Recommended Reading: Mark Burnett, Dating Apps, and the Year in ‘Feminist’ Films

The sharpest, funniest, and most thoughtful writing of the week.

Modern online media is all about the signal boost, so every Friday here at Flavorwire, we take a moment to spotlight some of the best stuff we’ve read online this week. Today, an up-close look at the man who made Trump TV-friendly, a deep dive into the world of dating apps, a personality profile of this year’s powerful crybabies, and some thoughts on the entertainment of empowerment.  

Ashley Fetters on the five-year shift in how we date.

This editor was married in the dark ages of 2005, way back at a time when “online dating” was still a whispered phrase, something people did out of shame and with no small sense of failure. That is, to put it mildly, no longer the case. At The Atlantic, Fetters takes a look at how the ubiquity of online dating apps has changed the game entirely – and what effect, if any, that’s had on how we see each other.

Dating apps originated in the gay community; Grindr and Scruff, which helped single men link up by searching for other active users within a specific geographic radius, launched in 2009 and 2010, respectively. With the launch of Tinder in 2012, iPhone-owning people of all sexualities could start looking for love, or sex, or casual dating, and it quickly became the most popular dating app on the market. But the gigantic shift in dating culture really started to take hold the following year, when Tinder expanded to Android phones, then to more than 70 percent of smartphones worldwide. Shortly thereafter, many more dating apps came online.

There’s been plenty of hand-wringing and gnashing of teeth over how Tinder could reinvent dating: Maybe it would transform the dating scene into an endless virtual marketplace where singles could shop for each other (like an Amazon for human companionship), or perhaps it would turn dating into a minimal-effort, transactional pursuit of on-demand hookups (like an Uber for sex). But the reality of dating in the age of apps is a little more nuanced than that. The relationship economy has certainly changed in terms of how humans find and court their potential partners, but what people are looking for is largely the same as it ever was: companionship and/or sexual satisfaction. Meanwhile, the underlying challenges—the loneliness, the boredom, the roller coaster of hope and disappointment—of being “single and looking,” or single and looking for something, haven’t gone away. They’ve simply changed shape.

Patrick Radden Keefe on Mark Burnett. 

For The New Yorker, Keefe offers up an in-depth and infuriating portrait of Burnett, the fabulously successful reality TV producer behind Survivor, The Voice — and The Apprentice. In viewing the rise of Trump through this particular lens, Burnett looks a bit like Dr. Frankenstein, building a monster he can no long control; the difference, in this case, is that he doesn’t seem to care about the havoc his creation has wreaked. That psychological profile of complicity is fascinating, but the red meat is the juicy behind-the-scenes details, of a show where everyone was aware they were creating a fiction — everyone but the man at its center, and, sadly, the viewing public.

“The Apprentice” was built around a weekly series of business challenges. At the end of each episode, Trump determined which competitor should be “fired.” But, as Braun explained, Trump was frequently unprepared for these sessions, with little grasp of who had performed well. Sometimes a candidate distinguished herself during the contest only to get fired, on a whim, by Trump. When this happened, Braun said, the editors were often obliged to “reverse engineer” the episode, scouring hundreds of hours of footage to emphasize the few moments when the exemplary candidate might have slipped up, in an attempt to assemble an artificial version of history in which Trump’s shoot-from-the-hip decision made sense. During the making of “The Apprentice,” Burnett conceded that the stories were constructed in this way, saying, “We know each week who has been fired, and, therefore, you’re editing in reverse.” Braun noted that President Trump’s staff seems to have been similarly forced to learn the art of retroactive narrative construction, adding, “I find it strangely validating to hear that they’re doing the same thing in the White House.”…

“The Apprentice” portrayed Trump not as a skeezy hustler who huddles with local mobsters but as a plutocrat with impeccable business instincts and unparalleled wealth—a titan who always seemed to be climbing out of helicopters or into limousines. “Most of us knew he was a fake,” Braun told me. “He had just gone through I don’t know how many bankruptcies. But we made him out to be the most important person in the world. It was like making the court jester the king.” Bill Pruitt, another producer, recalled, “We walked through the offices and saw chipped furniture. We saw a crumbling empire at every turn. Our job was to make it seem otherwise.”

Trump maximized his profits from the start. When producers were searching for office space in which to stage the show, he vetoed every suggestion, then mentioned that he had an empty floor available in Trump Tower, which he could lease at a reasonable price. (After becoming President, he offered a similar arrangement to the Secret Service.) When the production staff tried to furnish the space, they found that local venders, stiffed by Trump in the past, refused to do business with them.

Lili Loofbourow on the Old Boys who run the country.

And on the subject of Trump: In a year-end analysis at Slate, Loofbourow pinpoints the specific personality that remains, in spite all our best efforts, in power. It is the “Old Boy,” overgrown manbabies like Trump and Brett Kavanaugh and Lindsey Graham; the Old Boy, Loofbourow writes, is “bratty and cross and past his prime,” and “has power and wealth, but it’s always less than he thinks he deserves.”

Understanding how a system broke requires taking the full measure of the leaders it produces and the qualities for which they’re embraced. Trump is valued, by his supporters, for much of the above. That’s not entirely new. In overvaluing a certain kind of masculine ethos, the United States has always glorified impoliteness; there have long been people who confuse boorishness with power and find courtesy effeminate. But what’s interesting about Trump’s conduct is that while it’s unmannerly, it’s not rude in that classic hard-nosed, stick-it-to-’em, I-got-no-time-for-niceties way. His aren’t power moves that command respect. Rather, they’re puffy and decadent—the qualities associated with the kind of bratty, spoiled boy we met when the term affluenza was first used as a legal defense on the grounds that someone so ruined by financial privilege can’t understand ethics or consequences. Trump isn’t too busy for etiquette; he has nothing but time. He spent Barbara Bush’s funeral on Twitter denying that he called Jeff Sessions “Mr. Magoo” and Rod Rosenstein “Mr. Peepers.” There’s a crusty entitlement to this species of maleness that makes it feel at least as geriatric as it is juvenile. Though Trump’s petty malice puts him in (roughly) seventh grade, it has a doddering petulance, too. He is, in effect, an old boy. And when you step back and think about it, you realize America is full of them.

That America is an old boys’ club is a boring truism. The expression exists for a reason; we’ve seen the mutually exonerating mechanisms of boys’ clubs pop out into the open in a variety of ways this year. The sulky mulishness of many a Great American Man has long been kept decorously half-secret with the invocation of code words like uncompromising and choleric. Not anymore. The Old Boy needs attention as well as power, and with this presidency, the former has finally trumped the latter. The results are disconcerting. So is the troubling scope of the problem. From Trump to Brett Kavanaugh, from Les Moonves to Jeffrey Epstein: This year we saw with startling clarity that what many of the nation’s powerful men share is less talent and vision than arbitrary cruelty, pleasure in retribution, bullying, shouting, sneering, a sense that they’re above consequences, and an unusual dependence on golf—the traits of aging manchildren.

Alison Willmore on Hollywood Girl Power.

2018 was very much a year about adaptability — specifically, an entertainment industry attempting to adjust itself into a bastion of equality and inclusivity, after a year that saw the fall of titans and a rise in awareness of long-standing institutional sexism (and ongoing concerns about racism). In one of the best of the year-end pieces, BuzzFeed‘s Willmore tries to sort out why so many of the mainstream entertainments that tried to adopt a female-forward message felt like opportunists, adopting catchy buzzwords.

The thing about “this was made for you” movie messaging is that there’s often an implied threat that comes with it: “and if you don’t like it, well, then it’s your fault when we stop making things we think will appeal to you.” It’s the fear underscoring so much work that comes from underrepresented creators or that features underrepresented characters. This holds true for race and sexuality as well as gender; these films or TV shows are not just bearing the burdens of representation for a whole demographic, they also have to prove how financially viable that representation is.

That’s one of the big reasons I’ve gotten so leery about girl-power messaging — there’s often so little to back it up, as seen in some of the titles mentioned in this piece, but the expectations and ramifications that come with it can be immense. The box office success of Ocean’s 8 may or may not lead to more films like it, but if it had failed, some executive somewhere surely would have used it as an example for why big women-led studio productions just aren’t viable.