What is cringe? Cringe is a product of a very important quality of artists; lack of shame.
Consider the greats. Actually, don’t. Just consider the few examples I’m going to tell you and assume they apply to all of fiction. Because they do, and no-one can convince me otherwise.
The only comic books I read are The Amory Wars by the King of Puerto Rico. And I love them. What did I do to deserve this? Nothing, I just love Coheed and wanted to know who the fuck Apollo was. I thought Claudio saying “Good Apollo” was him talking to some nobleman like, “my good sir.” Boy was I fucking wrong. Bork bork.
Anyway, one of the things I absolutely love about The Amory Wars is the amount of times it makes me cringe. There’s a lot of cheesy dialogue. And that’s great, because it’s real. because real life isn’t some action movie where everybody says the perfect thing at all times. Real life involves bad jokes, waving at people and them not seeing you, and failing to make girls finish. I’m kept up at night by the amount of cringy things I’ve done in my life, and a touch of that realness being in The Amory Wars is part of what I absolutely love about it. (Also the awesome action, interesting plot, and it being tied to some of my absolute favorite music.)
Shame is the absolute bane of creators. Even in my own writing, I so often have to intentionally make everything as absurd as possible, because shame keeps me from being sincere. If I’m hiding behind irony I’m safe, right? There’s so many ideas in my mind that I may never let out because I’m embarrassed by an imaginary audience who might not like them. How many great writers have to get drunk just to create anything? Let’s be conservative and say literally all of them. I’m not even a great writer, and I still have had to have a bottle nearby for some of my serious attempts.
Now consider people like Chris-Chan, the creator of Sonichu. No-one has demonstrated the awesome creative power of autism like Chris-Chan. Even to this day that beloved series continues (slowly). I can’t say for certain that Chris-Chan didn’t have any self-doubt, but what I can say is that if there was any, it was crushed beneath a pile of garbage. Not garbage from hoarding, but the beautiful garbage of creative output. Sure Sonichu’s art style hasn’t improved in over a decade, and Chris-Chan’s life is so… interesting… that there’s a thousand-page wiki documenting it. But how many people have created such a beloved work of art? Hell, how many people’s entire life can be viewed as a work of art? (Although that’s probably not desirable for most people) There’s a lesson to be learned from Chris-Chan’s ability to live with the kind of shame that would destroy other people. Yes, Chris-Chan lives an unhealthy, disgusting life.
Shame actually does play an important role in our health. It keeps society functioning by seeing people adhere to important social constructs. For example, I work out six days a week to keep myself in shape. I’d be ashamed of myself if I weren’t in shape, and I’m glad to have that as a motivator.
But might it be possible to have a similar lack of shame as Chris-Chan’s without… doing everything else that Chris-Chan does? There’s this idea that great artists are broken people. But why can’t “normal” people also be great artists? I think most people have great stories inside of them. Can we not compartmentalize in a way that lets us be honest in our creativity while still keeping our dignity in the rest of life? Apparently it’s hard, but I don’t see why it’s not possible. Maybe it just takes some conditioning, like most things in life.
Or maybe I should just keep writing stories about Harry Potter going on killing sprees.