Skip to main content

The Cringe

First season Parks and Rec was amazingly bad. I'm going to start by stating it is unbelievable how quickly this show rose from the inky depths of mediocrity to being one of the best sitcoms on TV. Because the first few shows? Really bad.

Part of the reason I'm reacting so negatively to early P&R is its reliance on one of my least favorite comedy styles: cringe humor. The cringe is created by awkward social moments that go on and on and on. I'm not sure the reaction to the situation could even properly be considered comedy. Laughing simply seems the only way to expel the toxic levels of humiliation.

To be fair, not all cringe is created equal and I do like certain movies that include it. Rushmore, for example, one of my all-time favorite films, has this scene about half-way through.

The awkwardness - it burns!

But the difference is this scene is meant to advance the story, the character and the themes of the story. This is a pivotal moment when Max begins to lose the fiction he has worked so hard to maintain in his life. It's painful to watch but it's going somewhere.

Compare to this scene from P&R in the episode where Lesley Knope is trying to canvas for  a public forum on a park she's trying to build.


The situation is embarrassing and we probably feel some smidgeon of empathy for the character but it's ruined by two problems. One, it isn't funny but two the scene isn't really serving any purpose other than inducing body-wracking levels of vicarious humiliation. Has Lesley been radically changed by this terrible encounter? Not really. So we the audience are left to assume that this situation is not meaningful, that we have been made to suffer for a character for no good reason. And, the suffering, ultimately was the point. Cringe humor, when done badly is a kind of passion play, where we watch a scapegoat (socially) flayed so we can feel bad about ourselves. There are lower levels of amusement but not many.

To sum up, cringe humor is useful when it serves to highlight important character development or advances the story. It sucks when it serves to make the intended audience feel like they are experiencing the public speaking nightmare.
Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

Review of I Wish I Was Like You by S.P. Miskowski

Even 23 years later, I remember 1994 and Kurt Cobain's death. I experienced that moment as a kind of inside out personal crisis. I felt ashamed by his death. As though his exit in someway indicted my own teenage miseries. "I wish I was like you," goes the verse in 'All Apologies,' "Easily amused." I felt as though a check I hadn't remembered writing had just been cashed. 


SP Miskowski's book, named after the first half of that line, is in the words of another reviewer, a novel that shouldn't work. The narrator is unlikeable, unreliable, and dead. The plot is almost entirely told as a flashback and long sections of the novel concern the inner processes of the writer. The daily grind to summon up enough self-esteem to carry a sentence to its logical conclusion is a real struggle, people, but it ain't exactly riveting.

But the thing is, this novel works. It is one of the best things I've read all year and a real achievement in weird ficti…

What I Read in 2017

The third in my series of year-end lists is literature. As in past years, I've divided this post into two categories: Novels and short stories. Each of these stories made 2017 just a bit brighter for me and I hope this list includes at least a writer or two new to you.


Novels:
I Wish I was You by SP Miskowski: This was the subject of a review earlier this year. The way I feel about this novel, the tragedy of a talented person crippled by anger and regret, transformed into a monstrous avatar of wrath, has not really left me. Beyond the perfection of its prose and its preternatural subject matter, I feel like this is one of the best evocations of the mid-nineties I've seen published. There's something about this book that lingers with me long past the concerns of its plot and characters. I guess what I'm trying to say is this work moved me. 2017 would have been a lot dimmer if I hadn't read this work.New York 2140 by Kim Stanley Robinson: Robinson writes next-level sp…

Review of "Pretty Marys All in a Row" by Gwendolyn Kiste

Part of the reason American Gods works is that it offers a kind of reward to folk lore mavens and religious study majors. Do you have a working familiarity with obscure Northern European mythologies? Are you able to describe what Neil Gaiman got right and what he fudged a bit in terms of the Egyptian religion? Then the guessing games of that novel - just which Middle Eastern Goddess is this? - magnify its other charms. 
"Pretty Marys All in a Row" by Gwendolyn Kiste (released by Broken Eye Books), is a novella for people, like me, who are waiting impatiently for the next season of Bryan Fuller's show. It's not set in that universe, certainly, but approaches the question of folklore from a similar perspective. Namely, that myths have a definite, physical explanation and your knowledge of such things will expand your enjoyment of the work. In the case of Pretty Marys, the stories are urban legends and nursery rhymes about young women. The main character, Rhee, is named…