Cringe to Crown: Internet Culture and Clowning

One common factor among many internet successes is the transformation from doing something that is usually considered cringy and elevating it to a level of tremendous popular success. This is almost an essential aspect of internet fame. One reason for this pattern in this early stage of the internet is because we are still conditioned as an audience to see culture as separate from life. The things we cringe at on the internet are things that have been edited out through a style of production in mainstream media. Because they have been so relentlessly scrubbed from existence on cable television, Hollywood movies, popular magazines and newspapers, these quirks and eccentricities of everyday living stand out when we see them and then strangely satisfy some deep desire.

We don’t want to appear as cringy. We are cringy. We want to be ourselves. We learn to embrace our differences. Cringe becomes a prerequisite. No cringe, no personality. An acquired taste, cringe becomes a delicacy, a kink. There are fifty shades of cringe.

What happens when we see someone do something cringy on the Internet? Cringe evolves. People who follow Tik Tok, like Christina Pavitsky, report that there are numerous subcultures that segment into different niches of cringe. Cringe gets love on the Internet like nowhere else because it is so relatable. Yes, it is amazing to watch a polished performer like Beyonce go through hours of choreography and singing without missing a step. There’s also something super repressed and therefore repressive about the worship of stellar performances. There is something totalitarian in the disciplined perfection of form.

When we accept that cringe is part of the package of being human, we learn to love ourselves better and to be ourselves more. Comics know this and Chris D’Elia is proving it in a way that is almost unimaginable. Setting aside the incredibly cringy problems that D’Elia has had in his personal life, he also talks and reflects on the place of cringe in his comedy. He has this running joke about how being disrespectful by doing things like ordering postmates during the podcast is being more respectful because he is being himself and that shows a trust in the relationship.

D’Elia is a connoisseur of cringe and finds incredible moments of video and audio to dissect and to analyze on his podcast. This has become the formula for lots of comedic podcasts. H3 podcast does it. Ethan is the godfather of cringe. Two Bears and Bad Friends rely upon the shocking value of cringe. Bert is a cringe god. Bobby a cringe unicorn. Responding to cringe on the Internet is now an industry. This is the mad generation, and everyone is an influencer and marketer.

One Internet sensation that started out as cringe and has taken an internet crown is the inimitable Chet Hanks. When he first came out with his video taken, I think at the Golden Globes red carpet when he introduced the world to his own aggressive version of patua, speaking like a Jamaican dancehall king. Since then, this has become a periodic occurrence leading to a massive amount of heckling but also finally respect and admiration. 

Being the son of one of the all-time great US American actors can’t be an easy fate, but Chet is making the absolute most of it and for that he has become an icon. Recently, he introduced a ludicrous idea he calls White Boy Summer to the world via Instagram, but then he specifies that there are certain codes of conduct and dress that are necessary for this definition of white boy. He wants to differentiate it from alt-right Trump supporters and to reclaim some notion of whiteboyness as an identity of allyship.

Because what Chet Hanks was doing came across as so ludicrous, so cringy that nobody would do it if it weren’t in some way authentic. Cringe is the new seasoning. It’s not something you can just do without. It gives your content its flavor. Chet Hanks teaches us that the pursuit of expressing your truth is going to have to go through a process of being embarrassingly exposed to ridicule to achieve the strength necessary to transform into a better design. 

When does cringe go too far? This important question is constantly being answered by the actions of people on the internet. D’Elia disappeared from the public for 9 months after allegations of his inappropriate conversations with underage or barely legal girls surfaced. That is not cringe, it is criminal. That is a huge difference. There are things that should be repressed, need to be outlawed, cannot be allowed. There is an ethical line where something that is merely an expression of our basic human nature merges into violations of other people’s rights. The thing about cringe is it must be victimless. The only type of cringe that is acceptable is the cringe that only embarrasses the person in charge of the production.

Because the internet is new and unregulated, we are experiencing an evolution in aesthetics and ethics and the importance of understanding cringe and the ethics of the shocking is critical to improving Internet culture. Logan Paul is a perfect example. His video that showed a dead body in a suicide forest in Japan was cringy, but it was also an ethical violation. It wasn’t just in bad taste, or embarrassing; it was wrong. As we make things for the Internet and consume other people’s creations, we are engaging in a process of becoming more human with all the rewards and risks that entails.

Five Reasons the Internet Doesn’t Suck

Right now, we have a chance to create a new future. The courage to change requires a lot of motivation. Do you want things to change? Do you want to change them? What is your reason for doing the work? How do you want to be? What do you want to achieve?

Motivation is synonymous with will power. It is the ability to get yourself to do something despite distractions, an aversion to pain, fatigue or any other reason. Exercising will power means sticking to a decision until a new decision has been made. It is a form of mental strength that manifests as consistency. 

This stability achieved through exercising will power is key to building trust, which is a superpower when it comes to relationships. If will power is like most things, then it can be built up through practice or it will diminish through neglect. Things are either vital and growing or they are in decline. What resources does the Internet provide us with that we can use to stimulate growth and to strengthen our will?

  1. Mental and Physical Exercises: the mind-body connection is a very real thing. Exercising the body can help us to build our will power. Exercising your mind can, too. Setting aside time for exercise is more common today than in previous generations. Setting aside time for mental fitness is just as important. There are tons of awesome tutorials on YouTube that break down the mechanics of exercises and their effects on your body. When athletes get hurt and require physical therapy, they gain a better understanding of how their body functions. Today, the Internet is full of valuable sports science information.
  2. Nutrition and Diet: take control of your health through what you eat in the kitchen. The science of nutrition is ever evolving and can be confusing at times, but a solid fundamental knowledge of what the body needs and how to best provide it with those needs is critical to everything you do. What you eat affects how you feel physically, mentally and emotionally. This is something that I intend to keep learning about and the best part is that when you find out what works and what isn’t working it immediately improves your life. Whether that is understanding macros and losing extra weight, removing some foods that your body doesn’t process well or addressing some kind of hormonal imbalance caused by nutritional deficiency you will be able to find helpful guides on the Internet to empower you through education on how diet and nutrition affect the body and mind. 
  3. Cooking: the value of good food is immeasurable. Learning to cook is one sure way to improve the quality of your life. When you can cook food that you find delicious, it empowers you. You have multiple opportunities every day to try something new, to innovate and explore. The internet is loaded with cooking tutorials, recipes and other inspirations to get you going in the kitchen.
  4. Fun: playing is staying in the game. Finding balance is key in life. How much time you spend on any of these activities depends upon your lifestyle. Surely, you can find something fun to do in your area. Take a look at the map of where you live and try to imagine it from the perspective of a visitor. What would they find to do that looks fun? Whether a game of Lazer Tag, mountain biking a trail, 
  5. Local History: exploring your zone. Wherever you live there are things that you don’t know about and finding out how things came to be will undoubtedly give you some good context for figuring out the current situation. When we think about learning history, we tend to focus on much bigger geographical areas, but digging into the history of a neighborhood, of a section of a town, of a road, of a forest can unlock some magical information about where you live.