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Cringe: On Empathy, Online Culture, and Technohorror

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Cringe: On Empathy, Online Culture, and Technohorror

Un Chien Andalou, the surrealist short film by Salvador Dalí and Luis Buñuel, was originally screened in 1929, to a rarefied audience of Paris’ artistic elite. Buñuel claimed he had stashed stones in his pocket prior to the showing, “to throw at the audience in case of disaster.” No such outrage occurred, despite the film’s provocations. Un Chien Andalou is now available for free on YouTube, for anyone with a smartphone to see. If Buñuel feared for his audience’s volatility then, among a circle of friends and creative peers, one can only imagine his anxiety upon the film’s dissemination online.

“This film is 91 years old and the eye slicing scene still gives me the creeps,” observes one commenter. Near the beginning of the film, a woman’s eye is cut open. Later she flees in terror from a crazed pursuer. A dead horse is pulled over a piano. The images flicker, refusing to relate to each other or to coalesce into narrative. The banal veers into the violent, which in turn lurches without warning into slapstick. Upon viewing, one feels the anxiety that film’s novelty once provoked in audiences almost a hundred years ago: the disorienting cutting-and-pasting of unreconciled images into a hallucinatory moving collage.

It’s an arresting feeling, to glimpse how film technologies we now take for granted once terrified people. Film is an illusory medium, as demonstrated by the apocryphal tale of a stampede of cinema-goers fearing they would be run down by a movie of a train. The sense of reality cinema imparts is a sham, an image of a whole stitched together from disparate pieces of footage. As modern viewers, we fall for the trick, taking in films as if they were real, empathizing with the characters and valuing psychological realism as an aesthetic ideal. Watching Un Chien Andalou reminds us of the deception inherent within film, the sense of a coherent story forged from many unrelated images shot at different times and places. The dominant realist style of modern filmmaking suppresses this feeling of illusion by immersing us in a story. Dalí and Buñuel, however, work to make the fakery obvious, to show their hand.

The short’s defamiliarizing effect becomes even more salient in its YouTube form. There’s something about the arbitrary kaleidoscope of images that makes Un Chien Andalou seem to speak to contemporary online culture. It feels a little like doom-scrolling, the endless reel of violent images that refuse meaning or resolution, the clash of the horrific and the absurd. The alienation of the film’s surrealist aesthetic resembles the layers of irony and removal that characterize digital experience. Most contemporary films haven’t completely reckoned with the impact of social media on our cultural consciousness, but a short from 91 years ago feels like a mirror of the internet age: an odd moment where the past becomes uncannily recognizable. We see our own misgivings about online culture staring back at us from the early days of cinema.

The short’s most memorable scene is the moment where the eye is slit with a razor. It’s a masterful effect, achieved by splicing footage of the actress with the real cutting of a cow’s eye, wonderfully disturbing and convincing. Watching it, you can’t help but cringe: the mutilation of the eye is an act of aggression towards the viewer. Our role as voyeurs is split: on one hand we are complicit with the violence shown on screen, and on the other we identify with its victim. We feel the cut as if it is happening to us.

This sensation of cringing, of recoiling even as you fail to bring yourself to look away, is also characteristic of internet culture. ‘Cringe’ is one of the more peculiar emotions of online life, a term mainly used as a tool of social discipline to ostracize those who do not conform to nuanced and rapidly evolving social codes of the internet. It is also a subset of online comedy: ‘cringe compilations’ assemble clips from across the internet and present them for the amusement of viewers. When we find someone ‘cringe’, we stigmatize them for their oddness, their inability to follow the implicit codes of online culture with seamless ease, and we humiliate them for it. This is a punitive form of comedy. But cringe comedy also relies, paradoxically, upon our investment in the humanity of its object. We cringe because we vicariously experience the visceral feeling of humiliation. The sensation of cringing is predicated upon recognition and identification with another person’s pain.

“Comedy,” Angela Carter once wrote, “is tragedy that happens to other people.” This holds true of cringe comedy. But tragedy, too, is a dramatic form, staged for an audience’s benefit. Tragedy also happens to other people. So does horror. In fact, all of these forms rely on the fraught dynamic that links the watching eye with the body that is the object of spectacle. We respond to violence visited upon another by feeling their pain ourselves and by taking pleasure in the spectacle of it. At the same time that we turn away in revulsion, we cannot help but imagine ourselves in their position. As viewers, we cannot detach ourselves from the humiliations of the victims of horror and comedy, even as we participate in their abuse.

The image of the scalpel raised to the eye is a mainstay of horror for exactly this reason: it forces the viewer to recognize themself as implicated. Audiences are not passive, nor are they detached. Rather, they too are vulnerable to onscreen violence, experiencing both the killer’s sick thrill and the victim’s terror. In Un Chien Andalou, this dynamic is gendered: the eye is a woman’s, and the scalpel is wielded by a man. As avant-garde surrealists, working to pioneer a new artistic vision in a new medium, Dalí and Buñuel characterize the conventional values of the audience’s bourgeois culture as a feminine body, to be assaulted by the visionary male genius.

But contemporary, female-led horror has also fixated on the eye of the audience. Prano Bailey-Bond’s Censor, like Dalí and Buñuel, also taps into the anxiety surrounding the advent of visual technologies. Set in the 80s, at the height of the moral panic surrounding ‘video nasties’ newly made available by video tape distribution, Censor’s heroine Enid is a model of a detached, impassive viewer. A film censor, Enid sees herself as impervious to the workings of horror films: she imagines herself as a line of defense between the depravity of exploitation films and an impressionable public. But she, too, becomes infected by the socialized violence that these films embody. Embarking on a moral crusade against video violence, Enid loses the ability to distinguish between video and reality. In the end, her role as impassive moral arbiter is as tenuous a fiction as the schlocky films she redacts.

One moment that lingers from Censor is Enid’s inscrutable gaze in a darkened room as she calmly watches footage of an eye being gouged. The film juxtaposes two modes of spectatorship: the depraved, which allows itself to be penetrated by deviant images, and the detached, which neutrally assesses what it sees without being contaminated. But, as Enid loses her grip on reality, we realize these are the same thing. The neutral, moral viewer participates in the fiction of the horror film as much as the one who surrenders to spectacle and degeneracy. Enid becomes instrumental in the circulation of violence, the spilling-out of horror from the screen. The moral panic against ‘video nasties’ surrounding visual technology offers itself as a means to resist the violence of technology, its ability to disseminate uncontrolled information and infect impressionable minds.

The horror of film and video anticipates our contemporary fear of social media: its remolding of human relationships, the exponential spread of dubious information and violent ideologies, the inability of the human mind to make sense of such an onslaught of images, our vulnerability and powerlessness. The brave new world of the internet age is characterized by the same fears that defined the advent of cinema. Horror films have a tradition of exploiting anxieties about their own medium, playing off our fear that something might reach out of the screen and hurt us. The most iconic example is 1998’s Ringu. The haunted videotape at the centre of the film is an icon of our vulnerability as viewers, our fear that a disturbing image might change us irreparably, that it might destroy us. The film ends with the monstrous Sadako climbing out of our own screen, culminating in a close-up of her bloodshot eye. The final image is a provocation to the viewer, the watchful eye: that we, as an audience, construct the horror by being afraid of seeing it. It is our terror that brings the nightmare out of the containment of the screen.

Technophobia, like that of Censor’s Enid, promises to protect us from technology by letting us stand outside it: to look dispassionately at the screen and critique it. But technophobia cannot avoid participating in the fiction of the screen by buying into the reality of the image, its ability to penetrate us. We become the audience of the Lumière brothers, diving to avoid a fictitious train. Horror plays off this fear by making us feel the scalpel in the eye, the ghost watching from the screen — making us cringe, as though the image of violence were being enacted upon our own bodies. We cannot avoid being implicated in the culture that image technology creates.

So what does this mean for us today, in the age of social media? The distinction between spectacle and audience is more permeable than ever before: any one of us could be photographed and put online, without our consent, at a stranger’s whim. Calls to log off and quit social media cannot change the fact that the internet has reshaped our cultural landscape. The ubiquity of the smartphone means that we are always accessible, always able to be recorded and documented. Online-ness isn’t something one can opt out of on an individual level: it has saturated our culture, our political sphere. The distinction between technologically mediated and unmediated interaction is fuzzy. There isn’t really any such thing as offline anymore.

The work of the horror film – to make us wonder if a scary image could actually harm us – is done by social media. As such, we can draw a parallel between the cringe induced by body horror, and online cringe comedy. Both operate within nuanced and fraught modes of connectivity. We cringe at images of violation, of humiliation, and thereby participate in violence, but we also recognize that we too are vulnerable – that the next victim could be us. 

Horror viewers and the extremely online are alike in that they seek out the sensation of cringing. It’s repulsive, but it’s pleasurable. Cringe culture might be reactionary in its turning away from the image of the victim, but it is predicated upon recognition of the victim’s humanity, their reality. Ethically fraught as it is, the horror and comedy of cringe rests upon a visceral feeling of empathy. Techno-horror shows us that the neuroses peculiar to the age of online have in fact been acted out before in response to the moving image. The terrors of social media are not new but uncannily familiar – the problem of how to see another person through a screen continues.

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Jennifer Aniston & Kids: What The ‘Friends’ Star Has Said Over The Years About Not Having a Family

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Jennifer Aniston

Jennifer Aniston is fine being on her own and has often expressed disdain for being constantly questioned about that decision. Here we break down all the moments the actress has spoken out about her choices.

Jennifer Aniston, 52, has famously never settled down with a family of her own. After years of scrutiny and questioning about her decision to not have children, we’ve gathered all the moments the Friends actress has spoken out against the rampant sexism still prevalent in our culture and how her not having kids shouldn’t even be a “famous” thing to take note of in the first place.

For her next relationship, she wants things to happen naturally

Jennifer Aniston attends the 75th Anniversary celebration of NBC at Rockefeller Plaza, NY, 2002 (Matt Baron/BEI/Shutterstock).

For right now, the Morning Show actress is single and happy to be so — even though her friends have offered to set her up before. “Not right now,” she told radio host Howard Stern in October 2019 after he offered to find a great guy for her. “But listen, I just don’t like being set up. I don’t like it. Hate it.”

Moreover, Jen also revealed to PEOPLE in June 2021 that she’s “absolutely [not]” interested in using dating apps. “I’m going to just stick to the normal ways of dating. Having someone ask you out. That’s the way I would prefer it,” she dished to the outlet, also sharing that walking down the aisle for a third time is “not” something she’s considering.

“Oh God, I don’t know,” she joked. “I’m interested in finding a fantastic partner and just living an enjoyable life and having fun with one another. That’s all we should hope for. It doesn’t have to be etched in stone in legal documents.”

Her friends and family have pressured her in the past 

Jennifer Aniston
Jennifer Aniston arrives at the 77th Annual Golden Globe Awards, 2020 (Shutterstock).

“I don’t have this sort of checklist of things that have to be done and if they’re not checked then I’ve failed some part of my feminism, or my being a woman, or my worth or my value as a woman,” she explained to the outlet. “I’ve birthed a lot of things, and I feel like I’ve mothered many things. And I don’t think it’s fair to put that pressure on people.”

… And she’s kind of over that pressure 

Jennifer Aniston
Jennifer Aniston at the 4th Annual Patron of the Artists Awards, 2019 (Matt Baron/Shutterstock).

“[I don’t] like [the pressure] that people put on me, on women — that you’ve failed yourself as a female because you haven’t procreated. I don’t think it’s fair,” Jen said in an interview with Allure in December 2014. “You may not have a child come out of your vagina, but that doesn’t mean you aren’t mothering — dogs, friends, friends’ children.”

She added, “This continually is said about me: that I was so career-driven and focused on myself; that I don’t want to be a mother, and how selfish that is.” The Cake actress also added to PEOPLE in 2014 that there are “a lot of reasons” someone could not be having children, “and maybe it’s something that no one wants to discuss.”

She’s happy to make her own decisions 

Jennifer Aniston
Jennifer Aniston pictured in 1998 (John Barrett/Shutterstock).

Speaking with The Hollywood Reporter last December, Jen noted that she “used to take it all very personal,” but has since moved on. “It’s like, ‘You have no clue what’s going with me personally, medically, why I can’t … can I have kids?’ They don’t know anything, and it was really hurtful and just nasty,” she explained.

“Although I haven’t seen a tabloid in so long. Am I still having twins? Am I going to be the miracle mother at 52?” she said jokingly. “It’s the same with Dolly Parton; Dolly Parton never had kids. But are people giving her s–t for it? No, no one’s tried to put her in a white picket fence.” 

Moreover, the Dumplin actress wrote an open letter to The Huffington Post in 2016 that clearly and beautifully made a statement about the sexist double standards placed on women with regard to having families and raising children. “We are complete with or without a mate, with or without a child … that decision is ours and ours alone,” she wrote. “We don’t need to be married or mothers to be complete. We get to determine our own ‘happily ever after’ for ourselves.”

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Jennifer Lopez’s Kids: Everything To Know About Her Twins Emme & Max

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Jennifer Lopez’s Kids: Everything To Know About Her Twins Emme & Max

Jennifer Lopez shares two teenaged twins with ex-husband Marc Anthony — learn everything about Max and Emme here.

Jennifer Lopez, 52, has worn many hats in the entertainment industry, including actress, singer, dancer, producer, clothing designer and perfumer — but no title means more to her than “mom.” The Bronx native is the mother to twins Max and Emme, 13, with her ex-husband Marc Anthony, 53. Find out everything you need to know about the teenagers here.

When were Max and Emme born?

Jennifer married Marc just months after her first split from Ben Affleck in June 2004 (they divorced, however, in 2014). The two had been romantically linked in the past, and had previously collaborated on Spanish language duet “No Me Ames” on her 1999 debut album On The 6. Three years after the secretive wedding, the Maid In Manhattan star announced she was pregnant on Nov. 8, 2007.

A pregnant J.Lo is seen with ex Marc Anthony in 2007. (Broadimage/Shutterstock)

The then 38-year-old broke the news while she was on the joint El Cantante Tour with Marc in Miami after weeks of speculation. “Marc and I are expecting a baby!” she said as Marc cradled her bump. “We are happy…This is a special time in our lives. And we waited until the last show to tell you,” she said.

Just weeks before she gave birth, J.Lo’s dad David Lopez confirmed his middle daughter was expecting not one, but two babies. “Yes, twins…The thing is in my family, my sister also had twins, so it’s a hereditary thing,” he said on Spanish-language show Escéndalo TV. “I’m very proud. Jennifer has yearned to be a mother for many years.”

The This Is Me…Then singer gave birth to Max and Emme on February 22, 2008 in Long Island, N.Y. The world waited just four short weeks for the first glimpse at the beautiful twins, who were featured on a March 2008 cover of PEOPLE magazine in a worldwide exclusive.

Years later, Jennifer reflected on finding out she has having twins in a YouTube video dubbed Twin Talk with a then 11-year-old Max and Emme. “When I realized I was pregnant, I was in Portugal. I was doing a big show and I had just went away for two days. When I sat there, I was in my hair and makeup trailer, and here’s what I felt,” she said to them. “In my belly, I felt a flutter. I felt like a little butterfly in stomach, and immediately I knew I had life inside of me. I knew it. It came right into my head.”

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Jennifer is seen with Max and Emme at the Pegasus World Cup in Hallandale Beach, Florida in Jan. 2020. (Larry Marano/Shutterstock)

It was at the doctor’s office she was told the news. “The doctor says, you see that right there, that little grain of rice? That’s the baby. You see this other little grain of rice over here? That’s the other baby,” she explained. “I was like ‘What.’ I started laughing hysterically. I just laughed out loud, I couldn’t believe it. And that’s how I found out I was having twins.”

Max and Emme over the years

The “coconuts” (Jen’s nickname for them) have grown up in the spotlight, often being photographed with their superstar mom and her various romantic partners, including ex-boyfriend Casper Smart, who she dated from 2011 to 2016, ex-fiancé Alex Rodriguez, who she was with from 2017 – 2021, and rekindled beau Ben Affleck, who she reunited with in 2021.

Notably, Max and Emme were very close to Alex’s daughters Natasha, 16, and Ella, 13, who they were often pictured with in media and on their mom’s social media channels. In 2021, they’ve been spending a fair amount of time with Ben’s kids Violet, 16, Seraphina, 13, and Samuel, 9, who he shares with ex-wife Jennifer Garner, 49.

As a result of Bennifer’s rekindled romance, Max and Emme have been spending more time in Los Angeles compared to Miami, where their father Marc calls home, and Alex also maintained a residence (their mom also owns a $32 million Star Island home in the southern Florida city). Ahead of the 2021-2022 school year, J.Lo was also spotted checking out various exclusive private schools around Los Angeles, presumably to enroll the twins closer to her home in Bel-Air (and closer to Ben, who lives in Brentwood).

Beyond being photographed extensively over the years by paparazzi, and being center stage on their mom’s Instagram, the two have also been on red carpets! The twins made their red carpet debut at just seven, attending the 2014 premiere of their mom’s animated flick Home.

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Max and Emme attend the 2015 premiere of J.Lo’s animated flick ‘Home’ at 7 years old. (Eric Charbonneau/Invision/AP/Shutterstock)

Emme stepping into the spotlight 

Following in the footsteps of her performing grandma Guadalupe and superstar mom, Emma stepped into the spotlight in a big way at the 2020 Super Bowl Halftime Show! The then 11-year-old impressively sang alongside Jennifer, who co-headlined the performance with Shakira.

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Emme performs with Jennifer at the Super Bowl in Feb. 2020. (Mario Houben/CSM/Shutterstock)

Emme popped out to sing a few lines of Bruce Springsteen’s “Born In The USA” — remixed with J.Lo’s Latina anthem “Lets Get Loud” — blowing the audience away! “If you wanna live your life/Live it all the way and don’t you waste it,” she sang of her mom’s song while positioned in a cage, along with other children on stage. The moment was intentionally political, and a strong statement in response to former President Donald Trump’s immigration policy which separated families at the U.S./Mexico border.

“All I want my girls, the little girls on stage with me and all over the world to know is how to use their voices and be proud of everything they are,” Jennifer said after the performance. “Other people can try to build walls, keep us out or put us in cages. We are proud to recognize that all of us together are what makes this beautiful country truly great.”

Emme’s unique style 

In 2021, Emme embraced a totally unique style of her own! The gorgeous teen decided to rock a funky, shorter due, and embrace her natural curls. Earlier in the spring, she also died her hair blue, which she debuted at a Nobu Malibu dinner for aunt Lynda Lopez‘s birthday early on in Ben and Jennifer’s rekindled relationship.

The 13-year-old has also been channeling the ’90s in a series of retro inspired looks, including loose fitting jeans, vintage t-shirts and argyle sweaters, Vans sneakers and plenty of overalls.

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Emme goes shopping with her mom in Jan. 2022 in Beverly Hills. (Broadimage/Shutterstock)

In advance of the release of film Marry Me, Jennifer talked about how Max and Emme are both finding their “own identities” with Jimmy Fallon. “[They’re like] ‘It’s my life, I have my own identity, I am who I am, this is what I feel about the world, this is what I think.’…They need to distance themselves [from me],” she said, explaining that they are now “adult people in a little body.”

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Billie Eilish & Brother Finneas Meet President Joe Biden At The White House – See Photo

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Billie Eilish, Finneas

Billie Eilish and her brother Finneas made a pit stop at the White House while on the singer’s world tour, taking a sweet photo op with President Joe Biden.

As Billie Eilish, 20, continues her Happier Than Ever world tour, she and her brother Finneas decided to make a brief pit stop at the White House — to visit President Joe Biden of course! The newly Oscar nominated singer and her sibling posed with the 46th president as he shared the moment to social media. “When I heard my friends @billieeilish and @finneas were in town for a show, I knew I had to invite them over to the White House,” he captioned the post. “Great to see you and your family — and I’m glad you got to meet Commander,” he wrote, speaking of the family’s new German Shepard puppy.

“Billie Eilish, Finneas and their parents Maggie and Patrick were invited to pay a visit to the White House today to meet President Biden,” an official confirmed to PEOPLE of the visit. “Billie and Finneas were supporters during Biden’s campaign and the Biden family have been long time fans of their music. Billie is in D.C. for her world tour, playing at the Capital One Arena tonight.”

Billie notably voiced her support of the president for the 2020 campaign. More recently, she also petitioned in November — along with Joaquin Phoenix and several other celebrities — for the president to break from tradition and send a pardoned turkey to a sanctuary for Thanksgiving.

For the photo op with POTUS, Billie showed off her notably jet black locks — a hairstyle switch she underwent recently and shared in a Feb.1 Instagram post. Not only was her new color jet black, but her bangs were super cool. They were extra short in the center of her forehead but turned into curtain bangs on the sides of her face.

Tons of fans rushed to the comments section to gush about her new look. One fan commented, “MY FAV HAIR COLOR,” “So gorgeous,” and one person even wrote, “BLACK HAIR ERA IS BACK.”

Meanwhile, just two weeks ago, Billie secretly had her hair dyed red for a week before she dyed it brown. She changes her hair color so often, we’re honestly no longer surprised! But she always manages to perfectly pull off her hairstyles, of course.

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