‘Cringe’ Halloween Costumes and the Paradox of the Internet

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There are swathes of creators whose whole content strategy revolves around reacting to “cringe” content. YouTube, in particular, thrives on being a bit of a freakshow. As YouTube essayist Contrapoints points out in her essay about cringe, this kind of voyeuristic content is often fueled by an “obsessive and addictive contempt” for the people cringe-crusaders mock. 

A simple scroll through the internet will reveal some interesting internal struggles these internet Scrooges are facing as Halloween time rolls around. Some Redditors think dressing up at all on Halloween as an adult makes you stupid, saying, “Halloween adults are just as cringe as Disney adults.” Incredulous arguments abound over whether or not it’s “cringe” to cosplay on Halloween. One confused Quora user asked, “Does using a Sonic costume for Halloween make you a furry?” I don’t know, does it matter?

(In my humble opinion, the furry is in the eye of the beholder.)

Halloween is an interesting time, as sexy costumes, anthropomorphism, pop culture eclecticism, and make-believe are not only tolerated but encouraged. Sexy Sonic the Hedgehog. Catwoman, Harley Quinn, Poison Ivy. Uwu cat girls and Naruto characters — these are the types of characters we’ve come to expect during the Halloween season. In fact, it becomes a bit taboo not to dress up on Halloween. 

“Why is it cringe when we do cosplay but it’s not when y’all dress up as characters on Halloween?” one creator tweeted yesterday. Why indeed?

Furries, bronies, Disney adults, weebs — you name a costume-related niche, there’s an army of “cringe”-hating, snarky Redditors dedicated to making them feel bad. While cosplay has become more popularized in recent years, with some of the most popular creators on the internet proudly showing off their nerdy wares, there’s still a bit of a stigma around the practice.

Patch O’Furr, the journalist behind the furry news blog Dogpatch Press, told Passionfruit there might be some interesting “double standards” about costuming that reveal underlying prejudices, and “the lack of awareness is a little ironic.”

“Judgment gets aimed at simple costuming if it may go against the assumed norms, like gender conformity. … On the surface, it’s acceptable to mock silly costuming people, but the quiet part is anti-trans hate,” O’Furr said.

To his point, “cringe” haters often justify their bullying and harassment with moral condemnations — even cosplay sometimes faces criticisms of “not being safe” for kids. These kinds of moral arguments trickle down to even the most normie kinds of Halloween costumes, with women, in particular, getting slut-shamed for daring to wear sexy costumes on a night out.

Look, the internet is all about performance and spectatorship, and sometimes, it’s okay to joke about uniquely odd behavior. I too indulge in a little cringe humilitainment from time to time. (If you’re looking for some true Halloween horror today, O’Furr recommended this video essay about some intra-fandom discourse around disgusting costumes … look at your own risk).

But, the internet has taken cringe content too far. And with Gen Z being the least confident generation yet, fueled largely by the rise of social media algorithms that prey on our deepest insecurities, there’s certainly a fear this issue is just going to get worse. 

However, paradoxically, young people tend to be more tolerant and supportive of non-mainstream interests and identities. The internet has allowed people with niche interests to find safe places to express themselves. It’s a place to build a community around the taboo, the occult, the cult classic, the freaky, the silly. The internet very much embodies the spirit of Halloween in that way.

Halloween happens to be one of my favorite holidays. I love everything witchy and ghoulish. I’m a big fan of unhinged, feral goblin and gremlin energy. Storytelling, fantasy, magic, make-believe — these things are incredibly human and beautiful. And while the internet can be a cruel and unforgiving place, you can rest assured that from me, there’s no judgment. Whether you’re rocking a bubblegum pink Barbie outfit, cunty French bed bug costumes, or a full-on werewolf fursuit, I salute you.

What are your thoughts on the ‘cringe’ culture? Email [email protected] to share your story.

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