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Cringe No. 5 - RAGE - 2023

Editorial and creative direction, June

Editor's Letter

Dear Cringe Reader,

It’s unsurprising to see this issue’s theme resonating with our contributors. After all, anyone coming of age in an era defined by recessions, a resurgence of anti-feminist and -queer backlash, Covid-19, the housing crisis, not to mention the climate emergency and cost of living crisis, has more than one good reason to feel enraged by our current climate and those working hard to prevent anything from changing.


Living against the backdrop of wider socioeconomic crises at all times, we’re no strangers to turning our rage against everyday symptoms: Be this the exploitative, often cruel and capitalist military operation that is the hospitality industry (p. 17-19 & p. 29-33), or the inescapable misogyny of a heteropatriarchal world that keeps trying to gaslight us that it isn’t real (p. 21-22; 41-44), while simultaneously continuing to wage war against trans and queer people (p. 9-10). 


Our own Georjia also takes a look at the internet’s nepo baby discourse (p.23-26), and whether this could indicate the end of blind glorification of celebrity talent, or lack thereof, and the belief in meritocracy. Other essays explore the difficulties of expressing rage (p. 34; 59-62) and the shame that might come from being encouraged to do so (p. 35-40).


This, and much more, can be found inside the pages you’re holding. As with all uncomfortable emotions we’re exploring through Cringe, you might discover rage’s multifaceted layers, which as much as including pain, shame and regret, are just as connected to passion, humour, perhaps even pleasure. 


We hope that our fifth issue gets you to reflect on your own relationship with rage, how it is expressed in people and represented on screen, written about in books and intellectualised elsewhere, and very importantly, who has permission to express it in the first place.


For what it’s worth, here’s permission to do so with us.

As always, don’t forget to #StayCringeBeHumble,


Annika Loebig 

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Zine launch at Photo Book Café

Essay for Cringe No. 5

When words fail, pain speaks

On the metaphors and relationship between rage, communication and self-injury


I used to carry a bite mark on my right hand growing up. We never had any pets and I had yet to get over my fear of dogs to even attempt to stroke one. It wasn’t an endearing bite either, like when you cannot stop yourself from biting your lover’s flesh; so deeply enamoured with them, you exhibit something scientists call “cute aggression”: an involuntary response some people have to being so overwhelmed by a positive emotion, that they want to “crush” the thing causing them happiness. Aggression – albeit harmless – becomes a response to cope.


Without adding further tangents in an attempt not to confront my shame around what I’m about to confess: I grew up biting my right hand when I was angry. Although admittedly born out of anger, it quickly became a coping mechanism for any kind of negative emotion that was too overwhelming not to regulate with instant pain. It goes without saying that I at least developed a relatively harmless form of self-injury, even though my bite was hard enough to leave a mark (just not hard enough, it seems, to spark an inquiry or expression of interest into my inner emotional life by anyone around me at the time).


It started as an instinctive reflex that usually happened right in front of my family, particularly when channelled into the rage I felt towards my then-bully of a brother and the deep injustice an 8, 9, 10 year old feels when their experience isn’t acknowledged. My brother would usually laugh at me when this happened, often with my father joining in. After all, it must’ve looked quite strange seeing this petite little girl transform into a ball of rage, face contorted and teeth biting into her fist like a ravenous animal.


I hold no grudge over them — at least not anymore — for ridiculing and mocking me when I was clearly just a child wanting to have one’s pain acknowledged. But in hindsight I increasingly wondered why a child, who hasn’t been taught anything about the physiological impact of self-injury, let alone understood why she did it besides realising it felt good, would instinctively bite the same hand, in the same way, with the only intensity that seemed to work, whenever feeling overwhelmed with negative emotions?


I’m not interested in self-diagnosis, but what I do find fascinating is how the body sometimes uses pain, and the mind motivates self-injury, as a vehicle for communication when words are not available or sufficient to us. 


As anyone who’s ever cared for someone with a more serious form of self-injury will know, there is plenty of literature out there about its ability to release tension when facing emotional distress. Psychologists also acknowledge the relief of punishing oneself through pain can offer in contexts of self-directed rage, or to regulate their behaviour and emotions otherwise.


One perspective I found particularly interesting and admittedly quite cathartic to learn about is the common act of deliberate self-harm to counteract alexithymia: a condition that’s defined by one’s inability or difficulty to explain emotions, particularly discomfort, amidst a wide range of other limited communication skills. 


You might be familiar with this yourself if you ever faked having a head- or stomach ache to convince your parents to let you stay home from school. It’s common for children to use their bodies as metaphors for distress when they’re still unable to express their concerns about school, be this linked to a bully they’re trying to avoid or general worries about their academic and social performance.


Although difficulties to express discomfort and pain usually fade later in life — at least for those lucky enough to grow up in an environment where expressing pain is not only met with acknowledgement but explicitly encouraged — forms of alexithymia may follow some people into adulthood.


Years later, borders away from my family home, I would drench countless of my partner’s t-shirts in tears, his arms wrapped around my body as if to prevent it from falling apart, while I listened to his probing questions without being able to respond. With my mouth open but vocal chords in a lock, my usual ability to construct sentences turned into a Rubik’s Cube I simply could not solve. In people with alexithymia, psychotherapists often describe the inability to speak about oneself as a “disabling of the internal state lexicon”.




It’s not particularly surprising to learn that they have found high rates of alexithymia in self-harming women. After all, many of us already know intuitively that patriarchal gender scripts not only prohibit but punish women for expressing their rage - or any other strong emotion for that matter. Even though we obviously cannot make definitive claims about any correlations, these experiences feel too parallel – too symbolic – to deny. 


We’ve seen what happens when certain behaviours subvert society’s gender expectations: A woman simply disagreeing with you becomes “hostile”; when she “lashes out” against her abuser in what should be acknowledged as a rational response towards her aggressor, the blame is shifted onto her. Try finding a woman whose passionate calls for justice are not mocked as “hysterical” in the press and “cringe” online, usually by the same people who also do their best to keep the discriminatory stereotype of the “angry black woman” alive.


Anyone familiar with Audre Lorde’s keynote presentation titled ‘The Uses of Anger: Women Responding to Racism’ already knows about the potency of women’s anger to expose those who have a vested interest in upholding misogyny, racism and homophobia, and the fact that the misogynist textbook dictates that any chance to shift the blame onto the victim will be taken advantage of. 


Sometimes this happens subtly, like when descriptions and analyses of injustice or discrimination are appropriated only to be weaponised against the same people they’re meant to serve. One only has to think of the ‘Karen’ archetype, originally coined by Black communities to describe entitled white women, who at best use their privilege to get their way by “speaking to the manager” and at worst police and victimise Black men. What started out as a useful and for some cathartic term to acknowledge a phenomenon was co-opted by the right to describe any woman airing her grievances in a way that isn’t deemed acceptable. To any followers of the Andrew Tate type, or any group of men with a podcast, it seems, "Karen" now serves as the same, useful shorthand as "pink haired feminist" did in 2012.


It makes perfect sense then that one of the few times a white woman acting on her rage is celebrated by heteropatriarchal society is when she communicates her rage in a way that is palatable to the same forces that oppress us. Films like Promising Young Woman might be portrayed as a feminist revenge film, even glamorising female (and crucially, white) rage, but we have to question why the only acceptable form of revenge – and feminism – is for the protagonist to use the same police powers which oppress their Black counterparts. Not to mention that recent years in particular have shone a light on how the police use their power to cover up their own assaults, rape and murders. 


We can pretend that seeking justice for a privileged white woman’s friend through a racist, misogynistic and homophobic institution is her only access to retribution, but we cannot sincerely claim that the overwhelmingly positive reception of this type of revenge film is not attributed to the fact that it conforms more to oppressive powers than it challenges them. The film might communicate female rage, but it only does so in a way that is palatable to the forces that would punish her otherwise. 



When confronted with examples of suppressed female rage, it makes philosophical sense to learn that deliberate self-harm and -injury in women can serve as a somatic articulation of rage that’s bursting to be expressed. As Megan Nolan writes in her essay on the functions of female rage: “Female self-destruction is anger which doesn’t know how to express itself as such.”


It’s perhaps why artists have used their craft to express what they couldn’t in other parts of their lives: Marina Abramović used deliberate self-injury and silence throughout her career as a performance artist to express the pains of gender dynamics in straight relationships and the vulnerability that comes with her womanhood. Be it House with Ocean View where she replaced the steps on her ladder with knives, or Rhythm 0 were visitors were invited to choose any props, from a lipstick and comb to a gun and whip, to use on her available body (read: a body that is condemned to be made available by a misogynistic world).


One of her performances which most explicitly used self-injury as an artistic tool might be Rhythm 10, in which Abramović repeatedly stabbed a piece of paper between her fingers with 20 knives for a game of “five finger fillet”, changing the knife each time she cut herself until all the knives had had their turn. It’s telling that this preceded a series of works with ex-partner and artist Ulay. Their at times painful relationship concluded with a walk from opposite ends of the Great Wall of China, over 21 kilometres, only to meet in the middle and part ways. 



The shame I felt from my family’s reaction towards my self-inflicted pain eventually taught me to cover my marks, and with no one else to find relief from yet, I continued to embellish my right hand with bite marks, this time hidden away from the eyes of others. But increasingly these days, I curl up in the perfectly shaped mould that is my partner’s body, my right hand throbbing with a pleasant pain, while I wait for the right words to manifest in the air, ready for me to harvest. I even practise expressing my unfiltered rage for the purpose of punctuating my experience of unfairness, in the hopes that one day I’ll be able to internalise that it’s OK to express the wish to be treated better; hell, that I’m even deserving of it.


These days, my rage might still be captured within the walls of my body, but more often than not, it finds its way to the surface, slowly freeing itself from the shackles of my shame. Anger is a skill I had to develop over time; I still do. Perhaps one day I’m not only able to express it instead of letting it speak for and only to me, but allow myself to feel it in the first place.

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