Haasch: We all love reliving our personal ‘cringe’

Nostalgic memes revel in the past and set a trajectory for the future.

by Palmer Haasch

In the past week, the #2009vs2019 (or alternatively, #HowHardDidAgeHitYou) challenge has been inescapable on all major social media platforms. My timeline has been full of 10-year-old pictures of my friends, complete with pigtails, questionable graphic tees and braces. While staying at my parents’ house, I trawled through our family desktop full of photos looking for the cringiest photo I could find, with the sole goal of exposing my middle-school self on Twitter. 

The inescapability of this challenge coupled with other current memes has created the perfect pinch point of nostalgic, self-centered goodness. Alongside #2009vs2019, memes that riff off questions like, “post an opinion that only your generation would understand,” and other phrases such as, “some of you didn’t [do a specific action in the past] and it shows,” are prolific, particularly on Twitter. 

All three of these memes — which, at the time of writing this, are still running strong — are deeply rooted in a sense of nostalgia and depend on our love of cringe. Cringe, in this sense, is a broad term that captures any kind of content that elicits a “yikes.” Netizens feed on cringe, whether it’s in the depths of subreddits like r/relationships that detail deliciously awful relationship stories or in things like Fortnite or dabbing, which are generally wholesome but “cringe” because of their association with youth. 

Frequently, “cringe” comes from a position of perceived superiority. Internet culture reporter Fernando Alfonso III ​writes in The Daily Dot​ that subreddits such as r/cringe and r/cringepics frequently featured children and young girls doing things like posting selfies or singing along to popular songs. The comments that followed were tantamount to bullying without the victims’ knowledge. 

However, memes like #2009vs2019 allow us to air out our personal cringe content. Putting out presumably awful photos of us as middle schoolers is, in a certain sense, a reclamation. For example, there’s a photo of me cosplaying at my first anime convention at 14 years old, which has made the rounds on my personal social media feeds. It’s one that I’ve embraced, and, in turn, I make sure to post it often and frequently enough so no one else has the power to use it against me. 

While #2009vs2019 deals with images, “only your generation,” and, “some of you didn’t … and it shows,” deal with shared content. For example, an opinion that someone from my generation would understand would be that “Give it Up” was a better song than “Make It Shine” (both are songs from Nickelodeon’s ​”Victorious”​). Alternatively, I could say something like, “Some of you never watched Tori and Jade absolutely dunk on two men in the karaoke club and it shows.” 

Ultimately, posting memes like this allow us to own our past selves and activities, no matter how “cringe” they may be. All of us love to revel in nostalgia, and this confluence of past-fixated memes at the beginning of the year allows us to reflect and claim our past while moving forward. Just as we revel in the past, we also set a trajectory for the future. Ten years from now, we’ll be posting our 2019 photos as previous cringe — and loving every minute of it.