OKCupid Founders Promoted 'Dis' Generator with Gay Insults
The founders of OKCupid, a free online dating site, made a splash last week when they joined
the campaign against Mozilla CEO Brendan Eich. But before they were
outspoken critics of Eich, the same four individuals founded a site
which promoted a "Dis" generator which included insults aimed at gays.
Chris Coyne, Sam Yagan, Max Krohn and Christian Rudder are the four
Harvard grads who founded dating site OKCupid. Their previous
collaboration also started out as a dating site called "Pimpin' Cupid."
According to this 2001 piece in the Crimson,
the dating site was popular but was soon overshadowed by something
else. The founders created a site called The Spark which offered
SparkNotes, an online rival to CliffsNotes, i.e. chapter summaries for a
steadily growing number of oft-read literary classics.
SparkNotes was eventually bought out by Barnes and Noble. The Spark
continued for a while as a kind of proto-Onion site featuring humor
articles, quizzes, etc. In 2000, when it was still fairly new, the site announced
its first downloadable Windows application, an insult generator called
"Deliver the Dis." According to the page it was written by a 26-year-old
bisexual woman and is capable of "generating over 32 trillion insults." By the following year, The Spark was offering "Deliver the Dis" with the following description "A lighting quick insult generator. Our first Windows application.
Face it, hate sells."
The app is still downloadable via the internet archive and does produce an endless supply of
florid insults. The rules used to generate the insults from smaller bits
of speech don't seem particularly complicated. They repeat frequently
with different words in the blanks. Most of the insults could be
directed at anyone but some of them are clearly aimed at gays or perhaps
at insulting people by insinuating they are gay.
The simplest example is, "You are a homo." That's really as bland as
it gets. Another "dis" reads, "You are such a viral mangled homo."
Again, this is a mix-and-match generator but "homo" and a variation
"homo little brother" are clearly built in to the app. Another fragment
which shows up repeatedly, "Hey Lesbo" as in "Hey Lesbo, I know you
would bone a homo."
Then there are some tasteless references to HIV and AIDS such as
"You have HIV." and "Are you infected with AIDS?" Of course not
everyone who has HIV or AIDS is gay but clearly it's a very sensitive
topic in the gay community and was back in 2000 when The Spark was
promoting this. To be fair, the insult generator isn't aimed primarily
at gays though you only have to click through for a few minutes to see
examples like these.
The Spark also wasn't particularly sensitive to women. For instance, a humor piece by Christian Rudder mock-advising young men how to get lucky on a date contained some potentially offensive advice.
Despite advances in technologies like feminism, the cold
truth of dating is that you must pick up the tab. Women earn less than men
for the same work, so men must pay more for the same meal. You'll look
like a cheapskate if you don't offer to pay.
She'll think it's chivalrous of you to extend that concept. Offer
also to pay for her body, and make sure to tip generously.
This is accompanied by a photo of Rudder slipping a $10 bill into a woman's cleavage as she rolls her eyes in exasperation. The caption reads "enlarged to show failure."
Brendan Eich was ushered out the door over a 6-year-old donation to a
campaign which garnered a majority of the vote in California (and also
over a 22-year-old donation
to Pat Buchanan). His choices weren't a joke or a satire. They also
weren't part of his work behavior. By contrast, the "Deliver the Dis"
app was a product promoted by The Spark. It was always intended as an
obscene joke aimed at high school kids, but does that make it okay?
As the recent "cancel Colbert" incident has demonstrated, saying something is a joke or satire isn't always enough.
Suey Park, who got the #cancelcolbert hashtag trending last week after
the show's Twitter account sent out a joke mocking Asian stereotypes, told the New Yorker,
"That sort of racial humor just makes people who hide under the title
of progressivism more comfortable." Jay Kang, who wrote the piece, says
Park "does not defer to white liberals who point out that the joke was
to satirize white racists, nor does she believe that a debt of gratitude
is owed to the good intentions of white liberalism."
I contacted OKCupid to ask if they saw any of this differently
today, especially in light of their stand against Brendan Eich. I also
asked if they thought it was fair for people to judge their fitness to
run a tech company based on something they had done years in the past.
No one at OKCupid offered a response.