Tuesday, March 04, 2014

An interview with Shawn Bowers and Sarah Gitenstein

Our brand new bi-monthly series, OKAY CUPID, starts up March 28 and 29!
Learn more about the project from creator Shawn Bowers and co-curator Sarah Gitenstein!


What is OKAY CUPID and how did it come about?

Shawn Bowers: OKAY CUPID started as a weekend project back in 2012.  I (the actual me) had used Okcupid off and on since college and I was always curious what the experience was like for the other half.  I was the kind of user who would be very careful about my communication…I would put too much thought into a message and try to be specific and ask questions was just putting too many eggs in too few baskets a lot of times.  And I was also doing more sending than receiving, which I think is a pretty traditional male experience on there.  Initially, it was just interesting to see that it’s the exact opposite for a female profile: I got a few hundred messages in the first weekend, most of them copy/paste introductions or one-liners, and I decided to just have some fun with them.  I quickly realized that guys will play along with really asinine things if it means the messages keep coming, and it became a challenge to try and craft these exchanges that played off their enthusiasm and horniness. 

Tell us about collaborating with each other.

Sarah Gitenstein: Shawn and I have known each other for a couple of years. We decided we wanted to collaborate on a project when we were working on Psychonaut Librarians (Collaboraction’s Sketchbook) and recently worked together on Kate and Sam Are Not Breaking Up. It took us about a year to find the right project and another year to nail down the best approach for exploring our options with OKAY CUPID.

SB: In addition, we have a whole team of people who are helping us do side projects and experiments, produce special segments and just generally cast a wider net so that people don’t get sick of my dumb face month after month.  It’s great, because I’m used to working by myself in a vacuum, and it’s nice to have somebody else to say “this is good,” “this isn’t good,” or (more often than not for this project) “you’re about to go too far.”

What should audiences expect coming into this show?

SB: Audiences shouldn’t expect a grand social point to be made.  There are two things that happened in recent years that sort of guided our direction.  The first was the movie (and subsequent TV show) Catfish…and the Manti T’eo scandal later… which suddenly made everyone scared that the person-they’d-been-dating-online-for-a-year-but-never-actually-met wasn’t real.  The other is the more recent trend where bloggers do these grand experiments, going online for two hours as the opposite gender or as “the WORST GIRL YOU’LL EVER MEET” or whatever and regurgitating the points that we all already know: some people online are creepy, some people are normal, and douchey men will always want sex.  With OKAY CUPID, we’re not out to prove humanity right or wrong…we’re here to have fun.  It’s not mean-spirited.  And I’m not out to catfish anyone, because catfish are horrible fish creatures with ugly whiskers.  I call what I do Goldfishing, because goldfish are simple, beautiful creatures that look good on display and only have a memory a few seconds long. 

What do you hope to explore as the series develops further?

SG: For better or worse, online dating has become what the bar scene used to be: the messy, yet hopeful, place where you might meet someone amazing. Or, you might get puked on. We could literally explore this topic forever and barely scratch the surface on the stories it has to offer. My hope for this project is to reach out to a diverse audience and appeal to writers and other performers to tell their own stories, because I know they are out there.

SB: I’m going to keep mining Okcupid for as long as I can, because there’s just so much to explore: how people react to rejection, race, gender, social status, picture quality, children.  Generally, I just like exploring how people choose to express themselves online.  The mixture of sincerity, anonymity and, often, grammatical inability makes for some fascinating reading.

Tell us something weird you’ve learned about online dating.

SG: All of the crazy sites! It’s insane. There is a dating site for every type of person. Farmers, gamers, cheaters, fetishists, EVERYTHING. There’s even a site for people who are looking for a mate with the same proportional facial features!

SB: I’ve learned that the most powerful word to keep men on the hook is “horny.”  Whether Margie is talking about her cat barfing uncontrollably, or how sad she is over the death of her father, or how she’s having a really bad allergic reaction to watermelon…as long as she says “but also, I’m feeling horny” at the end, guys will generally get right back on track.  Let that be a lesson to unappealing people everywhere: if you’re horny, they will come.