I’ve definitely seen porn that’s set in an American voting booth. I think it had a vaguely politicised message that wasn’t explicitly expressed; something about how the guy wasn’t sure who to vote for, but a blowjob from a stranger cleared up his indecisiveness. I didn’t really see why the protagonist was confused, though – presumably if you’re a man happily receiving oral from another man in public you’re not going to be voting Republican. Hearing that Grindr has just decided to throw itself into political mobilisation has caused me a similar bout of head-scratching.
I’m not explaining what Grindr does – if you’ve been living under a rock or you’re my mother, this will answer your questions - but I doubt anyone has ever downloaded it in order to get more involved with their local gay rights issues. The message of Grindr has always officially been ‘a social networking tool’ – unofficially ‘bumming on tap’ – and, with the exception of Rick ‘I Thought It Was A Coffee App’ Santorum’s satirical lampooning by the Daily Currant earlier this year, has never really come across as being particularly politically involved.
Sex and politics are uneasy bedfellows at the best of times. Plenty of careers have been ruined by one slip-of-the-tongue, pun completely intended. And a gay sex scandal? Well, the newspapers eat that up like it’s birthday cake. Good if they’re married, better if they’re religious, best if they’re Republican. It seems the politicians in question usually have a terribly negative history on gay rights issues as well, inadvertently lending extra weight to the old cliché that if you’re homophobic, it’s because you’re secretly homobone-ic. Then, once the story has broken, we get the usual soundbites: ’it was a moment of madness’, ‘I deeply regret my actions’, though ultimately ending with the ‘shamed’ public figure quietly stepping down from frontline politics.
I’ve never understood that kind of thing; the shame bit. Maybe my views are weird, but I don’t get why someone’s sexual inclinations are anything to do with the job they perform. So long as they’re not siphoning funds out of the emergency services’ budget to bank roll their dirty weekend, I don’t understand why they can’t get tied up and fisted by whomever they like. I suppose when your electoral roll is made up of the kind of slack-jawed yokels who call themselves Christians, but only seem to know the Old Testament, the real issue is that being gay is unpopular and more likely to get you lynched than elected.
Ironically enough, it seems running on a platform of racism, misogyny and homophobia is the modus operandi for purportedly ‘Christian’ politicians. Democrats appear to be the better option over the Republicans, whose raison d’être seems to be entirely for advancing the status of rich, old, heterosexual, white men, yet still managing to seem like a viable option for many Americans, but neither party is completely rainbow-friendly. There are, according to recent surveys, around nine million LGBT folk living in the USA and another ten million on top of that who don’t identify as LGBT but still have the occasional same-sex encounter – which seems like splitting hairs, but whatever – the total of which comes to round about 9%, give or take. Considering that the highest voter turnout in the last forty years is 58%, that 9% could be instrumental in swaying national results.
So Grindr, with the 1.5 million gay American men it reaches, has decided it’s going to mobilise its audience into cock-blocking anti-gay rights candidates with geo-targeted messages. These messages will be ‘promoting knowledge of those presidential candidates, and state and local candidates, who support GLBT initiatives’, as well as alerting users of any gay-centric legislation that may be occurring on a local and national level. Grindr CEO, Joel Simkhai, one of the only men who genuinely seems to believe people primarily use it to make friends – and not even in the sense that one ‘makes friends’ at 2AM in a nightclub toilet – said in a press release on 5 September, ‘We’ll use Grindr to unite gay men across the country, make that voice grow louder and have a nationwide impact.’
It’s a brave and noble cause, the reception of which will be interesting to observe. The initial stumbling block is that it’s like using a web browser pop-up on a porn site to request users sign an equal marriage petition; the majority of people clicking through have just one thing on their minds, and it’s not social activism. There will be a number of gay men who’ll click ‘close’ as soon as any pop-up appears, whether it’s offering them a free go on Jake Bass, or inviting them to an all day, all-you-can-eat, chicken and protein shake buffet at the gym. They’re opening Grindr because they are thinking about their next four hours and who they’re going to be flopping around on top of, not who is going to be in that big white building for the next four years flopping around on top of the country.
Then there’s the fact that most gay men are likely to be already aware of their local bigots. Furthermore, it doesn’t take into account those men who already vote on gay rights issues on a regular basis, the ones who protest, the ones who are already activists when they’re not being lustful cockmonsters (still the best phrase I’ve heard all September) on Grindr. What’s the point of Orange Facebook telling you your local representative is ‘like, totally bad news’ and needs to ‘like, chill out on the gays’, when you’ve known that since they were elected, and you’ve been protesting outside their offices every Saturday for two years? It could come across as a little patronising, to say the least. That’s without taking into account the 30% or so of homosexuals who apparently vote Republican anyway. What with a number of their ‘targeted messages’ probably taking a catty sideswipe at the conservative senator some users voted for in the last election, Grindr may end up turning its userbase off quicker than a particularly gobby gayboy, who’s drunkenly started talking politics to the UKIP voter he’s been hitting on all night *ahem*.
And the audience size doesn’t need reducing any more to raise eyebrows about the use of Grindr for grassroots activism. 1.5million men may sound like a lot – it certainly does if that’s your bedpost tally – but in terms of political clout, that’s under 1% of the voting roll in America. We all know what happens to gay men growing up in the backwoods anyway; as soon as they can get out of their one horse town and head to the nearest city with more than two gay bars, they will. Simkhai may say ‘all elections are won or lost on the local level’, but unless virtually no-one in Iowa turns up to vote, except the eight homosexuals who haven’t moved out of it yet, Grindr isn’t going to be vastly and disproportionately influencing any swing states.
So in practical terms, we can probably conclude that no political battles are going to be fought over the good people of Grindlandia, not that the Republicans would want them anyway. Initially, this is only going to be rolled out in America, so the other 2.5million users worldwide won’t be seeing any changes. Still, what the guys at Grindr are doing is ideologically admirable and, while I’m not optimistic about the number of ‘straight-acting, gym fit guys, looking 4 NSA fun now’ who are going to read beyond the first three words, the experiment may draw a fair few responses out of users who are only logging on out of boredom.
I’m wondering whether providing this extra slant will even give some previously apathetic gay guys a jump start. Creating an easily accessible opportunity to get involved in their local protesting and politics by opening their eyes to inequality, may galvanise younger generations of gay men into doing more than just making themselves easily accessible. Maybe Grindr should paraphrase Harvey Milk and tagline: ‘I’m Grindr, and I want to recruit you’. It’ll probably get them more downloads.