We can start with the featured photo above, Spotted: A Wild Covfefe. I walked into a trendy coffee shop, took this photo, and exited the building – all in under 60 seconds flat. No purchase in-hand. For any patron who witnessed this moment, I’m positive it was certifiably cringeworthy. For me, it was absolutely shameless. What can I say, I’m a real Fiona Gallagher.
Cringeworthiness isn’t quite the same as embarrassment. Instead, it is crossbred with a special strain of discomfort, empathy, and resentment. This state is usually imposed by another who is blissfully unaware of their lapse in judgment. Typically, cringe only shudders on behalf of another; where apologies can’t be made and the residual social anxiety has to be ridden out to shore.
It’s important to review these comparative examples before we get started:
Embarrassment: You spittle on someone’s face while sharing an exciting story. They wipe it off, and you die a little on the inside.
Uncomfortability: Someone makes an off-color joke by asking, “on a scale of 1-2 female pilots, just how feminist are you?” *
Cringeworthiness: Reading a print Cosmopolitan article that instructs you to coolly apply your peppermint Chapstick to your male partner’s nipples. I cringe on behalf of the entire operation that insists this is the 101st tip to revitalize your relationship. You all are the Weakest Link. Goodbye.
Now that we know what twisted hilarity we’re working with, continue to read the Top 10: Cringeworthy Moments that are guaranteed to induce a secondhand cold sweat as you flash through your associated memories.
Cutesy Abbreviations. Whether it’s “sis”, “marg”, “totes” or any other unnecessary abbreviation – my skin is literally crawling! Why can’t you say the full word!? What are you possibly doing with all of the time savings!? Tri-level marketing, perhaps?
Childish Behavior. You know the type. Depending on the company, the voice may raise a few octaves, rolling all the r’s. Yet, the dinner order is always chicken fingers and french fries. No matter the occasion or how many miles traveled. More truffle butter for us grown adults, I guess.
‘Impeccable’ Taste. It’s rare that we’re lucky enough to meet a connoisseur of all things. They restrictively drink IPA beer. They’ll shame you for not knowing the quality of Napa Valley grapes in 2006. They’ll explain why your taste in cinema, politics, and fashion is deplorable – if not outright irresponsible. They’ll relish in the opportunity to inform you of the importance of organic cleaning products. They especially love to speak directly with HBIC of any establishment to share their compliments/complaints. Not to be confused with Karen, who loves to speak with the manager for other (equally insulting) reasons.
Rehearsed Phrases. Most humans are able to differentiate genuine moments from calculated performances. It’s an ability that allows us to ward off anyone with the dreaded Judas gene. Even still, you’ll occasionally catch a wild Myspace quote in the middle of someone’s narrative. You may be discussing a recent misunderstanding when they spring for the “I deserve to be treated like a pink starburst” line. Yeah, okay but can we have a real conversation instead? This always reminds me of Role Models, when Paul Rudd calls out Sean William Scott by saying “that’s not a motto, that’s… just you saying a bunch of things.” Be more like Paul Rudd.
Overstated Presence. Some people are incredibly comfortable being on display. A specific subset of this same group seems as though they’re inviting public conflict, inflicting symptoms of IBS on innocent passersby. This behavior can range from listening to music without headphones (in a confined space), to complaining loudly about a nearby stranger, to the resident Karen screaming at the manager about her lukewarm coffee.
Humble Brags. It’s wonderful to be confident. It’s human to seek affirmation. Compliments go a long way. However, it is uncomfortable when someone presents a cliffhanger that requires a compliment to close the transaction. It becomes deliciously awkward when no one indulges. Sit there with your shameful brag, Chad.
Unnecessary Repetition. Humans often anticipate the result of any one interaction before it begins. When we don’t receive the expected response, we’ll often repeat the cycle (cue Einstein’s definition of insanity). This is especially evident when we figure a joke didn’t hit because no one heard us. BUT, THEY ALWAYS HEARD US! I have found that I am a prime offender of this. It is so much more painful the second time they don’t laugh.
Slanderous Bullsh*t. Hurt feelings are a dangerous trapping for our ugliest characteristics. Combined with a transient temper, we are tempted to say things we never thought possible. The same can be expected of our human friends and family alike. It transforms into something cringey when someone departs on a Mel Gibson-style tirade against their on-again, off-again partner – throwing out insults only worthy of the Burn Book. The ol’ “crazy f*cking b*tch” usually rears its head around this time. All you can offer up once they’re finished is an “okay, then…” a la Joan Cusack in Breakfast Club.
Irresponsible Marketing. As a design enthusiast, I’m pretty sensitive to detail. This means a lazy choice regarding a stock photo or a fugly font type is subject to render me unsettled. Of course, there is a spectrum for these grievances. My latest fury arose on a drive past an Arby’s, where the front windows were painted with the message “Now Hiring! Up to 12 to 16 dollars per hour!”. Up to 12 to 16? That’s confusing. Kendall Jenner representing a revolutionary activist, where a can of Pepsi resolves police brutality? That’s blasphemy. All the new billboards on the way to Milwaukee that say things like, “Washing your car burns calories”? That’s cringeworthy.
Public Injury. In her special Here and Now, Ellen Degeneres explains that “pain always takes a back-seat to embarrassment”. Whenever anyone is moderately injured in a public setting, they are quick to block the neural blast, and even quicker to prove they’re just fine. This is evident when someone trips and decides to jog for the next block or two. But, even more so when a person knocks themselves within an inch of a concussion and insists on pantomiming the incident repeatedly instead of recovering in peace. When everyone can tell you’re in significant pain, no matter how well you try to hide it, they are cringing for you. This reminds me of the time I tumbled off of a treadmill in a horrific manner in my college recreation center. I laughed it off manically and committed to another half hour of cardio, while everyone around me kept checking on me out of the corner of their eye.
For the past year and a half, I’ve never corrected my therapist for calling me “Kate”. Instead, I’ve often considered when I might just choose to switch over to this new nickname.
This serves as an example for how sensitive we can be to any form of confrontation. We’d rather double down than inflict any slight embarrassment.
In doing this, we understand that others make the same consolation for us – contractually obliging to not call each-other out for our awkward sh*t. Thus, cringing is the price we pay to keep the peace for society at large. Take that, Pepsi.
“Every week, it’s another city for me. Some places suck and they have sh*ttier people. There, I just gave you a Sociology degree.”Tom Segura. Completely Normal. 2014.
*This particular bit came to me on a recent flight. It was quite turbulent. The pilot updated us on the weather pattern over the intercom, per usual. I thought to myself, ‘ah, his voice is a little high’. And then it hit, ‘She’s gonna kill us all in f*cking Minnesota’.
I can make these jokes. I have a friend that’s a feminist.
It’s me. I’m friend.