FAST LOVE – A satirical and subversive series on modern dating

Mixed-media artist Natalie Wong shares her latest artwork – “Fast Love”, in an exclusive online exhibition. The new series comprises of nine illustrations poking fun at dating apps and their effects on romance and relationships. Visually inspired by the comic book stylings of Roy Lichtenstein, “Fast Love” is a satirical and subversive take on modern mobile swiping culture. The work whimsically blends imagery of iconic fast food staples and intimately human objects, creating a visual parody of contemporary dating culture.

“Although apps have revolutionised the way people connect and are one of the most impactful social disrupters in decades, dating apps have sacrificed romance at the altar of technological efficiency. Whilst the idea of having more choices seem beneficial, it may, in fact, be detrimental to dating. When faced with multiple options, apps make it too easy to discard matches over minor issues because the environment provides a feeling of abundance for better dates.” On the inspiration behind combining fast food staples and dating-related images, Wong shares: “The similarities between the ease of access, disposability, addictive and consumer-orientated nature of fast food heavily lent itself conceptually and made for compelling visual references within the narrative I wanted to explore.”

In “Glazed and Confused”, the illustration initially looks like a strawberry doughnut with sprinkles. On closer inspection, the viewer can see the sugary decorations are in fact multi-coloured pills with dating app logos. “When using dating apps, there is the promise you will match with someone great, and you frequently receive positive reinforcements to keep looking. Swiping can become addictive and users get a continual ‘hit’ of validation each time someone matches with them on the app,” says Wong. In “It Was All in Vein”, the illustration shows the iconic red French fries box with human hearts – implying how dating apps have turned people into cheap commodities and internalised the idea that everyone is readily available for our own personal consumption and enjoyment.

Throughout the series, the artist explores the commodification and devaluation of romance. A central underlying question is posed as to whether the fault lies with technology or with us. “There is a strong argument that dating apps are large capital enterprises which exploit inherently complex human flaws and vulnerabilities. Apps enable our culture’s worst desires for efficiency in a space where individuals, who are looking for genuine connections, most need to resist those impulses,” explains Wong.

Part of the ‘Fast Love’ Series

‘It Was All in Vein’ reflects the idea that when dating on apps, people form an addiction to consuming and collecting people’s feelings and emotions. People are now seen as commodities, as opposed to individuals. It also implies that technology has internalised the idea that people are readily available for our own personal consumption and enjoyment.

The traditional McDonald’s logo is subverted and replaced with a revised tinder logo. It feels good when you consume someone’s love and affection but after repeatedly doing this with multiple strangers, you may feel physically sick and guilty. The artwork also suggests that acquiring ‘love’ this way is not inherently healthy and is merely a temporary form of satisfaction.

Part of the ‘Fast Love’ Series

Tacos are one of America’s favourite food items and are available everywhere from street corners, fancy restaurants and fast-food chains. But in the context of online dating, tacos have become advertisements for a stranger’s personality. If you use dating apps, you are likely to come across someone saying ‘I’m just here for the tacos’ or ‘I’ll take you to the best taco spot in town’. My belief is that in the modern age of the internet, there is a contemporary and culturally accepted norm to adore snacks. Tacos symbolize a certain type of mildly cultured person who doesn’t take themselves too seriously. Characteristics which prove to be popular traits for both genders.

‘I Don’t Want to Taco ‘Bout It’ depicts a taco with sweetheart candies (also known as conversation hearts). The immediate reaction should be one of distaste and uncomfortable surprise as sugar candies are not normally eaten in a traditionally savoury taco, reflecting the idea that the experience of meeting and talking to hundreds of people is an unconventional cultural shift in human behavior. I substituted the typical words found on these candies with names of men and women to suggest the idea that meeting people on apps have turned individuals to nothing more than homogenous shapes, interchangeable with each other. After weeks or months of swiping, everyone becomes the same. The tinder logo is disguised within the taco’s texture, implying the presence of the dating platform wrapped around and containing all the people you match with.

Part of the ‘Fast Love’ Series

‘Instant Connection’ plays with the packaging of the branded food staple by replacing the Nissin Ramen Boy (usually featured solo), with a female companion. The chopsticks are shown to hold a pair of wedding rings and the flavour is labeled as ‘human’. The work presents the idea that dating apps sell the goal of long-term companionship that can be accessed, made and produced rapidly and with ease.

With instant ramen, the fast-food product has eliminated the need for advanced culinary skills and shortened the time required to prepare a meal. In comparison to dating, if individuals were to meet potential dates in the traditional sense, it could take hours and require a developed level of social skill. Now, dating apps have diluted these requirements. Additionally, it is inconsequential that chemistry is not developed during early conversations because apps provide efficient opportunities to meet someone else.

The interesting question here is – are people in trouble of always searching for the ‘better’ option because it has become so inherently easy to dismiss a conversation if it goes south? Do dating apps just perpetuate swiping and never actually finding?

Part of the ‘Fast Love’ Series

At first glance, the viewer will see a strawberry glazed doughnut with multi-coloured sprinkles.

On a closer study, the viewer will notice that the sprinkles are, in fact, various drugs and pills. Additionally, the circular tablets are branded with a logo of the dating app, Happn. In ‘Glazed and Confused’, the artwork explores themes of swiping addiction and instant gratification.

As people swipe, frequent matches and inviting messages to provide a mini-hit of dopamine to the brain that keeps people coming back for more. The artwork’s underlying message is that for many singles on the dating scene, the act of swiping has become an addiction because they know a match or alike is guaranteed and human brains thrive on intermittent variable rewards.

Part of the ‘Fast Love’ Series

The words ‘Matrimony and Sleaze’ is a word-play substitute for the famous fast food name on the blue box. An eggplant emoji, a common symbol used in online chats about sex and male genitalia replaces the traditional macaroni shape on the front.

​Although an oft-cited benefit of dating apps is access to a greater number of dating options – in reality, this benefit also has negative side-effects. With infinite match options, individuals cannot decide who to talk to and when they do decide, they may be less satisfied with their choices. There is a hidden illusion of abundance. It can be argued that apps do not deliver relationships but rather the sensation that there is a possibility of one.

Kraft Heinz is a billion-dollar company and the decision to present artwork referencing one of their iconic products also implies the commodification and capital enterprise behind the dating app apparatus. Unique to this artwork, pricing is included (similar to some packaging on Kraft’s Mac and Cheese products).

On many apps, subscription add-ons provide participants with better choices, more matches and a potentially better dating experience which is charged at a premium. As a business model, the core aim of dating apps is to encourage more people to pay for their services and to keep returning to their app.

​But, if a company’s goal is to convert individuals from being free users to paying subscribers, are its algorithms really designed in their best interest? Ultimately, there is a fundamental conflict of interest between the user and the designer of the app.