Blogging is better than Fleet Street Fox's journal of branding

Are there any bloggers who write stuff because they want to write stuff?

So Fleet Street Fox was someone called Susie Boniface all along. Who knew? Oh, everyone.

Apparently it’s a big deal that the formerly anonymous (while not being tremendously anonymous) blogger has outed herself and is now herself, rather than not being herself, while still being very much herself. (There’s a book out. I see.)

The mysterious Fleet Street Faux, it turns out, wasn’t all that mysterious to people in the know, despite claims that she would have lost her job if she had been unmasked. (I didn’t know, but I’ve never been in the know.)  Still, it was a nice branding exercise I guess.

FSF has shown vulpine cunning when it comes to spotting a gap in the market, though: there hasn’t been a half-articulate figure defending the tabloid press for ages. Kelvin "The Truth" Mackenzie clung on for as long as he could as the bluff, disingenuous voice of the common White Van Geezer who likes tits, football and right-wing views. The spivvy hack Paul McMullen cut a rather unloveable figure as he gamely attempted to defend the redtops at the height of Leveson, lurking in the shadows in his battered cream suit like a rather forlorn Sidney Stratton. That only leaves Janet Street-Porter to be wheeled out whenever you need a quote from someone to present the “I say let em crash” counterpoint which news programmes deem it necessary to provide as equivalence to anything slightly rational.

Enter FSF The Brand, then, to fill that void and tell us that we’ve got it all wrong, and the tabs are all right. At least Mackenzie isn’t getting on telly as much, but this well-trodden path from "anonymous insider" to "person who pops up on Newsnight with apparently surprising and contradictory opinions" has happened so many times now that it’s become a bit of a cliché. You see people all over the blogosphere painstakingly setting themselves up as these brands ahead of the long-anticipated big reveal.

It seems a far cry from the days when blogging was supposed to change the world; when we were part of some kind of glorious revolution in which the masses would finally take over control of the Fourth Estate. (I’m pretending, here, that there was some kind of golden age of blogging where it wasn’t a cavalcade of oddballs and losers, and we all wrote things out of the goodness of our hearts. Run with that, if you can.)

Perceptive readers may have noticed that I was an anonymous blogger myself. This is true, although I never really had any endgame in mind; I certainly have no desire to cover my genitals in chum and dangle them into the sharky waters of a career as a media pundit. I can think of few worse fates for me, or the rest of the world, than that.  

So what’s my problem? Well, for one thing I think blogging is about more than trying to get your face on telly. If you want to write, write; if you want to be famous, do something worthwhile. There’s a whole world of wonderful blogs and exciting writers out there who’ve been completely ignored by the mainstream by dint of their lack of self-promotion. I think that’s such a huge shame, because some of the very best writers around are online, and not necessarily shouting from the rooftops about how great they are.

Come on, we’re better than this. Blogging is better than the Guidos or the Fleet Street Foxes of this world. Surely there are bloggers who write stuff because they want to write stuff, not because they’d rather fashion some kind of cobbled-together media whack-a-mole career out of it. Please? Someone prove me wrong. 

Patrolling the murkier waters of the mainstream media

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The Tinder dating app isn't just about sex – it's about friendship, too. And sex

The lines between sex, love and friendship are blurrier than ever, as I found out quickly while using the app.

The first time I met someone using Tinder, the free dating app that requires users to swipe left for “no” and right for “yes” before enabling new “matches” to chat, it was an unqualified success. I should probably qualify that. I was newly single after five years in a committed relationship and wasn’t looking for anything more than fun, friendship and, well, who knows. A few weeks earlier I had tried to give my number to a girl in a cinema café in Brixton. I wrote it on a postcard I’d been using as a bookmark. She said she had a boyfriend, but wanted to keep the postcard. I had no date and I lost my page.

My Tinder date was a master’s student from Valencia called Anna (her name wasn’t really Anna, of course, I’m not a sociopath). When I arrived at the appointed meeting place, she told me I was far more handsome IRL (“in real life”) than my pictures suggested. I was flattered and full of praise for the directness of continental Europeans but also thought sadly to myself: “If only the same could be said about you.”

Anna and I became friends, at least for a while. The date wasn’t a success in the traditional sense of leading us into a contract based on exclusivity, an accumulating cache of resentments and a mortgage, but it had put me back in the game (an appropriate metaphor – people speak regularly of “playing” with the app).

According to Sean Rad, the co-founder who launched Tinder in late 2012, the service was invented for people like me. “It was really a way to overcome my own problems,” he told the editor of Cosmopolitan at an event in London last month. “It was weird to me, to start a conversation [with a stranger]. Once I had an introduction I was fine, but it’s that first step. It’s difficult for a lot of people.” After just one outing, I’d learned two fundamental lessons about the world of online dating: pretty much everyone has at least one decent picture of themselves, and meeting women using a so-called hook-up app is seldom straightforwardly about sex.

Although sometimes it is. My second Tinder date took place in Vienna. I met Louisa (ditto, name) outside some notable church or other one evening while visiting on holiday (Tinder tourism being, in my view, a far more compelling way to get to know a place than a cumbersome Lonely Planet guide). We drank cocktails by the Danube and rambled across the city before making the romantic decision to stay awake all night, as she had to leave early the next day to go hiking with friends. It was just like the Richard Linklater movie Before Sunrise – something I said out loud more than a few times as the Aperol Spritzes took their toll.

When we met up in London a few months later, Louisa and I decided to skip the second part of Linklater’s beautiful triptych and fast-track our relationship straight to the third, Before Midnight, which takes place 18 years after the protagonists’ first meet in Vienna, and have begun to discover that they hate each others’ guts.

Which is one of the many hazards of the swiping life: unlike with older, web-based platforms such as Match.com or OkCupid, which require a substantial written profile, Tinder users know relatively little about their prospective mates. All that’s necessary is a Facebook account and a single photograph. University, occupation, a short bio and mutual Facebook “likes” are optional (my bio is made up entirely of emojis: the pizza slice, the dancing lady, the stack of books).

Worse still, you will see people you know on Tinder – that includes colleagues, neighbours and exes – and they will see you. Far more people swipe out of boredom or curiosity than are ever likely to want to meet up, in part because swiping is so brain-corrosively addictive.

While the company is cagey about its user data, we know that Tinder has been downloaded over 100 million times and has produced upwards of 11 billion matches – though the number of people who have made contact will be far lower. It may sound like a lot but the Tinder user-base remains stuck at around the 50 million mark: a self-selecting coterie of mainly urban, reasonably affluent, generally white men and women, mostly aged between 18 and 34.

A new generation of apps – such as Hey! Vina and Skout – is seeking to capitalise on Tinder’s reputation as a portal for sleaze, a charge Sean Rad was keen to deny at the London event. Tinder is working on a new iteration, Tinder Social, for groups of friends who want to hang out with other groups on a night out, rather than dating. This makes sense for a relatively fresh business determined to keep on growing: more people are in relationships than out of them, after all.

After two years of using Tinder, off and on, last weekend I deleted the app. I had been visiting a friend in Sweden, and took it pretty badly when a Tinder date invited me to a terrible nightclub, only to take a few looks at me and bolt without even bothering to fabricate an excuse. But on the plane back to London the next day, a strange thing happened. Before takeoff, the woman sitting beside me started crying. I assumed something bad had happened but she explained that she was terrified of flying. Almost as terrified, it turned out, as I am. We wound up holding hands through a horrific patch of mid-air turbulence, exchanged anecdotes to distract ourselves and even, when we were safely in sight of the ground, a kiss.

She’s in my phone, but as a contact on Facebook rather than an avatar on a dating app. I’ll probably never see her again but who knows. People connect in strange new ways all the time. The lines between sex, love and friendship are blurrier than ever, but you can be sure that if you look closely at the lines, you’ll almost certainly notice the pixels.

Philip Maughan is Assistant Editor at the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 26 May 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The Brexit odd squad