Part 1: http://wp.me/p8yKLD-3Y
In the Tinder-dominated dating world, appearance is everything. To be clear, judgements based on physical attractiveness have always been part of dating, but now, narratives around dating itself rely heavily on games as tropes to be used for navigating the complexity and difficulties of establishing relationships. For example,
Winning someone over.
She’s playing hard to get.
You better snatch him up before someone else does.
S/he is playing games (“Quit playing games with my heart”).
Cat and mouse dating game.
The list goes on; these are only the first comments and terms that come to mind when I consider the ways we talk about dating. So, it should come as no surprise that “there’s an app for that,” for making brutal, snap judgements of strangers in your area. In fact, there are multiple apps, little more than thinly veiled games, advertised as platforms to meet other players, I mean people.
Tinder is probably the most well-known and used dating app. Statistics tend to vary, but it is estimated that Tinder has gained over 50 million members since its creation in 2012. Its popularity has not only made it one of the most successful dating services available, but also a cultural phenomenon that has radically changed dating norms and expectations. Though not a Tinder user myself, I’ve spent the last week watching many of my friends swipe through photos at lightening speed, spending no more than a couple of seconds on each person. Without guilt they quickly categorized potential matches. While there was the occasional exhilarated and regretful scream when they accidentally swiped left on someone they found attractive, they quickly moved on to the next picture, the next swipe.
While there are certainly benefits and success stories, the problem with Tinder is that it doesn’t just refer to actions and experiences in dating by game terms, it actually changes dating into a game. Tinder creates the space to treat human beings as pawns. It’s a platform that supports reducing a living, complex person into nothing more than a picture and swipe, maybe a couple of sentences if you make the effort to read the bios. In an interview with co-founders Sean Rad and Justin Mateen, Rad was quoted saying,
“We always saw Tinder, the interface, as a game…Nobody joins Tinder because they’re looking for something. They join because they want to have fun. It doesn’t even matter if you match because swiping is so fun” (Stampler, 2014).
And we wonder why ghosting is an issue? The socially accepted callousness with which Tinder users determine who has worth allows people to act with such complete disregard for each other’s emotions. When dating is nothing more than a card game with an unlimited number of replacement cards, of course you can just throw away the cards you don’t like. It doesn’t even matter if they are real people because swiping is so fun.
If being a human being is more than creating beautiful images that can earn your Tinder profile a high Elo score—a measurement of desirably that is calculated by and for the matching process and named after the chess skill-level rating system—than how do we respond to Tinder users who showcase the unspoken, often more unpleasant side of humanity? How should we respond? Glass Animals’ How to be a human being provides the characters through which this might be explored.
Tinder profiles can be used much like the Spanish casta paintings were to create a taxonomy. The Elo score is representative of a Tinder user’s identity, just as race and parentage characterized colonial identities. Much like the social status of people living in Mexico, the Elo score is flexible and dependent on the reactions of other people. The more conventionally attractive a person is, the higher their Elo score, the more likely they are to receive matches and play in a pool of equally high-ranked Tinder users. However, appearance is only one part. Swipes hardly qualify as acknowledgment of a relationship or line of kinship. They can, though, be seen as a value judgement implying the possibility of a relationship. The most beautiful are the most worthy of a relational tie. Just by gaining that chance, a person has established a connection, albeit a tenuous one, that validates a higher Elo score. But with millions of players using Tinder, these connections are constantly in flux. The Elo score becomes a dynamic identity similar to the fluid social status of the Mexicans and Spaniards, which was also dependent on their connections to other castes (Earle, 2016).
How to be a human being characters wouldn’t be accepted on Tinder. Few of them are conventionally attractive, some belong to traditionally oppressed racial groups, most have defining stories that make them undesirable. Cane Shuga is a cocaine addict, Pork Soda “has pineapples in [his] head,” Mama’s Gun hears voices, Agnes is grieving, S02E03 is the epitome of sloth. The only character who is even remotely Tinder acceptable is Take a Slice, but her highly sexual nature is still considered inappropriate for a women. While she would be immediately accepted for a one-night stand, she generally wouldn’t be considered more than a prostitute or a whore.
Tinder creates a system of categorization that is intricately connected to power to “create truth and to shape the articulation of authority,” but in doing so it dehumanizes those who do not belong to the accepted category (Earle, 460). Still, these characters represent what it means to be a human being. Their stories, at their core, speak to common experiences. So, the immediate swipe left that would normally occur is actually a rejection of the most human parts of ourselves, an over-simplification of our own nature. As Earle stated, “nature was too complex to be captured in taxonomy” (466). Our identities and relationships are made of the same layers and interpretive ambiguity that characterized the songs of these characters. Unfortunately, Tinder is a platform incapable of validating and accepting these layers.
Earle, Rebecca. “The Pleasures of Taxonomy: Casta Paintings, Classification, and Colonialism.” The William and Mary Quarterly 73.3 (2016): 427-66. Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture, July 2016. Web. May 2017.
Stampler, Laura. “Inside Tinder: Meet the Guys Who Turned Dating Into an Addiction.” TIME. Time Inc. 6 February 2014.