“Have any of you ever found yourself in this embarrassing situation?” Matt Thomas writes in the caption of a video in which he dances Take a Bow by Rihanna in her room with a plush blade. His ‘brother’ (played by Thomas himself) enters without knocking, catching him just as he sings the stanza that says “you look so dumb right now” (you seem so stupid right now).
Anyone who has been a teenager can identify with it. The memories of my adolescence in the nineties range from dancing to the notes of Everybody (Backstreet’s Back) in my violet-colored bedroom with a Kangol flat cap on my head, which is put upside down in my mother's room while I'm making out with a huge poster by Leonardo DiCaprio. These painful moments of the thankless age are exactly what the Generation Z placed for millions of people on TikTok, the app most downloaded from the App Store in the first quarter of 2019.
The videos are found under #cringev, which has been tagged more or less 163.4 million times on the app, and on hundreds of similar hashtags like #embracethecringe, #imcringe and # cringe4life. Meanwhile #awkward has been tagged 191.1 million times, with variables like #feelingawkward, #sociallyawkward and #awkwardteen. Almost a decade after Instagram overwhelmed our lives, it seems that the tendency to publish “perfect” selfies is definitely waning. At a time when all articles about young people and social media seem to focus on their negative impact on body image, self-esteem and mental health, there was a need for TikTok's “cringe” content.
Generation Z feels more confident
“It is important for young people to know that it is good to have fun without the anxiety of being perfect” says Syd, a TikTok star with 1.3 million followers. “They should feel empowered to express themselves in any way they want, as long as they don't hurt anyone.” Syd is a 15-year-old from Kansas City with colored hair, eyes made up with expertise and very defined eyebrows. His videos consist mostly of dancing in an awkward room; in one, he rubs his well-groomed eyebrows on the notes of Confessions of Usher. In another he is lying on the bed explaining how certain small gestures on social media can hurt emotionally. “It is clear that breaking both arms and legs hurts, but do you know what hurts even more? When the person you were trying to get yourself noticed starts following you and then stops».
The video compilations cringe on TikTok have also started to arrive on Instagram, spreading the message to the masses. Mary Chacanaca, an 18-year-old student who lives in Los Angeles, posted her favorite videos on @TikTokCringe, an account opened in October 2018 that already has 20,600 followers. “Most people download TikTok as a joke, but then ends up pleasing him“, He says. “Others see it as a new version of Vine for its bizarre humor – a kind of humor that is not seen on other platforms.”
One of Chacanana's most popular reposted videos, with more than 211 thousand views, shows a guy hiding from an alien twerk. “My most popular posts are always the ones I least expected», He explains, showing another one with 320 thousand views in which you see a boy with a pink sweater and glasses popping out of the stairs with the song of The Script Hall of Fame in the background. One way or another, this generation has found a way to dance in front of the whole world as if nobody were watching, lbreaking away from a society that has always told them to behave like everyone else.
Matthew Broderick in Ferris Buehler's Day off , 1986
© Alamy Stock Photo
Break down stereotypes
With 11,500 followers on TikTok, the20-year-old art director Luisa Solley joined the social media for her cringe content. “It's such a relief for young people,” he writes to me in direct. “On TikTok you don't have to pretend someone else. It is a platform where everyone can express themselves as they normally would not have dared ». Solley appreciates his ability to break down stereotypes, especially the cliché of the asshole where guys who were once considered arrogant and presumptuous now post embarrassing videos of themselves: “They take pictures with their cell phones while they sing in playback with their eyes narrowed and touch their chins – it is almost impossible to look at them without feeling embarrassed! ».
Solley was shy at school and finds that the contents cringe the self more confident: «I was ashamed of my acne, of frizzy hair, of clothes that have been abandoned – they were what I was being teased for. I don't think I've ever recovered from shyness, but these videos helped me to accept the parts of me that the company didn't accept. It was a way to elaborate the really difficult years of my adolescence ».
Solley recently posted a video titled Weird Anxiety Things made at a time when her anxiety disorders pushed her to pinch. In the video she zooms in on the signs that remained on her skin and shows herself lying on the bed with the caption: “I go to the bathroom five times before going to sleep because I'm afraid of wetting the bed”. Solley says she felt better immediately after posting the video to show it to the TikTok community: “I received comments that really helped me and some even knew exactly how it felt in that situation.”
People often joke about the painful memories of their youth because in retrospect it is easier to see their comic side (even if at the time they didn't laugh at all and a part of them doesn't even laugh now). Cringe videos are a new form of expression because are not glossy anecdotes of the past – they are analyzes of how it feels to be a teenager.
Tom Cruise in Risky Business, 1983
© Alamy Stock Photo
Even if it's not “cool” – it's cool
“I am trying to suggest everyone to use pain as an element of strength because nobody has a perfect life, ” says Varli Singh, a woman outside the age group of the Centennials but whose TikTok account is followed by 919,300 people. A teeneager I know describes Singh as “the Tikoker most cringe of all. She is not our age but the boys find it very funny “.
Singh does not identify himself with the term “cringe” and does not use it among his tags. THE his videos often have his daughters as protagonists and are species of comic sketches full of positive messages about the dangers of alcoholism, drugs and bullying“My young followers feel inspired by me because I've never let anyone humiliate me or stop me from doing what I like,” he says. “My courage and determination have motivated these boys and pushed them to go ahead despite all the evil that surrounds us”.
The widespread feeling among the media and the Millennials is that the next generation will be destroyed by social networks and the unattainable lifestyle of Kylie Jenner and company; the contents cringe however seem to suggest otherwise. “These videos have become mainstream,” explains Taro Shimada, director of ON ROAD, a strategic research agency on youth and virtual communities. «Even if it's not” cool “, it is. It is a movement that allows adolescents to express themselves in freedom ».
Judging by the videos that these guys post, maybe it's time to consider the possibility that they'll get along.