Web Hostess Live: The latest from the Web

Feb 27, 2014

A weekly chat about the best ways to kill time online. Our Web Hostess, Monica Hesse, sifts the Internet so you don't have to, searching for meaning, manners and the next great meme.

Afternoon, everyone, and thanks for stopping by.

If you hadn't yet been introduced to it, take a moment to go peruse Humanitarians of Tinder, a new Tumble founded for the purpose of mocking the sorts of "Look at me, I volunteer abroad" pictures that a certain kind of Caucasion person might use as a profile picture on social networking.


The backlash against these types of pictures has been swiftly brutal. Blogs have speculated that they reflect white privilege, liberal guilt, voluntourism -- or that the people who post them are using foreign children as "props" to make themselves look good.


I wonder if there's going to be a backlash to the backlash. I wonder if Humanitarians of Tinder, in calling these users out as subtly racist, is making unhealthy assumptions itself. If a white social networking user posted a picture of herself surrounded by white childen at her school, would that be a problem? It any multi-racial picture taken in a foreign country worthy of derision? What are the particular aspects of these photos that make them open to mocking?


We'll get started at 2. And feel free to bring up anything else that catches your fancy this week: Alec Baldwin's meltdown? The Oscars? The fact that every day is presented as the day that Marty McFly went to the future?

The gallows-maker, for that frame outlives a thousand tenants.

Is this the kind of mood we're all in today?

I need a book recommendation. Something lighthearted, maybe a funny memoir. I've been reading U.S. Grant's memoir and it's interesting but kind of a bummer. I need to take a break from it. Anybody out there read a good book lately?

I really liked "The Circle," by Dave Eggers recently. It's sci-fi satire, and is also kind of a bummer, but in a completely different way. Also "Where's You Go Bernadette," which is another satire and very funny. I'm sure someone else here can drum up a good memoir for you.

You raise an interesting question in the introduction (though I've not visited the site and have no plans to): Would the backlash be the same if these "voluntourists" (I like this neologism) were surrounded by white Appalachian kids from some holler where they have to truck in sunshine? Certainly thought provoking.

This is what I'm saying. Is the perceived problem that these children are poor? Is the problem that they're not white? Is the problem that the white tourists are sometimes dressed in foreign garb, and somehow that's offensive? What precisely is bothersome here (because it seems to be thought of as bothersome to every writer I've read on it).

(By the way, my new editor, David, just wandered over to say hello. It's thanks to him that I am able to continue these chats in my new job. Say hi back, everyone.)

Is it weird that my reaction is just to want to give him a hug? He obviously has made some really poor decisions, but he also seems to beat himself up a lot in the piece (or maybe that's what he wants us to think?). Alec, I'm confused.

The whole thing just comes across as such a tragic example of the push-me-pull-you relationship that celebrities have with fame. If he really didn't want to speak about his private life, if he really wanted to be left alone, one wonders why he wouldn't just begin saying, in interviews, "I'm not going to discuss my private life," rather than posting a large essay that ultimately drew even more attention to his private life.


Sometimes I think fame is like heroine. You hate it, but you try to give it up and you feel lost.

'I Was Told There'd Be Cake," by Sloan Crosley. How can you resist a title like that?

Or Mindy Kaling's memoir, maybe. I've heard great things about that.

Ok, I said "hi back, everyone" just like you asked

I just realized that all of you secretly might be third graders and I would have no idea.

We know it wasn't yesterday since the 6 in Feb 26 is different from the 26 in October.

Are you saying that Marty McFly went back in time and altered the movie, "Back to the Future," so now we can never know what date he really went back in time to? Is that what you are saying?

I have friends, one who is a medical doctor who often volunteers in the Philippines and another who is a minister who often volunteers in Haiti. They often post photographs of what they see and I find the pictures educational. If people wish to post their photographs elsewhere to reach a broader audience, I personally find no problem with it. I believe the alternative is month worthy of criticism. If we have the time and resources to help people who are less fortunate and we choose not to do so, I find that more offensive. I do not believe that most people being helped care about the race or nationality of the person helping them.

I think part of the issue that people were having is that these photographs were being used as profile pictures on a dating site. So, rather than being educational, the pictures may have come across, in that context, as being self-congratulatory.

My Thursdays would be far less pleasant without your chats, Monica, so am definitely grateful/relieved/happy that you are able to continue. I do think the chats could be better advertised/promoted, though. (Not sure how; I do not work in marketing or advertising or PR!)

You mean on the Post site? We're doomed by our time slot, I think. Because we're at 2, we end up below the scroll, and you just have to go through a little bit of extra work to find this chat.

(You all can stop thanking David, now. I'll pass on the gratitude).

Take a book/play/movie title, add the phrase "In Your Pants." For example, Much Ado About Nothing In Your Pants. Hilarity will ensue. A friend got well over 800 comments on this. It was very funny and kept most of us participating from being productive for a full afternoon.

So, basically its "In bed" with the fortune cookies?

I cannot stand Dave Eggers and couldn't stomach even the excerpt of The Circle in the NY Times magazine. I also read Where'd You Go, Bernadette and enjoyed it up to a point and then it went south for me. Different strokes...

Oh, don't worry -- we still have exactly the same book taste. I thought the last third of "Bernadette" was a disaster, but was buoyed by the clever writing in the first part. As for Eggers -- I'm not normally a fan, and only read "The Circle" under duress (it was for book club). I'm glad I did. The NYT excerpt wasn't a good excerpt, I thought. It was only upon being forced to read the whole thing that I liked it. FWIW, most of the people in my book club felt similarly: not normally fans, but sold on this book.

And furthermore, I'll confess: I also just chose the last two somewhat funny books that I'd read recently, because the poster was looking for humor. I've just started researching a novel that will take place during Holocaust, so you might imagine that most of my reading list is not a barrel of laughs at the moment. (Anyone want to recommend any books about Amsterdam in WWII to me? Besides the "Diary of Anne Frank?")

How about Nora Dunn's memoir? I bet that would be good reading.


When will the discussion of race finally die down? It seems race matters less to younger people. Indeed, many young accept mixed raced dating. Many are children of mixed race parents. I am genetically Asian Italian but i look caucasian. I have a very light skinned African American friend. She joked we could never have children together because we would have Black Asian kids running around saying "But we're white."

I think you're partly right. I think race "matters" less to young people in some ways, but I also think that young people are more aware of subtle racism and inequality. So in those ways, discussions of race matter more. Which is a good thing.

Xena, or Pocahontas?


I haven't read it yet, but I received a book "Burn" in the mail yesterday. It look\s interesting, I will report back once I've read it.

Cool. I know the author. If you have any questions for her or whatever.

Tina Fey's Bossypants if you've not read it; also Jonathan Tropper - heavy at times, yet funny.


He reminds me of an a__h___ neighber we used to have. Tantrums, followed by abject apologies, that never meant she wasn't going to throw another tantrum again at the whim of a hat, as George W. Bush once said. After a while we quit accepting her apologies.

I never heard "whim of a hat" before, but it's so delightful that you have to believe if was on purpose. Sometimes I hope W was just messing with us when it came to his mangling of the English language.

It's a full-time job keeping up with everything the internet is outraged about on any given day.

TELL me about it.

Feh. Not even worthy of consideration. Everybody knows all bets are off on a dating site. And if you don't want to date such a person, don't. Don't rant on line about them. It's unbecoming.

But that's what the Internet is! It must be powered by 24/7 indignation.

I did not know the photographs were being used in that manner. I guess it would at least serve to weed out prospective dates from people who don't like people who help others. In that way, they would be useful.


I liked Rob Delaney's "Mother. Wife. Sister. Human. Warrior. Falcon. Yardstick. Turban. Cabbage".

What I especially like about that is, although the words sound random, I'm sure oodles of thought went into deciding just what the funny objects would be. "Bowler?" he probably thought to himself. "Fez? Top hat? No wait, I have it. Turban!"

A tangent, but has everyone read "The Problem With Little White Girls" (or similarly titled) article that's being circulated. An interesting thought on the issue as a whole. But as a Tinder user, no -- don't post your aid pictures, your skydiving pictures, pictures of only your puppy, etc. Everyone's profile is a caricature of their real selves -- I just want to see if you look like a nice person.

This is the "Problem with Little White Girls" essay, and I think it makes a more compelling argument than snark about these pictures.

So the best profile pictures, in your mind, would be, what, a shoulder-up portrait against a blank background?

His Majesty's Dragon - What if they had dragons in the Napoleonic wars? I don't read books about dragons or wars, but I thought this was really sweet!


Oh, if THAT'S where they were being posted, that explains the backlash. Why do people put pictures of themselves on a dating site? To show off certain qualities that they think would represent themselves positively to a potential partner, whether that be their body (bathing-suit shots), their brains (reading an interesting book), their sense of adventure (bungee-jumping), and so forth. A voluntourism picture would basically be like saying, "Look how KIND AND GENEROUS I am", thus using these disadvantaged people for personal gain. Way different from posting them on Facebook, where they're being seen by people who know you as a well-rounded individual, and have already expressed interest in keeping up with your life as it's lived.

Well, some of them were from dating sites. Some of them were, I believe, just from Facebook. I still think that the people reacting negatively to these pictures are coming at it from the perspective of, "Oh, she's showing off with disadvantaged people." When, in fact, the answer might be, "This is a picture of me with my best friend. Who happens to live in Tanzania."


I guess what I'm trying to say is: I think it's interesting that we're assuming these white posters must only be using people of color as a prop, rather than that they all might be good friends.


It reminds me a little bit of this photo, which made rounds last year because two college football players "heroically" had lunch with a disabled student. Everyone lauded the football players until one of the football players came out and said, "This wasn't a good deed. We are just normal friends. It's no big deal."

This feels like that to me, but in reverse.

The main problem with most of these is that they aren't simple photos of the person in question. The purpose of the pictures is to show you what the person looks like, I don't care who else they have met, so the fact that they chose to post photos of themselves with poor kids instead of snapshots of their own friends is just...squicky. Especially the ones where the person's face isn't even visible, just the kid. Ew. And I wonder what the people would think if they knew how their photo was being used without their permission. "Rich foreigner is using a cute photo of my starving child to make themselves look good for potential husbands!"

This is what I was trying to ask: why are we assuming that "poor kids" cannot also be "snapshots using their own friends"?


I agree, it's weird and distasteful to travel to a foreign country and ask to take photographs with random locals just because, say, you want a picture of yourself with someone in a sari just to prove you went to India. But if you lived in India for a year, and you got to be good friends with the other teachers in your school, or if you were really proud of your class -- is that still exploitative?

I presume you've already read "Anne Frank Remembered" by Miep Gies, the lady who helped the Frank family hide? Also, Herman Wouk's two books, "The Winds of War" and "War and Remebrance."

Yep, yep and yep.

In my case it would weed out people who are too adventurous for me. I am very lazy.

"Please only post photos of yourself watching television and eating Bugles from the box. Thank you."

RE: the Sloan Crosley memoir. For years, I've told a great story about attending (actually being the best man in) a combination Presbyterian/Wiccan wedding in which one of the major punchlines is "Excuse me, I was told there'd be cake". Now that Ms. Crosley has has usurped this punchline as the title of her book, I am always a bit hesitant in telling the story, for fear that someone in the audience will think I've misappropriated her line. I know, it seems petty (and perhaps a bit crazy) but it really feels like she's ruined this story for me. This sort of feels like how I felt when Dennis Miller and Tom Petty simultaneously ruined "Rebel without a Clue", which I had been using, in the late 1980s (yes, I'm that old) Am I justified here?

Oh, totally. I was similarly really upset when Karen Hughes named her memoir "Ten Minutes from Normal." She named it that based on riding a train past MY hometown. That was going to be MY memoir name, because I ACTUALLY LIVED THERE, and instead, she blows past it once and takes it for her own? Not cool, Karen Hughes.

Joining late, but are the reasons we hate those photos just excuses we use to justify the fact that we hate them. I think we hate them because they are a sort of humblebrag; both in the "look at this great trip i'm on, but it isn't 'vacation'", and in the "hey, aren't I a great person to do this kind of volunteering" categories. I don't really buy the subtle racist charges, because most of these people aren't racist. Being white in Africa doesn't fit that charge. We hate them because these are people we know, and at least sort of like, and we want to justify our repulsion (jealousy, or something else) that we feel towards the pic. But really, they are humblebrags, and we should be able to hate for that reason, and that reason alone.

Yes, I think the humblebrag aspect is definitely a part of the calculations in this. Presuming that we feel similar about people posting pictures of themselves crossing a marathon or whatnot.

It would make a big diff if these weren't posed "smile and say cheese" photos and were simply photos of the person engaged in whatever work he/she did for these kids.

Um. Okay. But answer honestly: how many candid photos of yourself doing your job do you have? I work in an office filled with photographers, and I still don't have people wandering around taking my picture when I'm engaged in work. Most of us only have pictures of ourselves that were taken when someone says, "Hey, everyone. Stop. Say cheese!"

Roelfzema's "Soldaat van Oranje '40-'45" ("Soldier of Orange") is already on your list, right?

It would be if I could find an English translation. (I want the book, not the movie)

All I can come up with is that "The Hunt for Red October" was a good movie and I'm pretty sure he was funny a few times on SNL. I know there was some other nasty stuff, but if it weren't for google, I wouldn't know what it was. Is that weird or old fashioned or just normal?

Kind of weird, I think. He had a real job resurgence with "30 Rock," which catapulted into the pop culture subconscience in a lot of ways.


Hey, you could still title your memoirs "Normal Me" or "My Normal Life."

Nah. 10 Minutes From Normal is far superior. (And anyway, it's not like I'll ever need to write a memoir anyway).

"Rebel Without a Clue" is the sort of funny line that will occur to lots and lots of people independently. Just ask the Style Invitational Chieftain.

Yeah. There are some phrases that naturally lend themselves to puns.

NY Magazine had a very interesting article about the most "popular" folks on OkCupid in NYC.

I totally meant to bring this up! Quick, everyone go read it right now and let's talk about it really quick.

Totally understand the dangers of rushing to judgment and accusing people of using their friends as props just because they're different races and nationalities. But in some of the pictures I scrolled through, the body language of the local seemed stiff and awkward in contrast to the volunteer's enthusiastic pose, which often involved physical contact like touching shoulders. Part of that might just be a cultural difference in personal space norms, but the ones in which both parties aren't expressing open positivity at the encounter are uncomfortable. It's like when people post pictures of themselves with celebrities snapped during a chance encounter on the street, and they're beaming while the celebrity is just standing there stiffly and grimacing.

The "accosting a celebrity" pictures are truly cringeworthy.

On the other hand, now you could name your memoir something like, "Not Cool, Karen Hughes" or "Title Taken" (I'm sure you could come with something even better) and thenyou have an nice anecdote to put in your introduction.

I actually had occasion to briefly interview Karen Hughes once, for something unrelated, and brought up my disappointment in the disappearing memoir title. I can't remember if she apologized. (But she was definitely gracious).

Just last night I was talking to the Exec Director of my synagogue. We recently changed the website hosting service so we can now easily make slideshows of photos. She was complaining that all the photos were of people stopping their action (whatever it be), turning to the camera, grouping together, and smiling. She wanted candids of people in action.

It's in human nature to turn toward the camera if someone is carrying one around.

People should say who the other people are in their photos. If it's really your Indian coworker from the year you spent in India, whatever. But the ones that look like just random people on the street or random hungry children, they really bother me. Even coworker/friend photos bother me, because I would be really annoyed if I knew somebody used a photo with me in it on their dating profile. I think the "humblebrag" comment nailed it though.


But I imagine that for many of those presumably (some-what?) wealthy folks who actually go to those places, this experience was really transformational. Or at least one of the more important things they have done in their (so far, short) lives. Why would you NOT want to celebrate/acknowledge something that, for you, was relatively life-changing?


See, I have the exact opposite take here. Aren't you supposed to brag about yourself a little on a dating site? I mean, the whole point is to promote yourself to people you've never even met. Whereas on fb, I think I would be more likely to come across as unnecessary humblebrag.

Unless you know the person posting the pix is in fact a humblebragger, why are you getting upset by it?

I support of those who brag about things they did, although I do note it is bragging and too much pride looks bad. I don't mind if someone brags if they really did what they stated. Or, as I would phrase it "if you do the walk, you can do the talk." What bothers me would be "posers", those who claims they did things they didn't do.

Two words: Awadagin Pratt. (A concert pianist, born in Normal, Ill.)

Yep. I've seen him perform several times. He wasn't born in Normal, but rather Pittsburgh. He did mostly grow up there, though.

He plays wacko characters really well (or at least intense people, like Jerry Lee Lewis's cousin preacher Jimmy Swaggart). He's kind of dull playing normal people.

I can't even remember the last time he played a normal person. I guess his character in "It's Complicated" was supposed to be normal, but he still came across with a dose of cat-that-ate-the-canary Alec Baldwin-ness.

Not me. I edge out of the shot frame or cower behind a tall person.

But whatever you do, you probably wouldn't blithely continue doing whatever you were doing and pretend the camera wasn't there.

If people were there to genuinely to provide help/whatever assistance was needed, would it occur to the person to stop and do a group photo? Or would they just get to work?

Now you're just being ridiculous. Do you honestly think that someone on a Peace Corps assignment, or whatever other volunteer situation, should spend their entire two years saying, "I HAVE NO TIME TO TAKE ANY PICTURES. I AM GETTING TO WORK."

Also, about this sentence: "It's in human nature to turn toward the camera if someone is carrying one around." Maybe true, but if those are the only kinds of photos your photographer is getting, you need a new photographer...

True, if you're talking about a professional photographer. But in 99% of life's situations, we don't have professional photographers following us around trying to naturally document our lives. We have our friends, with iPhones, who say, "Hey, everyone, squeeze in. Steve, I can't see you. Squat down. Mary, lean over. Everyone smile."

At least one of the pics looked to me like a woman and her own children, so I'd be hesitant to jump to conclusions. I've also known a lot of Peace Corps volunteers who get very attached to the children/people they work with and post those pictures because that is their life. Wouldn't it be weird if they spent two years somewhere and never posted a picture of someone local? Also, I've lived in cultures where pics are still meant to be formal and no one smiles, at all, under any circumstances, in the pictures. It doesn't mean they are strangers or dislike the person.


Anything by Simon Doonan!

Seconded -- he's a brilliantly funny writer.

People can be taking your picture and you don't even know it.

Which is what is beginning to lead to things like this "Google Glass Attack."

Wasn't there a book published fairly recently about a girl who hid her brother under the stairs when the Gestapo came to search the house and they got her, but he was trapped? I thought it took place in Amsterdam, but might have been Germany. Of course, I can't remember the plot or title. I'm not much help, am I?

You're thinking of "Sarah's Key." It's a novel, not a true story, and it's Paris, not Amsterdam. But thank you!

My late grandmother had this amazing face that she would make every time somebody pulled out a camera. It was a frozen grin with slightly curled lips, coupled with terrified eyes, like "I need to look happy but I'm so nervous about this." We thought it was just a personal anxiety thing that had developed over time, but then shortly after she died, we posed for a family photo that featured some of the newest children of the family. The infant - who wasn't even SPEAKING yet, and had never met Great-Grandma - instantly made the EXACT. SAME. FACE. before each photo.

Aw, she left a legacy!

Anything by Mary Roach. Serious topics presented with irreverence. Stiff is my favorite. I haven't yet read her new book.

Absolutely. She is wonderful.

I can't vouch for it personally yet, but "One More Thing" by B.J. Novak is on my list http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2FxhTn9cEhI

On a lot of people's lists, I think. Anyone go see him read at Politics and Prose? I was out of town, but heard it was fab.

What I love most about the video I saw on it, the woman wearing the glass was explaining the video and said something like "and then this woman here got mad that I was wearing Google Glass but I wasn't recording her." But the video being shown was the woman getting mad that she was being record. The Google Glass wearer was lying (or really really mistaken)

I believe she later said that she hadn't been recording, until the scuffle started, and then she started recording for her own safety, or something to the like. I don't know whether that's true.

I just had an image of all the XKCD stick figures pounding away on piezoelectric keyboards to keep their server farms running.

We do what we can.

And now, today, we stop. Thanks for stopping by. I'll be here next week unless I end up not being here, but I'll probably be here. (Does that make sense? I'm waiting to see if a story assignment comes through).

See you in a week!

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Monica Hesse
Monica Hesse is a staff writer for the Post Style section. She frequently writes about culture, the Web and the intersection of the two.

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