Of all the lame standard comebacks resorted to by lamers on Usenet, the lamest surely has to be "tell me how you really feel". Such witlessness, unoriginality, sanctimony, cowardice, poker-arsedness, and tedious, sub-schoolyard irony all in one place! There is no phrase in the English language that irritates me more -- in fact, if you've ever used it or considered using it, I hate you.
The scenario is often thus: some antagonist has just posted an impassioned or somewhat emotional rant, probably employing colourful language, wit, metaphor, etc. Our hero, a good Christian, is above such things; he recognises such display of emotion as a sign of mental imbalance, and is relieved to conclude that his adversary has not only lost 'it', but lost the debate as well. And so, with a blend of smugness and magnanimity, he delivers the above-mentioned coup de grace -- and at the same time neatly avoids having to engage any of the points made in the rant.
"Tell me how you really feel!" Because, the assumption goes, in showing your emotions you have admitted weakness and defeat. My question is: what kind of diseased, fucked-up society could produce such an assumption? And this is not a rhetorical question, for I know the answer. In some societies -- in southern Europe, for example -- it's quite acceptable, and even rather masculine and virile, to display your emotions; but across the British Empire, the stiff upper lip reigns supreme. There's a scene in Lawrence of Arabia where Lawrence lets a matchstick burn down to his fingertips, and explains "the trick is not to mind being hurt." But Lawrence, of course, was not an "ordinary man". The ordinary man would say "the trick is not to show that it hurts." To get ahead in the British Empire, the trick is not to show that you feel anything. Ever.
Time was when I was a very emotional sort, quick to blush and quick to tears. But I could see this wasn't doing me any good in life, so I set about replacing all my emotions, one by one, with irony. Instead of saying how I felt, I said the opposite of how I felt, mocking my emotions before I could express them. Now, if I care about something, I laugh at it. If I love someone, I insult them relentlessly. I can barely say anything without being ironic -- in five years, I've hardly uttered a serious sentence. I walk around with one eyebrow permanently raised, and I'm not sure it will ever go back. Irony has become such a reflex that my few remaining emotions tend to arrive in ready-made ironic form.
This is a common tragedy in the British Isles, where perhaps the majority of people communicate solely in ironic banter of varying sophistication -- irony, counter-irony, ironic irony, three-ply irony etc. What true emotions lurk under the surface -- if any lurk at all -- have to be arrived at through a fairly tedious inference process. Irony, though, is a typically British response to the problem of emotion, and one at which the transatlantic parts of the empire are famously not very good. How do Americans go about suppressing their emotions? (For suppress them they do, and very well.) My guess is that they do it through pathological extroversion.