From what I’ve seen, the phenomenon dubbed Cringe Culture is a paragon of insecurity, internalized misogyny, and self-loathing.
Let me elaborate a little here: here on Tumblr (and in life in general, honestly), a lot of folks are very pre-occupied with what is or isn’t Cringey. It’s a dynamic somewhat reminiscent of an eighth grade schoolyard, but that’s really not the issue here.
What Tumblr folks dub Cringey are typically things that are enjoyed by young teens (in particular, young girls) exploring fandom and fan creativity for the first time.
Yes, these teens are frequently obnoxious, overzealous, and loud, but it’s an exciting time for kids: we as adults may have comfortably settled into our interests, but for them it’s an avenue of unsupervised self-expression they may not have experienced before. Moreover, they have little to no experience in moderating themselves, which is one of the reasons why I believe the act of mocking them to be a somewhat callous one.
Are they occasionally annoying? Subjectively, yes. I frequently find young teens and tweens annoying, particularly when they’re being loud and obnoxious during my allotted writing time. But I don’t shame them for it, on here or in real life, because I’m an adult and they are literally children .
And most importantly, so are the people mocking them.
I’ll elaborate once again: I’m nineteen. Most of my friends, both on here and on my other blog, are fellow chill late teens and twenty-somethings. And I’ve never seen any adult who’s secure in their own self-image do anything other than Do Their Own Thing and allow everyone else do the same.
In other words, I’ve been involved in fandom for a few years now, and almost everyone I’ve seen actively participating in cringe culture has turned out to be no older than seventeen or so themselves, and probably (consciously or otherwise) attempting to distance themselves from their “embarrassing” younger alter egos and feel more confident in their purported maturity.
Because they probably did some Cringey things when they were fourteen, too: maybe they drew manga OCs on DeviantArt with needlessly elaborate hair, ran a passionate SuperWhoLock blog, read Homestuck, wrote angsty poetry about turning into wolves, et cetera.
Of course, the whole point here is that there is literally nothing wrong with any of these things: they’re harmless examples of children exploring revenues of creativity for the first time, that we’ve been conditioned to find embarrassing.
Now, I’m not going to pretend I didn’t have this phase myself: I once got into an impassioned argument on Facebook with a bunch of One Direction fans when I was sixteen or so, in which I dismissed their obsession as being Stupid and Juvenile and proclaimed my favored Heavy Metal as being far superior.
Now, I’m still not into One Direction in the slightest, but if I could go back in time I would probably smack my sixteen-year-old self upside the head and tell her to leave people alone and let them do their own thing.
Of course, a large part of my reasoning was also driven at the time by my unfortunate Not Like Other Girls phase, in which I wanted to distance myself from the silliness of my fellow teen girls as much as possible. I may or may not have still been in my “I hate pink” phase, which I still shudder to think about to this day.
Which brings me to another one of Cringe Culture’s more problematic aspects: it’s inherently a little misogynist, in that almost everyone who partakes in it is attempting to distance themselves from the interests of teenage girls.
Shows like Doctor Who, Steven Universe, Voltron, Supernatural, Yuri on Ice, and many others all have passionate and predominantly young female fanbases, and as such, people seem unwittingly inclined to see them as inherently vapid, annoying, or Cringey in a way that equally vocal male-dominated fandoms simply aren’t.
Even being a Trekkie (Star Trek fan) was considered embarrassing when the fandom was predominantly female populated, although the means by which fanfiction and discourse was exchanged was via fan-run zines rather than Tumblr blogs. Now that men are in on it, it’s considered one of the best fandoms there is.
More male populated fandoms such as Game of Thrones, the Walking Dead, the DC and Marvel cinematic universes, and Star Wars are just as impassioned, and have had just as many ideological issues in the past. Yet are these things ever denigrated as being Cringy or annoying? Not that I can recall.
Another one of my greatest issues with Cringe Culture is that it discourages passion: I have never encountered a fandom, Cringey or otherwise, that hasn’t produced genuinely stunning works of art and fiction. Moreover, I’ve never encountered a fandom that doesn’t have fans who have cited it as what saved them from depression or even suicide.
So if someone’s passionate about something, even if it’s something of no value to you, it costs absolutely zero dollars to mind your own goddamn business and not taint their joy with your own insecurity, cynicism, and internalized self-loathing.
Similarly, I can speak from experience when I say my interests and fandoms got me through the very worst period of my adolescence, and I’d be a significantly less happy person if I didn’t have still have them to fall back on. Not everyone’s sole source of enjoyment and comfort in life comes from nihilistic memes.
So if you want to take a step towards fostering a more creative generation, take a step away from Cringe Culture. Respect other people’s interests, and openly and unabashedly enjoy your own. Question why you think certain interests are Cringey, and try to distance yourself from the mentality that you’re a better or cooler person for being less similar to young women.
And finally, try and forgive your fourteen-year-old self for whatever cringiness they may have been culpable of, and tell them that you love them anyway.
Here’s to the newbies just starting out, the ones discovering their ability to twist and bend plots, characters and places to their will for the first time,
To the old faithfuls, who have kids at home and a full-time job but somehow still find the time to make us forget for a while,
To the students who publish one-shots and sagas in-between study sessions,
To the ones who posted that one fic years ago and have since moved on, but whose story meant (and still means) so much to so many readers,
To those of you who publish short, little things that pack the emotional punch of a freight train,
To the ones who update faithfully, and to the ones who don’t,
To the ones who weave lyrics into their stories, and the ones who deal in nothing but angst,
To those who don’t write in their native language,
To the brave ones who do it despite their fear of rejection or criticism,
To the ones who like to write with their friends, and the ones who do it alone because their friends wouldn’t understand,
To the ones who spend hours researching in order to to make their world as real as possible,
To to the poets and novelists and essayists and dreamers:
Every single one of you is precious.
You, along with all the other fandom artists and creators, lift us up and give us hope. You make us laugh, you make us cry, you make us think and question and wonder. You help us escape, sometimes, when we need it most. You bring the unimaginable to life, you translate lofty words into ones we can smell, hear and taste, and you continually encourage and inspire us. You’re wonderful and powerful and courageous and so, so loved, even if we aren’t always the best at letting you know it. So this is for those of you with empty comment sections, with a concerning lack of kudos/likes/favs/bookmarks. Your stories make a difference, and they always will.