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Cringe vs. Cool: The Superficial Dichotomy

Labels, internal or societal, are so ingrained in our lives that they become a part and parcel of it.  They, however, do not travel alone. With them, they carry the burden of historical baggage, which is not necessarily progressive. This baggage percolates into individual lives and affects the psyche of the person in inexplicable and subconscious ways that all their actions are thereafter governed by these labels. One such distinction between people is made via the labels of ‘cringe’ and ‘cool’. Interestingly, these labels not only reflect the sagas of internal individual struggles but are also indicative of deeper socio-political realities. A longstanding distinction such as this not only neglects the notion of individual choice but also indicates constant social strife between several groups.

This distinction becomes exceedingly evident in the urban milieu where people from various socio-economic backgrounds compete for similar opportunities. Their different experiences will naturally result in different choices and preferences. The choices of few often met with derision by a handful of individuals who claim to have a superior taste of culture (which in itself is a colonial farce) is irrational, classist, and extremely insensitive. Such derision manifests itself in various lethal forms, from subtle taunts to passive bullying. I cannot emphasize enough the correlation between these life experiences and future actions. This mockery may result in the formation of a people-pleasing and pretentious personality of an individual or it may result in an eternal state of melancholy for the individual. Whatever the outcome, the result is a loss of authenticity and in some cases, the development of a strange fear. Furthermore, one must always remember the role of cruel capitalism in fueling such deriding attitudes and recognize that the problem lies in the fundamental system and not individuals.

Accepting the cringeworthy patterns in your behavior promises unusual liberation and empowerment that efforts to ensure supposedly cool behavior can never. Liking highly predictable romcoms isn’t cringe. Expressing your emotions as they are without coating them with acceptable words isn’t cringe. Reading books that revolve around mundane romances isn’t cringe. We all crave cringe when we are emotionally unstable and experience the ‘void’. The very fact that we crave cringe shatters the dichotomy between cool and cringe. It highlights how superficial these labels are and that pretention is intrinsic to ‘cool’ behavior.

A recent tendency to laugh at cringe content can be easily noticed. Social media is flooded with memes that sarcastically use popular symbols of cringe and these memes form the famous ‘Generation Z humor’. This again reflects a pattern of adding a tinge of ‘coolness’ to make cringe content acceptable. For instance, dark humor memes often make use of cringe lines or dialogues of movies and books to explain unusually funny situations of life. What could be the possible purpose of such diffusions if not to satiate not so acceptable craving for the cringe?

Another phenomenon closely associated with cringe is ‘cultural cringe’ which means disregarding one’s inherited culture and to cringe over it while glorifying other ‘cool’ cultures. Of course, the choice of following a particular culture is a matter of individual liberty but what if this individual liberty is regulated by forces of colonialism? Can a concept like individual liberty even exist in a world so much governed by societal forces like capitalism? What cruel realities exist under the den of ‘cool’ practices and cultures? Is cringe nothing but a capitalist construct to alienate people who do not or cannot subscribe to the practices of consumerism?

A major drawback of the commonly labeled cringe content in the form of books, movies, or actions and words is the underlying theme of exploitation. Sexism is a common justification to cringe over a specific type of content. But, is the mainstream cool content free of such forms of exploitation? Inequality is an unfortunate reality of society and it prevails in all social realities. The difference lies in the forms of inequality. The harshness of certain cool, swear words is known to every wise soul. When the same words are used by individuals belonging to the lower strata, they are called cringe and even vulgar. Similar is the case with forms of leisure and entertainment. If a romantic plot develops between two affluent individuals, it is cool enough to provide entertainment. But, when the same plot develops between two individuals hailing from vulnerable sections of society, shivers of cringe pass through the spine of ‘cool’ people.

To accept supposedly cringe-worthy patterns in one’s behavior is to wage a revolution against societal norms and revolt against the superficial dichotomy of cringe and cool. Individual acceptance and societal transformation share a lot. Progressive changes in society might result in changing the definition of cringe and making it more inclusive. Individual changes might promise better social realities. The liberation of people to realize their authentic self is necessary and this dichotomy is a major hurdle in achieving the same.

Srushti Sharma

Delhi South '20

Just trying to strike a balance between personal havoc and societal farce in whatever I write :)
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