Cringe Culture Isn’t Funny. It’s Bullying.

Cringe culture is repackaged bullying, with people collectively making fun of individuals for being what is deemed embarrassing or shameful at that point in time.

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By Emily Young-Squire

Cringe culture, when people make fun of or insult others for being “cringe” because of their interests or behavior, is often perceived as entertaining or harmless, when it really involves giving feelings of superiority to those who mock others. In the comedy show, The Office, Michael Scott often creates awkward situations that are amusing to the viewers, reflecting the typical outsider’s perspective on subjects deemed cringe. However, it is not always harmless fun. Cringe culture has been repackaged into bullying, with people collectively making fun of individuals for being themselves by describing their behaviors as embarrassing or shameful.

For example, on DeviantArt, a site used to share artwork, people make fun of artists who lack experience and skill while usually not offering constructive criticism. Cringe culture became more common with the rise of YouTube cringe compilations and the usage of comment sections on social media such as Instagram, Reddit, and TikTok. Reddit even has a subreddit named “r/cringe” with over 1.3 million members.

Cringe culture is constantly evolving as trends fall in and out of style. An example of this phenomenon is Japanese anime, which was recently popularized in the US by celebrities like Megan Thee Stallion and Michael B. Jordan. Previously, however, fans were often mocked for liking anime. Because of the fast pace of Internet culture, someone can be bullied for enjoying something considered cringy, only for it to rise in popularity months later.

Before it was rebranded as TikTok, Musical.ly was an infamously cringy app, known for its content featuring children lip syncing to songs. Society has a natural inclination to consider children cringeworthy, similar to how many upperclassmen often mock the incoming freshmen. An example of this attitude toward younger figures is Jojo Siwa, a young adult celebrity. Many people bullied Jojo Siwa because of her younger fanbase, childish acting, and colorful clothes. Similarly, popular games like Minecraft, Undertale, Five Nights at Freddy’s, Fortnite, and Fall Guys were praised for being fun when first put in the limelight, but their popularity began to decline as their respective communities became associated with young children. People of all ages who still enjoy these games are often mocked because having that interest is now considered cringeworthy.

Disguising bullying under the excuse that a person is “cringe” makes it laughable and palatable, offering a vehicle for harassing marginalized groups. In fact, many victims are women, disabled people, and/or members of the LGBTQ+ community. This bullying often comes from places of deep-rooted discrimination but surfaces as hating victims for being cringe. For instance, some people mock men or call them homosexual for listening to female artists, encouraging sexism in the music industry. While neurodivergent people often discover and become attached to niche communities to express common interests and creativity with others in these groups, others may see this activity as overzealous and obnoxious and make fun of them.

The furry community is one of the most widely despised communities on the Internet. Furries are defined as people who like anthropomorphic animals and range from fans of television shows like “My Little Pony” to those who create their own “fursonas,” personal furry-themed avatars. Many furries go to furry conventions where some wear “fursuits,” which are head-to-toe costumes of their fursonas. Though they have a harmless interest, they are often bombarded with ridicule, disgust, and of course, cringe. On the extreme side, some say that furries have mental illnesses and even go as far as to say they deserve to be harmed.

An intentional chlorine gas leak at Midwest FurFest, one of the largest furry conventions in the country, in 2014 caused 19 hospitalizations. However, in CBS This Morning’s report of this incident, the newsreaders struggled to contain a chuckle as they read the headline. In MSNBC’s report, Mika Bzezinski had to go off screen because she couldn’t hold in her laughter. Even worse, the comment sections of both videos mainly contain support for the criminal, and some were disappointed that there were no deaths. Wishing death to someone for being part of a harmless community, no matter how cringeworthy, is unacceptable behavior and should not be as normalized as it currently is.

Cringe culture creates a lack of individuality that comes from following trends instead of one’s own personal likes. Therefore, it is important to respect others’ genuine interests no matter how non-mainstream they are. Someone who earnestly enjoys an activity should not be harassed enough to stop doing it. People have to find solutions within their individual lives because they cannot rely on major social media platforms to protect them.

It is easy to follow the crowd and laugh at someone doing something cringy. While it is not an inherently evil act, there is a difference between finding something humorous and bullying someone. Though the lines of lighthearted fun can blur, bullying at any level should never be tolerated. Understanding this cycle of mob mentality is enough to have empathy for both the victims and the aggressors. One should prioritize one’s own identity and personal interests over others’ expectations. As cringy as it sounds, be yourself.