Cheesiness, corniness, and sleaziness all share a fundamental arc— an arc so discernible that you could probably do for deviantART what Aristotle did for the Oedipus cycle. The Cheesy, Corny, and Sleazy are all forms of failed affect— bad attempts to arouse certain sentiments in the viewer, listener, by-stander, family member, potential mate, co-worker. Corniness is failed wit. Sleaziness, failed sexiness. Cheesiness may actually take more dissection since it seems to cover a number of failures: being cool, being scary, being epic, being badass, aesthetic achievement.
Failure’s not their only component though. A kind of persistence and obliviousness is requisite. If wit, sexiness, badassness, epicness fail flat-out, and the perpetrator and everyone else instantly recognize and regret it, this is mere garden-variety failure or faux-pas. Corn, cheese, and sleaze require a kind of Happy Unconsciousness, an obliviousness that keeps the party going. Andrew Lloyd Weber is never going to “take it back” during the intermission. Terry Richardson is never going to admit to overstepping any boundaries. Corn, cheese, and sleaze push on until we’re forced to groan, cringe, writhe, or vom.
Being sparing with my examples, but LK is unproblematic.
This requisite obliviousness is also why Corn, Cheese, and Sleaze are so often redeemed by awareness. When Dad mobilizes Dad Humor at the dining room table, it’s often exactly in order to get a nice rolling groan from his kid audience, and precisely why Dad Humor (and similar Corn genres like Popsicle-Jokes) can become funny all over again, though by a sublation to another humor plane. Likewise, sometimes, events that might at first give you a pinched neck nerve— family gatherings, rainbow gatherings, band photos, street festivals, music festivals, all festivals, artwalks, funky grown-ups— can quickly turn ecstatic when picked up by another side. That is, when you trade in identification for appreciation, genres like When-Families-Party or This-Is-Fusion become great everflowing fountains, showering you with joy and grace. Once standard genres of Cheese (like B-movies, or 80′s and 90′s aesthetic signifiers) really no longer count because, by now, they can only be invoked with some modicum of awareness or distance. There’s even a certain species of sleazeball that, by self-professing their failures at sexiness or smoothness (coupled with a new, weird honesty), ascend to another, freakier, admittedly more oblique, form of sexiness. As with the dialectic between “good” and “bad” taste, things can capsize really quickly when this persistence breaks through the obliviousness and becomes a form of courage or embrace. Judgment cannot fixate.
This is the surest advice to follow when confronting The Cringe— either your own or that of others. The door is closed and locked. You’re in your seat, forced to sit through bad art. A performance maybe. Find that other side. Ask yourself: why is it that, rather than finding this neutral, it actually causes me psychical pain? Let that pain course through you, transform into new awareness. Let it come out the other side. Explode. Feel the Joy. Feel the Redemption. Your aunt wants to blare Elton John? Someone wants to show you their work in Juxtapoz? Let it course through you, wash over you. Baptismally. Your fingers will tingle. Your heart will open. This is un-you, but all okay. Consider it an encounter.