When did it begin? Apparently in 1702. 'Mawkish' comes from 'mawke' meaning maggot and first meant 'sick', then 'bad tasting'. In 1702, it had its first recorded figurative use meaning 'sickly sentimental'.
But it took the mass media to really get it rolling as a cultural phenom.
Personally, it started for me with the assassination of John F. Kennedy. Shocking, of course. Scary, yes. But something for strangers to cry about? Huh?
Mawkishnes's next grand display, I suppose, was the murder of John Lennon. Again, shocking. Scary, not so much. But not a case for tears.
Mawkishness really bloomed (sorry) with the death of Princess Diana (emphasis mine).
Members of the public were invited to sign a book of condolence at St James Palace. Throughout the night, members of the Women's Royal Voluntary Service and the Salvation Army combined to provide support for people queuing along the Mall. More than one million bouquets were left at her London home, Kensington Palace, while at her family's estate of Althorp the public was asked to stop bringing flowers, as the volume of people and flowers in the surrounding roads was said to be causing a threat to public safety.
By 10 September, the pile of flowers outside Kensington Gardens was 1.5 metres deep in places and the bottom layer had started to compost. The people were quiet, waiting patiently in line to sign the book and leave their gifts. There were a few minor incidents. Fabio Piras, a Sardinian tourist, was given a one-week prison sentence on 10 September for having taken a teddy bear from the pile. When the sentence was later reduced to a £100 fine, Piras was punched in the face by a member of the public when he left the court. The next day, Maria Rigociova, a 54-year-old secondary school teacher, and Agnesa Sihelska, a 50-year-old communications technician, were each given a 28-day prison sentence for having taken eleven teddy bears and a number of flowers from the pile outside St. James' Palace. This too was later reduced to a fine (of £200 each) after they had spent two nights in prison.
OK, flowers are traditional symbols of sympathy. But fucking teddy bears??!
Some criticised the reaction to Diana's death at the time as being "hysterical" and "irrational". As early as 1998 philosopher Anthony O'Hear identified the mourning as a defining point in the "sentimentalisation of Britain", a media-fuelled phenomenon where image and reality become blurred. These criticisms that were repeated on the 10th anniversary, where journalist Jonathan Freedland expressed the opinion that "It has become an embarrassing memory, like a mawkish, self-pitying teenage entry in a diary,... we cringe to think about it." In 2010, Theodore Dalrymple wrote "sentimentality, both spontaneous and generated by the exaggerated attention of the media, that was necessary to turn the death of the princess into an event of such magnitude thus served a political purpose, one that was inherently dishonest in a way that parallels the dishonesty that lies behind much sentimentality itself".
Some saw it as a cause for bleeding heart liberals to hang their angst on.
Some cultural analysts disagreed. Sociologist Deborah Steinberg pointed out that many Britons associated Diana not with the Royal Family but with social change and a more liberal society: "I don't think it was hysteria, the loss of a public figure can be a touchstone for other issues."
Ah, but then there was 9/11 and mawkishness became manly for hawks, too.
So, now mawkishness is for everyone and any sort of sad or shocking event. (Oooh, look at the company I'm keeping in that piece.)
And, of course, a certain Faux News personality
More recently, the Right Wing Noise Machine went into overdrive over the so-called Ground-Zero Mosque.
And I could go on and on with examples of other professional and semi-professional weepers, but you get the point.
Now technological advance has made mawkishness viral. Witness the virtual mound of flowers and teddy bears.
Yes. I'm a bad person.
ADDED: Ooh, am I prescient or what? 'Mawkishness' is now Word of the Day.