Exploring Grindr Metaculture

Simon Blish

You’re probably thinking ‘oh god, not another article about Grindr – my eyes hurt!’ But this isn’t about Grindr. Sometimes I hate it and sometimes I love it – therefore I have no stable opinion to base any commentary on. Yes, it can bring out the worst in people – racism and bigotry is more bluntly articulated there than in most other social spaces. But on the other hand it does connect people; some of my best friends, lovers, and dates have all started with that awkward monosyllable ‘Hi’.

But just to reiterate, this isn’t about Grindr, there’s nothing I can say that hasn’t already been said. Instead this is about the wider culture surrounding it – if we zoom out it is apparent that Grindr has become much more than a simple hook up app. This may all seem a bit ‘meta’ but bear with me. As I am a digital culture sponge it has been inevitable that I would encounter various expressions of what I like to call Grindr Metaculture.

Did I just make up a pretentious concept called ‘Grindr Metaculture’? Yes, I think I did. And here’s why:

First of all, Grindr has played a part in defining our identities – I don’t think I’d ever really heard of an ‘Otter’ until seeing it proudly proclaimed on various topless profile pictures. In 2012 an app called Dattch was launched by Robyn Exton, which is defined as the ‘anti-Grindr’ aimed at lesbian women. I was fortunate to hear Exton speak at an event last year and it was really interesting hearing about the experiences of developing a new dating app. Of course, it had to be defined against Grindr – and Dattch started out being a ‘Lesbian version of Grindr’ showing a scrollable view of eligible women online nearby.

Exton quickly realised this format really doesn’t suit the lesbian market and the app has now taken focus off proximity and instant gratification. She claims girls don’t tend to go on a date within four hours of starting a conversation with someone. So what have we seen here? Not only has Grindr managed to define cultural habits amongst gay men, but has also indirectly helped define a similar but very different habit amongst lesbians. The digital era has somehow intrinsically managed to intertwine itself into our sex lives and identities – whether or not this is a good thing is obviously still up for discussion.

The second interesting Grindr Metaculture incident was the recent local election campaign in Amsterdam where candidates used Grindr as a means to reach out to the local community. This is almost too much for me to handle – I simultaneously love and hate everything about this, but it’s also so deliciously intertextual I can’t help but obsess over it.

Does using Grindr to help promote a political party cheapen politics, or does it heighten the importance of Grindr Metaculture? We’ve already seen it intrinsically play a part in our sex lives and identity formations, as well as our relationships and interactions with each other. Would a political agenda be so far off? In the simplest form of media theory, the level of usage of any forum equates to how much the communication through it is worth. Clearly what we are seeing is that wider society outside the ‘niche community’ it was initially intended for is giving it serious attention due to its popularity.

The final part of my Grindr Metaculture experiences was something I coincidentally stumbled upon on Grindr, as the founder of Grindr Illustrated must inhabit the same part of East London as I do. This blog features poetically crafted images of various Grindr profile pictures (with the profile description attached) – layered with sharp lines and pastel watercolours.

Art is definitely imitating life here and I absolutely love it. There’s something about these profiles that seem so much more innocent when taken away from the cold harsh screen of a Smartphone and transferred onto a warm illustration. Juxtaposed with profile descriptions such as ‘FrenchStud’, ‘Not looking for hookups ;P’ and ‘Bear. Chubby. Bearded’ helps exposing how arbitrary all this is when taken out of context.

Essentially what I’ve concluded is that Grindr is more than an app, and whether or not it’s part of a progression or a demise of LGBT culture is questionable. However, I find it difficult to divide things into such binary oppositions – there are elements of it that brings out the worst in people, but it’s also defining a place for modern LGBT culture in wider society. It’s not hidden away and pushed aside; on the contrary, it’s used as a measurement for other dating apps. Furthermore, politicians are advocating their agendas through it, and it’s also influencing artistic expression. Grindr Metaculture isn’t just about hooking up, it’s so much more than that.

About Simon Blish

Writing, drawing, editing - Simon loves it all.