In her work on vulnerability and the self, Margrit Shildrick uses the idea of the ‘monster’ to explore how we learn to know ourselves. We often do this in relation to other people and/or the idea of the ‘other.’ In this instance, the monster: something we shy away from, something we cast as entirely different from ourselves, something we use to make sense of who we think we are. She argues that encounters with monsters are an essential part of our being and how we relate to each other. Instead of denying or trying to erase monsters, we must embrace them. Difference is a fundamental element of the human condition and something we all embody, whether we realize or want to admit it. If we weren’t different, that would be horrible. Imagine…
Monsters are something Guillermo del Toro (Pan’s Labyrinth, The Shape of Water, Hellboy and many books) thinks about and works with extensively. His show at the Art Gallery of Ontario this year was so fascinating. He acknowledges monsters as kin, the ones trying to fit in and not always getting it right, the strange, difficult, the scary. They’re not going anywhere because although we often think of monsters in material form, it’s more of a condition, a set of emotions that we assign human form and then recoil from. It’s so backwards! del Toro is from a culture that celebrates the dead in a ritualized and special way, the Day of the Dead. Those who have left the earth are remembered and time is spent with them, which is a compassionate, organic way of recognizing those who have helped make us who we are.
Monsters….It’s Halloween in a couple of days. But, that’s not why I’ve been thinking about monsters. I was working on the abstract (250 word summary) for a paper I hope to present at Talking Bodies 2019 in Chester, UK. It’s a fabulous conference I’ve attended once before and this paper will be based on my Bumble material. Bumble and monsters? Yes…YES. I was thinking of how bodies talk to one another on dating apps like Bumble and how one of the most frustrating aspects of the experiences was the OVERWHELMING tendency and preference for my matches to text everything versus meeting in-person. I was deeply irritated by this pattern of texting everything and that in five months I met a measly 10 men. This pitiable ‘success’ rate that had me utterly confused and feeling deprived of the human contact I desired.
As I lay in bed yesterday morning going through all of this I remembered how I felt in the wake of this un-embodied Bumble landscape. I felt kind of like a monster, a man-eater—that’s what I wanted to be but all of my efforts were being thwarted. I then thought about Sylvia Plath’s poem Lady Lazarus and her last line about women who eat men like air:
To Be A Man-Eater: Embodied Aspirations, Tensions, and Lessons from the Bumble Dating App
With images of bright yellow beehives and Clarendon-filled promises of easy, empowering connectivity, the Bumble dating app is a dominant cultural site through which contemporary sexuality, dating, and gendered power relations are mediated. I joined to meet men, have sex, and date, which seemed attainable given the initial charge of sensual energy, attention, and fun. But things soon darkened and my five long months on Bumble revealed it to be a strangely sex-less, wildly objectifying place where meeting people is a distant aim. How does a dating app impede contact between myself and the flesh I desired? Do I need to play the game differently? Am I too desirous? What is the relationship between tech-mediated sexuality and predominant social discourses that flag these forms of sex as risky and mutable but are largely silent about how they should be navigated? Using ethnographic observations of Bumble dating culture and my own lived experiences on the app, I explore these questions and shed light on how Bumble is restructuring what counts as sexuality and how these sexualities are experienced. I argue that, ultimately, Bumble castrates fleshly sexual desires and expression and produces textual sexualized dialogues about the performance of behaviours that are highly scripted, formulaic, and unembodied. Sadly, from my perspective, the technical sexualities generated by Bumble are widely adopted by those who use it, leaving potential man-eaters life myself more like the woman in Sylvia Plath’s poem Lady Lazarus, who rises with red hair and eats men like air.