I am trying to give name to a problem in online spaces I started thinking about a while ago. “Based culture” is supposed to be a parallel with “cringe culture”, and these two phenomena are neither synonymous nor mutually exclusive.
First, let’s take a look at cringe culture.
“Cringy” (alternate spelling “cringey”) content is any content that someone sees as embarrassing or worthy of being mocked, and “cringe culture” is the practice as a whole of mocking that content. <…> Those who believe cringe culture is acceptable and necessary may see it as a way to change “weird” kids by shaming them into acting more “normal.” Or, with something like art, they may see cringe culture as a way of helping someone improve their skills.
Cringe culture on the internet is centered around the ostracizing and cyberbullying of people who are seen as having socially unacceptable habits, interests, and appearances. The vast majority of people who make up that category are autistic or otherwise neurodivergent, and that’s not a coincidence.
Overall, cringe culture is the culture of aggressively forcing people to align with the norms and common behaviors of the general society. The defenders and active participants of it see themselves as representatives of what they consider normal.
Based culture retains some components of cringe culture, but has a range of differences.
A word used when you agree with something; or when you want to recognize someone for being themselves, i.e. courageous and unique or not caring what others think. Especially common in online political slang. The opposite of cringe, some times the opposite of biased.
The main difference between this and cringe culture is that based culture emerges within already existing subcultures, as opposed to the general society. These subcultures tend to have their own clearly defined views on right and wrong, that may differ greatly from what’s declared by these groups’ surroundings. The mixing up of agreement and acknowledgment of authenticity that we can observe in the definition serves strengthening in-group solidarity and conformity.
Based culture focuses on a particular sphere of disagreements between the group and the society. For example, alt right subcultures of 4Chan view themselves as opponents of their society’s political correctness. Within based culture, traits, shared with the unwanted social norm are regarded as the coward’s choice, as something shallow and unauthentic. Often traits that are actually stigmatized and unwanted by the majority (e.g. being transgender) are still regarded by the based culture as a part of what’s wrong with the majority.
Similar to cringe culture, based culture also uses mockery as a means of correcting unwanted behavior. However, it is equally likely to turn to positive reinforcement and praise people who aren’t group members for occasionally saying something based – because it is believed that you can “radicalize” or “redpill” a person into being based by placing them in the right environment and showing a good example (as in, by lowering their tolerance).
While the largest examples of based culture are still connected to the alt right, it may characterize groups from other sides of the political spectrum. Certain radfem or radqueer groups also actively engage in based culture, despite having completely different political views. It is worth a note that different groups, affected by based culture, have different attitudes to the concept of cringe – while some describe their opponents as cringe, others may use cringe positively while referring to their own unconventional hobbies. But these groups still have a lot in common:
- An emphasis on being funny, shocking, and not showing discomfort.
- Characterization of the general society as too weak and too fragile to handle the truth.
- Focus on presumed personal strength and enlightenment of the group members that allows them to be so brave and cool.
- Equation of being based to being authentic, while ignoring all ways of authenticity that don’t align with the group’s values.
- Constant friendly competitions between group members on who can make the most radical and controversial statement (sincere or humorous).
- Praise for based statements and mockery for uncool statements going hand in hand, heavy usage of memes and dogpiling towards deviants.
Not all groups that participate in based culture are directly spreading reactionary views, but all feed into the right wing disdain for weakness and vulnerability. Their common impact on spaces where they are present is increased disregard for boundaries, spreading of violent statements as a form of humor, and more aggressive expressions of disagreement. Another outcome is blurring of the line between sincerely expressed positions and irony, which allows more open bigots and abuse apologists to advance. Often, when looking at a post that says something like “I support hurtcore” or “close your eyes and imagine: cunnyborea” (real examples I dealt with as a mod), I struggle to understand whether I see a real abuse supporter/nazi, or someone who finds mimicking one to be a very funny joke. Naturally, those who really hold these views and those who joke about it end up in a mixed environment, where the latter may “radicalize” the former through the group mechanism of chasing the most shocking viewpoints and mocking discomfort.
Similarly to cringe culture, based culture should not become acceptable in spaces for marginalized minorities. More attention needs to be brought to the fact that not everything this or that based group claims to be valued by the majority is actually valued or protected. Information about alt right ties of popular memes needs to be shared more often, and “it’s just a joke” should not be used as an excuse. It’s important to have a more balanced relationship with the idea of weakness too. Being authentic includes being weak and uncool sometimes, and if your friends routinely give you trouble for it, it is them who are in the wrong, and you do not need to mechanically train yourself into a different set of boundaries. It’s possible to combat based culture by the same means you combat cringe culture: unapologetically embracing being uncool.