights of tugging at the threads of the melodramatic arts you watch, hear or read. Breathe writer Stephanie Lam argues how allowing others’ fantastical sentiments to resonate with your own provides the opportunity to profoundly feel – and why acknowledging and expressing these sensations, rather than stuffing them down, is a joyful way to live.

WORDS: Stephanie Lam

Why are melodramatic people and art so often dismissed?

Exaggerated, histrionic, over the top – a melodramatic person creates life in vibrant colours, for there is no incident too tiny to be symbolic of Great Things. Emotions are heartfelt and opinions expressed in extreme ways. And while this can be entertaining from a distance, up close, such behaviour often carries a poor reputation. It’s seen as laughable and self-indulgent. In a world facing political upheavals and climate crisis, it can be irritating to see someone loudly lamenting a broken pencil as if it were a broken heart.

Likewise, melodramatic art – packed with extremes and exaggeration, supercharging its emotional themes – is never treated with the same respect as the merely dramatic kind. Whether it’s music, fiction, art or film, on its release, it’s sneered at by critics (while loved by the public). Yet, with the passage of decades, it’s often seen in a kinder light, possibly by the same critic who derides the current melodramatic output as trash.

Perhaps it’s time to praise – rather than reappraise – melodrama, not only in art, but in behaviour as well. For if you delve deep, you, too, may admit that you’ve felt its lure, with a yearning to express hard-felt sensations.

How do we define melodramatic art?

In general, melodrama features emotions – in whichever format they’re expressed – that go large. There’s no reading between the lines. Villains are bad and heroes are good. Whatever there is, it’s in excess. Nobody is simply worried, they’re terrified. Events aren’t unfortunate, they’re tragic. The creative arts often teach us to sympathise with people who do bad things and recognise that a true hero doesn’t exist. While those are valuable lessons, they also introduce a cognitive load. Melodrama wipes your brow with a lace handkerchief and tells you that in this version of the world, good is good and bad is bad. The end.

It’s a genre that usually contains no irony. How can it, when it sweeps you up in the moment, with no time to wink at the audience? It’s equally unselfconscious. The characters within a melodrama don’t know that’s where they are. In fact, they don’t know where they are at all – except in a world of strong feelings. Logical thinking needn’t apply – and while remaining an impartial observer can be useful beyond the realm of the heart, it doesn’t help here. Forget subtlety. Put down the pastel shades in your palette. And be prepared to carry half the world with you as you go.

Why it can be a sign of good mental and emotional health to embrace your melodramatic side

You might be an appreciator – even if you didn’t know it – of the melodramatic arts. But what of the melodrama within you? After all, if you’ve fallen in love with La La Land or Madama Butterfly, or if any creative output that hammers the emotions appeals to you, doesn’t that say something about you? Even if you’ve never put a hand to your brow beseechingly, perhaps there’s a seed of exaggerated feeling deep in your breast, waiting for some encouragement to grow.

You may have learned as a child that going large means going over the top, and that moderation is key. Perhaps you were told that you ought to show an appropriate level of sensation – namely, not too much of it. But what if there were nothing wrong with giant emotions – that if they’re genuinely felt, then to squash them down isn’t the healthiest thing you can do?

Perhaps the key is to note the difference between cranking up a feeling in order to elicit sympathy or attention and expressing naturally arising strong feelings, regardless of what other people say. Maybe it’s about whether being extravagant with your emotions helps as a release or hinders you, keeping you stuck.

The whole point of melodramatic art is to make you feel. To hide your strong emotions under a moderate veneer is to miss the point. It’s healthier to express feelings than to pretend your heart is iron-cast.

So, give in to that brow-clutching and heart-clasping. Gaze meaningfully into the distance, make strident declarations and paint yourself in bright hues. Thousands of exquisite melodramas can’t be wrong. Go large with your feelings and emotions and remember that you’re in the company of greatness. After all, why make life monochrome when it could be lived in glorious technicolour?