So, today at lunch a co-worker was getting us all up to speed on the latest episode of Average Joe, and our conversation turned — inevitably, perhaps — to the sick pleasure we humans seem to take from experiencing others’ discomfort. “The Cringe Factor,” you might call it. I shared a story from my undergrad days, when I found myself trapped in my dorm room as my socially-awkward roommate repeatedly asked out one of his classmates.
“So, I was wondering if you might want to go get something to eat on Friday . . . Oh, really? Okay, well, how ’bout Saturday? . . . Studying, huh. Well, are you busy next weekend? Maybe we could catch a movie Friday night. . . . . Saturday? . . . Oh, okay. . . .”
And on and on it went until he finally hung up, looked over at me (I was trying desperately to hide behind a book), and said, “It’s okay, though. I know she likes me because she smiled at me once.” Had there been a hole deep enough up there on the second floor of Cawthon Hall, I would have leapt in head first. Anything to make myself disappear.
Someone else told a story he had heard on the radio once — a story involving misplaced eyeglasses and a horrible case of mistaken identity. It sounded like an episode of This American Life to me, so I Googled the title of the show and the word “cringe,” and just look at what I found. Bingo. The opening story is classic, but the one that made me want to take off my headphones and run far, far away is Ira Glass’s tale of visiting the set of M*A*S*H as an NPR intern in 1979. Talk about cringe-inducing. Listening to the earnest, 20-year-old Glass ask Harry Morgan why he didn’t take more leading roles reminded me instantly of every stupid word that has ever come out of my stupid mouth. Which is probably the very source of cringe pleasure to begin with.
Ira Glass, by the way, was also interviewed by the Onion A.V. Club last week, where, among many other interesting comments, he admits to being a fan of Gilmore Girls. So you know it’s worth a read.