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Rolling Stone PODIUM: In Defense Of ‘Cringe Content’

Digital media expert and Instagram influencer Karishma Govil tells us why silly dance videos and viral challenges have democratized entertainment 

Rolling Stone Podium Feb 13, 2021

"Creating fun videos is as empowering as it is to watch them," argues Govil

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It’s safe to say that many of us have turned to social media to feel better and entertain ourselves ever since the lockdown started. Now, let’s be honest… There is so much content out there that we are literally spoilt for choice. And as captive audiences consuming content on our phones for the lack of anything else to do (or at least that’s what we tell ourselves,we have taken to social media to tell us what’s “Trending”. And this has somehow sparked this massive debate among creators and consumers alike as to what content is considered “cool” and what is “cringe-y”. 

I won’t lie, when platforms like TikTok came into existence, I scrolled through my feed and invariably made fun of many creators making content that I at the time labeled “cringe-worthy”. The reason I thought that was because I didn’t truly understand why anyone would lip-sync Bollywood dialogues or dance to filmy music all day – pretending like they were stars of a movie. I thought it was silly.

But soon, I encountered many influencers who not only did it exceptionally well, but invested a great deal of effort and creativity to create each video. It got me wondering— how come it’s okay that I use Andaz Apna Apna or F.R.I.E.N.D.S dialogue references in my daily life, all the time to impress my friends with my comic timing, but it’s cringe worthy if others make it part of their regular digital content? That’s a bit unfair, no?

The more I interacted with these influencers, the more I realized why they do what they do. In fact, I even tried making these videos myself, and quickly understood, it’s legit the toughest thing to do, even as a fellow content creator who creates funny videos on Instagram (@soul_kari). It isn’t easy to put yourself out there and emote the way they do, timing each lip-sync to perfection, editing on the fly… 

But let’s just back up a little bit before we go any further into understanding why this particular genre of short-form entertainment videos is one of the most popular content styles there is. 

It is extremely empowering to feel like one is a part of a big time Bollywood movie as the lead superstar. The romance, the drama, the action, the comedy—all of it makes one feel like they’re living out their own SRK or Kareena Kapoor fantasy. And if we can idolize these movie stars and very often their own versions of Hollywood movies, what’s wrong with a harmless homage on social media? Clearly there is a reason we love the Indian film industry so much that it is a 11 billion rupee industry (source: www.statista.com) and as the old adage goes, imitation is the best form of flattery. 

I also feel that what has been dubbed cringe content has democratized entertainment as a whole. It’s amazing to know that there are such talented and creative actors in all parts of the country who would never have been discovered if it wasn’t for these videos. We rant and rave about nepotism all day long so let’s applaud an ecosystem that gives everyone a chance. Cringe or not.

Creating these videos is as empowering as it is to watch them. Along the course of my digital journey, I have come across the most talented bunch of creators who have not only completely changed their lives by creating these videos, but also inspired many others to do the same. The unique part about so-called “cringe~y” content is that many of these creators are from very modest parts of India or of less affluent means. Take Faisal SMr Faisu for example. He started out as a sales executive who got fired for breaking an expensive bottle of perfume. But his passion for content and his fans today have gotten him to a point where he recently launched his own deo! And a successful venture at that. 

A majority of Instagram creators in India are 18-35 years olds who come from tier-2 and tier-3 cities. So many creators are from small towns and villages where the internet has just about made its foray. But now that they have mobile data, they can make innovative content and finally “be seen”.

Here are a few such creators who’ve used social media to empower and transform themselves and reach audiences they’ve always wanted to through the power of the internet. 

Dr. Richa Negi – Richa is a Mumbai based doctor, influencer and dancer. She shot to fame with her viral dance video on the song ‘Garmi’, which she performed wearing a PPE kit. Being a front line warrior amidst the pandemic, Richa believes in expressing herself and pursuing her passion for dance through the means of social media. 

Shahin Gaur – Shahin is a budding blogger and domestic abuse survivor from Dubai. Overcoming abuse and societal stigma, she started creating content on social media. Through the power of online platforms, she has acquired the confidence she needed! 

Nandita Shrivastav – Nandita is an avid content creator and YouTuber who loves creating spoof videos. Through her social media handles she expresses herself with dance videos, spoofs and also encourages body positivity. Also, she creates a lot of content on multiple short-form video platforms. 

Arman Rathod – Arman is a dancer from Valsad, Gujarat. He likes to create content on short-form video platforms and also has a YouTube channel. Social media platforms helped him get noticed by many people and gave his creativity a boost. He also got an opportunity to become a wild card contestant on ‘India’s Best Dancer’. 

Baba Jackson – Yuvraj Singh goes by the name Baba Jackson and got popular because of his Micheal Jackson dance videos. Through Instagram and short-format video apps, he likes to show the world his dancing talent. He currently has more than 600k followers on Instagram.

The one thing I would like you to walk away with is this; you don’t need to have a fancy degree, high-quality equipment, or wear expensive clothes to go viral and gain popularity. It literally doesn’t matter “who your daddy is” or what car you drive. If a creator’s imitation of a famous Bollywood song or dance is being watched on repeat a couple of million times, then so be it. Give the people what they want!

All I would hope is that the creators realize their power and use it wise, positively and with kindness. Let’s redefine “cringe” to mean content that abuses or hurts someone’s sentiments and not an individual expressing their creativity. So to the creators who have unfairly been dubbed cringe I say ignore the noise, continue to be creative, confident and stay true to who you are and the world will recognize you for it. And to everyone who continues to cringe and bully their way into the comments of these creators, I challenge you to step in front of the ring light and do what they do and tell me it doesn’t take courage. 

I’ll leave you with this thought: courage is fire, and bullying is smoke.

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