Cringe. One of the most overused words on the internet, in my correct opinion. But what IS... "Cringe"? As a self-proclaimed connoisseur of cringe, I ask you in turn: what is your most embarrassing memory? The one that you remember late at night, when you're trying to sleep? The one that makes you think, over and over, as if casting an incantation: "Nobody remembers this but me?" Well, that feeling of embarrassment that you feel is 'cringe'. Although, the way with which it is used on the Internet often refers to cringing at others - a sort of secondhand embarrassment for those you are viewing.
Cringe culture is not a creation of God. "Cringe culture" became largely spread on the internet, first with the creation of r/cringe on Reddit in 2009, and then with the explosion of cringe compilations (simply, a collection of "cringe" content) on YouTube in the mid-2010s. Ever since, it has been festering in the internetsphere, like the gross old food in the fridge that you keep forgetting to throw out.
If "cringe" is defined online as a feeling of secondhand embarrassment for someone else, then "cringe culture" is defined as the culture of gathering content which is seen as socially unacceptable, and coming together to mock that content. This is most often seen in the form of fandom cringe content, to the point that it is usually what exclusively comes to mind when one describes "cringe culture".
You may note that this is nothing more than a form of bullying. Which it is. Usually, the people whose content is put up for mockery is the work of beginner artists of all fields, socially awkward individuals, and children. Oftentimes, if a work is popularized in groups participating in cringe culture, this can lead to the creators of this content being sought out, so that they can be bullied directly. The element of harassment of those making harmless (if not a bit embarrassing) content online is not a bug of cringe culture. It's a feature. Due to the nature of this culture being built off of bullying, it is only to be expected that it will eventually be carried out to the victim's face.
When talking about those which are considered socially unacceptable; whether that be due to interests or expression thereof, appearance, or social blunders; the majority of folks who fit that category are autistic people. I would argue that, because of this, autistic people are (on purpose or accidentally) one of the biggest targets of cringe culture, along with, perhaps, beginner artists. When the whole point of "cringe" is to see someone being socially unacceptable, of course it's going to target the disability where "socially unacceptable" is a part of the fucking DSM-5 criteria!
The stats back this up, too. Or, at least, the stats that we have, given that, somehow, research on what percentage of a fandom is autistic isn't exactly a priority for research scientists! The furry fandom is, more or less, the face of cringe culture. In the meantime, it just-so happens that the furry fandom has a high percentage of autistic people! Furscience's Anthrocon 2018 study concluded that around 11.7% of furries are diagnosed with autism. And that's just asking those who are PROFESSIONALLY diagnosed; not those who are seeking out or those who self-identify as autistic. This is compared to the 2.8% of the general population, according to the CDC (although it should be considered that the 2.8% statistic comes from children who are diagnosed, and the 11.7% statistic comes a wider variety of people). Nonetheless, the intensity of the difference more or less accounts for all possible errors in the study; furries are definitely several times more likely to be autistic. And although there isn't any widespread studies on the subject (... yet), it's agreed upon that the Sonic the Hedgehog fandom and My Little Pony fandom are also highly populated by autistic people. And, of course, both of these fandoms are poster children for cringe culture.
I promise this is related.
You may know the story of rabidloving from StrangeAeon's popular video on the topic. For those who don't know: rabidloving was a satire blog created in 2018, which (from the outside looking in) seemed to satirize tumblr's "crazy genders and sexualities" via pretending to be a person who labeled himself as "rabiosexual"; someone attracted to those who have contracted rabies. At the time, it was hotly debated whether or not it was satire, but I've always been of the opinion that it very obviously was (which was later confirmed). The character running the blog then proceeded to talk about his interpersonal drama with his family and boyfriend, as well as contracting rabies. This buckwild blog, of course, sparked a small community of those similarly claiming to be "rabiosexual" in a satirical manner.
As much as I appreciate StrangeAeons' videos, I must also admit: this deep dive is simply not that deep at all. It goes into the history of the meme, but not the origin of the meme; where the idea of "rabiosexual pride" came from.
In truth, "rabiosexual pride" came from "rabies pride". "Rabies pride" was a movement created by and for trans autistic people to embrace who they are in 2017. The idea was based off of the idea that trans autistic people were treated like animals with a contagious disease for being "too much", due to their autistic traits and being openly trans. It's about how you shouldn't have to mask your true self in order to be accepted.
Due to rabidloving (who made a satire blog regarding this movement) going viral, people had no clue what the history of this term was. In the words of the creator of rabies pride, it "... completely derailed my movement and destroyed all the foothold it had because people would rather make fun of a mentally ill child who finds comfort in something 'strange' than take a step back and let people cope how they wish with satire posts about themselves." Rabies pride turned from a movement laughing with autistic trans people about how 'feral' they are, to laughing AT them. Because the desire to mock and bully those who are neurodivergent will spread faster than a movement made by neurodivergents, every time.
There's even more aspects of cringe culture that I could get into. The way it oftentimes targets trans people, for one. Then, the recent incident regarding the popularization of using "weird" fetish art for cringe compilations. This popularization was done by the YouTuber Solar Sands, who recently stated on Twitter that he thinks that fetish art is immoral and "degrades society". When people were surprised by this, he was surprised in turn, because, in his words, "His older (DeviantArt cringe) videos were all about this." (Immediately following that up with stating that even procreation is immoral to some extent, which is certainly A Take.) Revealing that his "cringe compilation" videos had been nothing but a thinly-veiled attempt at making his viewers anti-sex puritans like himself. I could go on and on...
But the conclusion I'd like to draw is this: cringe culture is nothing but a bunch of bullies (often with bigoted motives) picking on neurodivergent people for daring to be themselves. The fear of being seen as 'cringe' by being too earnest is the enemy of art, self-expression, and all things genuine and good.
The simple truth is this (especially if you are an autistic person struggling with unmasking): if you are cringe, you are free!