By: Paige Riding, Copy Editor
The act of “cringing” at someone for their actions, appearance, or behaviour is just bullying for miserable adults.
Cringe culture is a harmful, low-brow form of “humour” exacerbated by the internet and its users hiding behind screens. It involves harassing someone because their happiness or experiences seemingly affect you — when they really don’t.
When people vocalize how enjoying certain content makes someone “cringe,” those unnecessary comments can harm the person who is just trying to live how they want to. This culture of embarrassing someone in the name of “humour” needs to die.
If you have an instinct to cringe when you see someone wearing an anime shirt or dancing in a social media video, you should consider what drives this bitter reaction. When you see self-expression in any form, why do you think your first response is so negative and self-centred?
The answer often lies in internalized instincts of othering — we want to fit in, to be accepted by the greater majority, so we purposefully distance ourselves from “the other.” Herd mentalities, or prioritizing acceptance from the majority (usually at the expense of another) only perpetuates this othering. When we see a person with less popular interests, be it loving K-pop, boasting heavy piercings, or anything in between, often we act on internalized othering instincts and distance ourselves from people expressing themselves how they wish.
With cringe culture, many of us don’t realize just how destructive this othering can be. This culture disproportionately affects groups already shamed for other parts of their identities, causing further discomfort where there should never be any in the first place.
Instead of celebrating differences through self-expression, cringe culture promotes sameness. Blatant ableism, sexism, homophobia, and racism run rampant and appear to be excused through the internet’s sardonic and excluding nature.
Isabelle Ford for the Toronto Star speaks about finding fellow LGBTQIA2S+ community members on TikTok, an app often targeted by cringe culture. Despite its reputation for being a site of “bad dancing and lip syncs,” TikTok and similar platforms “provide resources, encouragement, and guidance,” connecting people through common interests. As the pandemic leaves us curled up alone in our beds on our phones, sites that provide comfort in lonely times should never be something to cringe at, but rather something to celebrate.
The Autisticats, a blog run by four people with autism, says cringe culture is “fundamentally ableist.” They highlight an ironic pattern of othering, where neurotypical people “have repeatedly ostracized, abused, and excluded autistic people,” thus driving autistic people out of dominating social groups. Neurodivergent people then discover “internet-based fandoms” where “everyone’s a weirdo and it’s okay,” finally finding places where they will not be ostracized. These social groups, however, get co-opted by neurotypical people, where they once again become the targets of harassment for not “being part of the [neurotypical] in-group.”
Cringe culture targets people just trying to find what makes life more enjoyable. I encourage you to think before vocalizing how someone else living their life makes you feel. If you see cringe culture running rampant online, try supporting the target and encouraging them to enjoy what they like. If you have the energy, call out those perpetuating cringe culture and point out how harmful it is for their target and even the perpetuator.
When we head back to in-person classes this fall, I hope those happily bearing their favourite anime shirt or showing off a BTS enamel pin on their bag don’t send you into cardiac arrest. Better yet, I hope the time spent in isolation relatively distanced from judgment inspires you. Use these last weeks before classes return to explore your interests on a deeper level. Really consider what brings you joy, and also what you can do to help foster another’s joy instead of hampering it.
We’re all guilty of partaking in cringe culture, myself included, but that doesn’t mean we need to carry this ingrained hatred with us from here on out.