Cringe Culture

The words cringe/cringy/whatever other words I don’t want to keep saying have a lot of different meanings depending on who you ask; but in this context, it’s just another form of homegrown internet vocabulary that pertains to something people see as awkward, weird, or embarrassing.

Over time, especially in the last 15 years or so with the vapid rise of the internet, and too many social media platforms to cite, cringe culture has become an internet phenomenon synonymous with making fun of, criticizing (I use that word very loosely), or insulting someone else, or an interest, entire demographic, so on and so forth. 

The example I would like to use is popular former YouTuber LeafyIsHere. Leafy began on YouTube as just another Minecraft YouTuber in 2013, but throughout 2015, and 2016, he grew his content slowly into making fun of random people online to the point of cyberbullying. He also cultivated a fanbase of people who did the same thing.

The concept of cringe culture itself existed long before, and long after his time on the internet, but he perpetuated it to a point of extreme that was unmatched by anyone else at the time. The first example of this is a video he uploaded in January of 2016 titled “THE SADDEST MAN ON YOUTUBE” in which Leafy reacted to a video by a content creator by the name of MrBlackDarkness666, in which he ridiculed him for his physical appearance, and presence.

In the video, the person in question is walking outside in goth makeup and getting yelled at by people on the street, mostly literal children, despite not really doing anything. After Leafy published the video on him, his wave of fans went on to his channel to harass him in the comments, and this led to a drama between the two. 

This was a recurring theme throughout Leafy’s career. He would consistently make videos poking fun at people who were more often than not, a very oppressed and targeted demographic. (He went after autistic people in the form of his drama with TommyNC2010, a random autistic man just making videos for fun, and Leafy upon making a video on him, put his fans onto the path to harassing him with literal death threats.) 

This came to a halt on September 13th 2016, when another popular YouTuber in the commentary scene at the time; IDubbbz made a video in his “Content Cop” series on Leafy, criticizing him for his content and belittling him. Whether or not this video was hypocritical of IDubbbz to make (and it was), it sent Leafy’s channel and popularity on a downward spiral that he never recovered from. His views and subscribers would diminish until he eventually quit YouTube altogether in late 2017. While he would eventually make a brief comeback run in 2020, he still never truly recovered, and failed to succeed on the platform as the landscape of the site had changed since he was in his prime. 

The reason the topic of IDubbbz in the same context as Leafy is so controversial (other than the fact that he practically ended his career) is the fact that IDubbbz has done very very similar things. IDubbbz has the same edgy humor Leafy had, he’s done similar things to people’s careers that Leafy has, and above all else, I look at IDubbbz now as a complete hypocrite. Both of them are bad people, and nobody in this scenario is right or wrong, no matter how many wannabe Leafy clones are still trying to ride off the coattails of this community’s glory days from 7 years ago.

The reason I bring this up as an example of cringe culture is because Leafy and IDubbbz both mobilized perhaps one of the most important modern examples of it in the internet’s recency. These two men specifically are perhaps the biggest reason the commentary community still exists today with similar vigor to how it did then, even if it’s lost its edge slightly.

Cringe culture was heavily prominent on YouTube primarily because of things like Leafy making fun of TommyNC2010, because of edgy 14 year olds making fun of furries, because of people like GradeAUnderA making videos on SJWs.

These things, especially when you combine things like feminism and SJWs with America’s political climate at the time, led to a massive influx of cringe culture on the internet in a wave that is still being ridden today, even after all this time.