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Scents of an Ending

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The #YouStink protests will either consign the Lebanese regime to the dustbin of history, or go in its place.

We came from different backgrounds, we didn’t agree on much, but we hit the streets together. On the 8th of August, we assembled to voice our discontentment with the Lebanese government’s handling of a garbage crisis that had been 18 years in the making. Naameh, a small town by the sea 20 km south of Beirut, had functioned as the capital city’s garbage dump since 1997. The residents of Naameh had been demanding the closure of the landfill in their town for years with hundreds of protests, and it was finally slated to be shut on the 17th of July in 2015. When the day came, the residents of Naameh threatened direct action; they vowed to obstruct the entry of garbage trucks into their town using any necessary means. Their skepticism came from bitter experience. The government had reneged on its promises to close down the landfill twice in the preceding 18 months alone. The landfill was forcibly put out of business that day by the residents of Naameh, and without an alternative plan in place, the garbage began to pile on the streets of Beirut.

This wasn’t the first protest in response to the garbage crisis, but it was definitely the largest. Over a thousand people gathered in Beirut’s Martyrs Square that day. The streets of Beirut had been cleared of trash by then, but the government had yet to agree on a permanent solution to Beirut’s garbage problem. A temporary fix had been found, we were told, the specificities of which are still shrouded in mystery. Trucks carrying garbage were seen dumping their cargo into valleys and onto the roadside in the dead of night in different areas of the country. The protest attracted a varied group of people, including but not limited to civil society activists, environmental and student groups, academics, and a notable media presence. Infighting began almost immediately, which should not have come as a surprise. Those present belonged to a diverse spectrum of political and ideological camps, united despite it all in their denunciation of the government’s dismal attempts at finding a permanent and sustainable solution to the country’s waste management problem.

After listening to more than a few disappointing speeches by the “You Stink” campaign’s organizers and other “civil society activists,” some of the more radical protesters in the square began to call upon those present to join in trying to storm the parliament building in Beirut’s Place De L’Etoile, a two-minute walk away from where we were assembled. The anger in the square was palpable, and the majority of those present headed for parliament. We were met with baton-wielding soldiers of the Lebanese Armed Forces. Seeing as entry into parliament would not be possible, we then headed for the Grand Serail, the Prime Minister’s headquarters and where Lebanon’s cabinet holds its sessions. The building was cordoned off, and there dozens of riot police were not at all reserved when it came to subjecting us to their violence. We abandoned our project and headed for the Municipality of Beirut — where we were not expected. There, we almost stormed the building, but were once again beaten back by the police.

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The Jewish Messiah


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A new documentary about former Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s murderer hits too close to home for Israeli authorities

Early into her tenure as Israel’s new Minister of Sport and Culture, Miri Regev said that she would not fund any artist or institution that denigrates or delegitimizes the state of Israel. “If it is necessary to censor,” she announced upon her May appointment, “I will censor.”

In the following weeks, an Arab-language theater was defunded, ostensibly for being a “political” institution; a Jewish-Palestinian children’s coexistence theater was imperiled by its founder’s refusal to perform in West Bank settlements (he eventually relented and its funding was left intact); and artists were informed that the goal of culture is to supply the Israeli people with “bread and circuses.” City officials took Regev’s cue and have started canceling screenings of controversial movies.

In late June, Regev turned her attention to the Jerusalem Film Festival, which was quietly set to screen a documentary called Beyond the Fear about Yigal Amir, the man who murdered former Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1995. Regev objected to its inclusion on the program and threatened to pull the Festival’s funding. She was joined by former President Shimon Peres and other leaders of the nominally left-wing Labor party, who voiced vagaries about incitement to violence. None of them had seen the movie. A compromise was imposed: the film was pulled from the program, but would be screened separately at a private cinema the day before the festival was set to begin.

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How to Win Tinder


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Tinder involves managing the vulnerability of “putting oneself out there” by playing it like a video game.

“We saw some beautiful things here. Things we’ll never forget … Everyone was just trying to find themselves. God it was so nice to get a break from reality for a little while.” — From the closing voice-over of Spring Breakers

 

Love is not a game. Tinder is. Login with your Facebook account and start swiping to play. Swipe right not to find “the one,” but to find someone. See who you match with, and then decide what winning would even mean, to put an end to it.

When it comes to managing emotional vulnerability while simultaneously “putting yourself out there” — a philosophy that digital connectivity seems to invite, if not demand — Tinder is the safest way to find a mate. The interface engages you in a way that allows you to remain detached. In Tinderland nothing matters unless you want it to matter. You are in control: You decide when to swipe, who to message, when to take your conversations to a different app.

IRL is not always the goal. On Tinder, entire emotional narratives of self-focused storylines can unfold through its messaging function without ever meeting the other person involved. Winning Tinder is about mastering the app’s affordances, its game mechanics, the dissociative buffers that make it possible to play. You must regard other people on Tinder — and yourself — as avatars.

It is not that people on Tinder are all “players” or trying to game the system governing hooking up. It’s that Tinder is a radically destabilizing networked social experiment. It is hyper-technosexual, it is disturbing, it is pleasurable, and it is highly addictive. You hit the app; you quit the app; you inevitably return. In Tinderland, you’re bombarded with so many faces, you seldom notice when somebody doesn’t swipe you back. Rejection doesn’t exist unless you want it to.

 

***

 

It’s 3:06 AM and I can’t sleep. I find myself aimlessly swiping on Tinder. I haven’t been here in a while. My most recent relationship of sorts was found on Tinder. I hooked up with Joaquin for two whole months, and I thought I was done with the app; I thought I had won. But I dumped him last week, and here I am, back in the game.

As a social mobile dating app, Tinder is an odd ideological mixture of queer theory and traditional ideals of marriage and partnership — fairytale stories of “happily ever after” sit beside hedonistic cruising. At a panel on selfies at LACMA in April 2014, Tinder founder Sean Rad proclaimed that Tinder isn’t a cruising app, it’s a new way for people to meet their future spouse, espousing heteronormative Christian ideas of love and partnership. When queer theorist Jack Halberstam pointed out from the audience that claiming marriage and life partnership as the goals of using something modeled on Grindr, a gay cruising app, seemed problematic, Rad then changed his tune — truly, an equal opportunity businessman — and shifted his pitch: Tinder has no end point or goal, he admitted. It can be for whatever you want it to be.

In No Future, Lee Edelman looks beyond the “regulatory fantasy of reproductive futurism” and its redemptive, child-rearing families to a jouissance — “a movement beyond the pleasure principle, beyond the distinctions of pleasure and pain, a violent passage beyond the bounds of identity, meaning, and law.” One would think that’s the point of Tinder, the way to play — just enjoy because there can be no goal, no end, no fixed identity or meaning, just pleasure.

To win Tinder, one must have a carefree, non-demanding attitude, a willingness to play, and an ability to stay in the moment, in the present, opening possibilities, chances, rather than foreclosing them. Stating upfront that you’re “not looking for hookups” is a total Tinder buzzkill, even to those who wouldn’t be interested in hooking up with you anyway, smashing a fantasy before it can even begin.

Tinder is a fantasy and real life. In Tinderland, there is no separation between the two; they collapse and the consequences of each intertwine. To create a profile that sets restrictions on fantasies before any actual match is made — especially a profile that is already distilled to a set of pictures and a small amount of text that hardly anyone will consider for more than 20 seconds — is not only overbearing, it suggests an agenda, someone trying to game the system, establish expectations.

One must understand that a match is merely a match. It means nothing until it does. It can either provide you with some type of partner or a tiny burst of dopamine. When you play a video game, there is no agenda aside from winning. Tinder is a space where you could very well meet a new lover, friend, fuck buddy, tonight’s date, a one-night stand, the person you’ll be with for the rest of your life, another writer companion, a long-term relationship, a short-term relationship, or a person with whom to briefly discuss favorite Seinfeld episodes. Keep swiping until you find what you want or burn out tryingor get addicted to the app and give up on the notion that you could ever know what you want.

***

“I wanna rock with somebody (woah yeah) / I wanna take shot with somebody (shot, shot, shot, shot) / I wanna leave with somebody (somebody, c’mon, c’mon) / And we ain’t gonna tell nobody / We ain’t gonna tell nobody”  —Natalie LaRose, in her song “Somebody

Meeting people with whom you share a connection happens by chance. A great Tinder conversation can lead to a lackluster first date and vice-versa; that’s life. Tinder reimagines the realness of any given “connection,” opening it to a variety of definitions conditioned by a range of ideologies and use cases. The app separates the digital and physical, but also merges the two.

In a catalog essay for artist Faith Holland’s solo show Technophilia, which ran a few months ago at Transfer Gallery in Brooklyn, Seth Watter writes about “desire in the age of screens, an age that heightens our sense of temporal simultaneity while increasing our sense of spatial disparity.” We are increasingly in the same time but not the same place.

This changes the nature of connection: It is often less about falling in love and more about distance, or proximity. Watter laments that screen-mediated sex threatens to “be largely a matter of stroking and clicking, and not, sad to say, of sucking and fucking.”

If the Tinder game can connect virtual partners to real-life fucking more quickly, it is not wrong to want it. So ask yourself as you swipe on faces: Do I want that in my home?

For a while, I convinced myself that I could never form a passionate sexual relationship via the app. I thought that romantic attraction required context, that I couldn’t perceive sensual compatibility digitally. I would think about my past loves and realize that I would’ve probably swiped left to the majority of them. But those past connections, made of synchronicity, luck and perfect timing, still occur, despite a tech sector that seems determined to profit by stamping out serendipity. But they may have nothing to do with Tinder.

 

***

 

His name is Joe and he’s a 25-year-old bearded white man. I’ve matched with 50+ dudes who fill this demographic.

“Joe messaged you!”

Tinder is a productivity app disguised as “fun.” The app gently reminds us that romance is a commodity with many potential suppliers. So creating a Tinder profile becomes necessary work that presents one as desirable and sexual, that positions one as an advertisement to a potential mate, that communicates that I am a fantasy that you did not even know you had until I appeared in front of you, on your screen, in your hand. Tinder is about selecting the images that make you look a combination of bored and hot — intelligent without being egotistical, curious without appearing desperate.

To swipe is to work further, refining and evaluating the effort that already went into the profiles. To match is to put on the finishing seal of approval. In game terms, it’s completing a level.

Yet Tinder is also automated and deskilled in a way that matchmaking through friends or stereotypical “yenta” characters are not. Tinder is the techno-yenta, offering matchmaking without the humanity, without “vibes.” Tinder doesn’t require all the extra self-defining work that OKCupid’s algorithms depend on, that paid dating services such as Match.com or eHarmony require. There is no “matchmaker, matchmaker, make me a match.” You are your own matchmaker. And because Tinder is so streamlined and visual it can deliver the pleasures of zoning out. Tinder allows you to make simple decisions with potentially life-changing consequences, without stressing too much.

Users can swipe during moments that feel like leisure, an alternative to flipping through Us Weekly or playing 2048. Tinder play time takes over the time of solitary relaxation, self-reflection, and decompression from the day’s events. It is often played in transit, on a bus or train, times otherwise reserved for reading or texting or watching TV. I’ve actually Tindered while watching my favorite show, and while having a conversation with a friend, those narratives fading in favor of fragmented ones with a stream of strangers.

Tinder offers tactile satisfaction as well. The rhythm of the swipe is relaxing; it’s perfect for those moments when you want to be alone and connected. I find myself swiping, maniacal, when I want to productively pass time while doing nothing, when I want to feel adored but not intertwined.

 

***

 

 

I don’t read the message; instead, I keep swiping. I can’t disrupt the rhythm of the game: left, left, left, right, left.

Here’s the thing though:  I’ve never been into video games. As a kid, I preferred playing fantasy games or drawing. I was always interested in playing; every kid likes to play. I just preferred to perform my fantasies in a world that resembled my own. No Mario Kart, no GTA; the only game I ever liked was The Sims. I preferred a simulacrum of real life.

 

 

eve

Game on!

 

Tinder feels as safe as texting and as fun as sexting. According to TheMetropolist.com, Tinder is “like hunting from the safety of a safari jeep.” Swiping right and left is akin to targeting your prey. Messaging back and forth is slowly going in for the kill. Meeting IRL: wham, pow, ya dead.

I “killed it” one Sunday morning when I was messaging with three women — complete strangers — simultaneously, in bed, ignoring the world around me. It was exhausting, but I had to understand the new type of chase.

I didn’t mean for this to happen, and now that I’ve said “hey” and they’ve all responded, ready, interested, I can’t just ditch conversations; it all feels very urgent and of the moment, I am engaged, I want to see them through to whatever their potential narrative end is or could be. 

I wasn’t expecting this. I wasn’t sure what I was expecting. I had no expectations. But now I feel insane, I am in this split-space video-game narrative, playing on multiple levels at once, and I am talking to everyone and no one. 

 

alicia

 

 

If Tinder involves managing the vulnerability of “putting oneself out there” by playing it like a video game, what happens to the chase, which is more of a role-playing game?

During the chase, there is a pursuer and pursued. Through a variety of indirect means, the pursuer seeks to transfer their interest, their obsession to the pursued. The pursued is made continuously aware of the pursuer but always keeps a bit of coy distance, lest they fall. The chase can go on forever, or until one cracks and makes their feelings known. The roles are interchangeable, becoming more fluid as mutual interest is established. The chase is key.

The goal in courtship is often to prolong the chase, to draw out the sexual tension, to make them wait — and to enjoy this starry-eyed journey from strangers to dating to lovers to partners.

This is nothing like the chase on Tinder, however. On Tinder, the connections happen quickly — you get a vibe off the person and make your choice. Kate Hakala claimed in a 2013 article for Nerve that “‘the chase’ is programmed into all of us as a means of sifting out the losers,” arguing that dating apps “are just accelerating the pace of the game—giving us the same rewards we usually get through intimacy by way of strangers from Facebook.” Is Tinder speeding up the chase to the point of extinction in order to prioritize results: goals achieved, sex needs met, potential connections formed?

In regular life, the chase is about getting the person to notice you, to like you, to get attached, to fall in love, to be together. In Tinderland, you chase the chase. In a 2014 article for the Guardian, Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic argues that “mobile dating is much more than a means to an end, it is an end in itself. With Tinder, the pretext is to hook up, but the real pleasure is derived from the Tindering process.” For some, the “process” is about taking pleasure in the casual connection. They are outside the zero-sum dualism where a “win” is meeting and a “loss” is no meeting. During the “process,” you could have a stimulating or an emotionally supportive conversation with a stranger who you will never meet. Sometimes, all anyone needs is to have a brief connection, and Tinder facilitates that possibility.

Tinder does not accelerate or deter the chase so much as radically alter it. It mechanizes the chase, compressing it to maximize productivity. At the same time, it prolongs the chase because the chase becomes noncommittal. It makes any initial in-person meet-up much more intense and rife with expectations, as these have been deferred by the app’s mechanics. Tinder chats, no matter how charming, can only go on for so long before they begin to fade out. If the Tinder connection is to last, the two parties must abandon Tinder altogether.

The chase on Tinder is more complicated because chances are, multiple Tinder chases are happening at the same time. It’s another way to evade vulnerability. By allowing users to theoretically chase hundreds simultaneously, Tinder casualizes the chase; it protects and distracts users from the emotional uncertainty that accompanies our search for lust and/or love. Tinder forces those who play to reimagine the meaning of “real” —  a “real” connection, or a “real” self,  or “real” life. When a user logs into Tinder, they accept the rules of the game and acknowledge the others who are playing. They expect that after a Tinder date that person will go right back to Tinder and keep swiping. Because after one date, you’re not the one — you are just another one.

 

Game over!

 

***

 

To form a long-term relationship off Tinder is not the same as winning Tinder — that’s perhaps winning “real life.” At least if you subscribe to “reproductive futurism,” that is.

 

It may be that to win Tinder, you accept that your IRL interactions will be subject to the limitations of the video game. You bring your emoji flirting into the sphere of the real, whatever that may be. You treat your face-to-face interaction as a series of moves that can allow you to level up. Even as you’re mingling at a bar or fucking later on in the night, you never abandon the interface.

That’s when I realized my fatal flaw: I thought I was just playing a video game, but now this is my real life. This is not a solo game, and I am not the hero; this is not a two-player game either. This is a group game. If I am to play, I need to play in the company of friends, both virtual and IRL. Together we level up. Alone we die. 

 

 

 

MPREG versus Homonormcore


larryfamily.310 There is perhaps nothing more “normal” than teen girls fantasizing about boy-on-boy relationships and male pregnancy.

Prompt 1: The desiring fangirl reproduces heteronormative ideals through the creation of fluffy, cutesy, day-in-the-life-of fictions of boy-on-boy romance, domesticity, and male pregnancy. But while appearing to uphold norms à la homonormativity, some fan fictions “open possibilities for resignifying the terms of violation against their violating aims” (Judith Butler). On reproducing and accelerating what is given to be “norm,” the fangirl envisions a post-homonormative life, or so this story goes…

“Welcome to a new world order! Coming soon to a mainstream near you.” This is where Lisa Duggan leaves us in her 2002 essay “The New Homonormativity: The Sexual Politics of Neoliberalism,” which examines an emerging politics after “gay liberation.” Instead of contesting dominant heteronormative ideologies and institutions, this new homonormativity upholds and sustains them. Duggan’s examples include the work of lesbian and gay organizations in the 90s such as the Independent Gay Forum (IGF) and writers like Andrew Sullivan, author of Virtually Normal, who argued that marriage is “the highest form of human happiness,” “a profoundly humanizing, traditionalizing step” and “ultimately the only reform that truly matters.” Duggan’s discourse focuses on showing how homonormativity abandons earlier political commitments to economic redistribution and protection of sexual freedoms by marginalizing those who challenge serial monogamy and those who feel oppressed by a binary gender or sex system – including transgender, bisexual, pansexual, and intersex people.

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My Father’s Sign

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When a father dies, you are left with at once so many stories and never enough.

when Kristeva speaks about a person’s (be he or she artist or analysand) relation to a mother who is entirely accessible and evident in a speech without limits, or a father who is only too visible on the precision and order of every paragraph, it is in the psychoanalytic sense of the dynamic interaction between the semiotic and the symbolic that this should be understood.

— John Lechte on Julia Kristeva

When my father died I lost my western reference point, which is strange: I never knew where he came from. It was sudden. We’d said goodbye at the airport in Athens one month before, which made sense. This was a city that became home when I was barely eighteen: I landed just days after 9/11, one year younger than he was when he landed in Hong Kong after answering a recruitment advert for the Hong Kong Colonial Police Force to do, I presume, the same thing I did—make a life somewhere. Two weeks later, he was gone, never to live on UK soil again. I think it was 1964.

He always said he never felt English. The reason, as I later found out, was that he was adopted—a World War II baby: his birthday was 14 September 1945. My mother told me once that he thought he might have been Indian at one point, which is why he came to Asia, though in truth, he looked Mediterranean. I think it bothered him, deep down: not knowing where he came from, or why his parents gave him up, but he never wanted to find out what his origins were; he never even talked about it. Hong Kong suited him, though. He learned its ways. Married its women. Had children. He made the traditional Chinese New Year turnip cake better than anyone and always knew how to clean out at Mahjong. He spoke fluent Cantonese with an English accent. The people at the market who let him cut his own meat with a bandsaw always called him “uncle.”

I wasn’t surprised when he told me that parts of Athens reminded him of Hong Kong in the seventies and eighties. (After his third visit, he said Greece was one of the only places in the world he would ever come back to.) One of my earliest memories of the city was working in a popular bar with a bevy of women—we worked for hours a night, serving non-stop, three behind a narrow bar, bumping into each other regularly throughout the shift. I’d say sorry every time until my co-worker turned around and told me off. “Siga!” she cried, which translates terribly into “slowly” and more accurately into “big deal.” “You’re so English,” she laughed; she also told me never to say sorry again.

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