Cringe and Cheugy – Why do we despise the mainstream?

Lately, I’ve been in my social girl era. For some time now, I have actually been enjoying not avoiding social events. I look forward to going out, meeting colleagues at events, having a drink after work, or just hanging out with confidants in my flat.  And I have to say: I’m starting to like being a social butterfly. However, this is not about overcoming my social anxiety or my dislike of too much interpersonal contact. Rather, it’s an introduction to the real subject: something I’ve been noticing on those same pleasant evenings in my flat. But I’ll have to elaborate a bit more (sorry, but I’ll get to the point – eventually).

I moved into my new flat about four months ago and I love it. The furnishing, the decorating, the feeling of coming home – and of course: the little get-togethers with good friends (as I said: Social Girl Era). But these little soirees are also the reason for this article: I seem to have a knack for getting into unpleasant arguments with people, from which both parties always emerge taciturn. This time, however, it was not about my profession or my passion. It was about my coffee table. 

If you know me, you know that I create mood boards for every possible occasion (be it a holiday, a party, a weekend away or a new four walls). It’s a quirky little habit I’m sure I picked up from my mother. For example, I created a mood board for my new flat, meticulously detailing the aesthetic, vibe and color scheme of each room. For my living room (which doubles as my study), I bought a glass desk before I even moved in (my first really expensive purchase). To match it, I found a coffee table that fit my interior perfectly, but seemed to drive others almost crazy. What power that table had. If you spend any time on Instagram and Pinterest, you’ve probably seen this damn coffee table dozens of times. Glass or plexiglass, small, the legs curved inwards to create space for magazines, newspapers and books. Hell yes, it’s popular and probably mainstream, but it’s nothing to pull your hair out over. Or is it? 

So: Some time ago, when I invited some good acquaintances over for drinks and cigarettes, the coffee table in question was the talk of the town. A friend of mine looked around my flat, almost scanning. After a few perfunctory compliments, his eyes landed on my living room, turned to me with a flourish, and said, “Wow, like printed from Pinterest”. I rolled my eyes at him. But that didn’t seem to deter him. He continued, “Don’t get me wrong, it’s cute, it’s just incredibly mainstream.” As if that was an insult. Still, I couldn’t take it and asked him sweetly if I could take his black North Face puffer jacket and his white Air Force 1s. That was the end of the conversation. Later, the topic came up again when my friend asked me about the coffee table. He told me that I shouldn’t take it as an insult, but that he had seen this table a thousand times on instagram-feeds, Pinterest girlies living rooms and TikTok trendsetters. He just expected me to be more individual. That really hit me.

Does the fact that you buy, wear or display a popular item in your home mean you’re not individual? Is individuality the same as superiority and after all good taste? Many people, especially in the creative industries, have an individuality complex. They need to like, consume and know things that hardly anyone else likes, consumes or knows. Be it a new vegan Vietnamese restaurant, an indie artist they discovered for the first time, or the vintage leather boots from a limited spring/summer collection decades ago. Niche means good taste, and the fear of being declared basic defines their daily routine. Taste is only valuable when it’s exclusive, which makes the ‘tasteful’ a boring school clique. But this is not just about fashion or interiors. It’s about the bigger picture and, ultimately, human behavior.

What’s a good example of a basic, mainstream thing? Is it Ariana Grande or is it Taylor Swift? Is Led Zeppelin a little less basic than Pink Floyd? Do I have more of a personality if I choose Italian Giallo over French New Wave? Should I get an undercut or go bald — what’s more alternative? Are mom jeans basic or should I invest in a vintage GMBH pair? Is having a personality basic yet? Didn’t we have a phase where existing was basic — can we go back to that? These thoughts are exhausting. 

Instead, let’s re-acquaint ourselves with the joys of endearing mediocre, palatable, mainstreamness and why it matters. Things that everyone likes, things built to stay likable, to stay reliable and watchable on days when our minds refuse to co-operate because everything is too much. Things that are made to make you laugh or fear or cry, because that’s what you’re feeling like. Often we forget the unbridled and very commonly shared joy of the utterly boring — the sound of an old song playing, sitcoms with the laugh tracks still set in, a comfortable pair of leggings, borderline average pizza, the zero intellectual heft of a Disney movie plotline. Truly great art is merely the cherry on the cake, cleansing our palate when we’re full off the bland and want to make ourselves feel better. Plus: Basic is subjective. For people who don’t live, work and breathe in your bubble, your Basic could be the epitome of good taste.

In conclusion (and that might sound practicable but it’s the truth): Like what you like. There is a reason why mainstream things are demanded by so many: they are probably just good. Our individuality complex plays tricks on us and makes us feel guilty about our choices. We then call them guilty pleasures, or cringy, or cheugy, when we could just enjoy them. That’s what I’m going to do from now on: Because my coffee table looks damn good in my living room – Pinterest or no Pinterest.