Why is the app French Girls called “French Girls?” Why is its mascot a smoking, overweight, bearded hippie type who’s naked save a Speedo Jr.? Why does this app — which allows over one million users to sketch drawings of random strangers’ selfies on their tiny phones — exist?
Loopiness is what may attract users to French Girls, but its function is quite simple, even mildly subversive, if a bit tricky to do well. The idea is to draw people (or dogs, or washing machines, or whatever people put up there), which you choose from the untold number of selfies available to you. It’s not easy to do a Rembrandt, or even a deceptively sloppy Picasso, with your finger on a screen the size of a credit card. And yet scrolling through the endless screens of publically submitted drawn selfies, there are many with the skills — or simply the time — to create eerily lifelike renderings.
Not that you have to stay inside the box, so to speak. Those without skills (or time, or the inkling) can go creative, using the opportunity to sketch an amateur piece of abstract art — or not even that. Some use the digital canvas to comment, in words, on the image they’ve been chosen, as in one unkind artist who said, of an unassuming hairless Sphinx cat, that it looks like “someone turned [him or her] inside out.”
French Girls affords those who use it to become, if they’d like, quietly (or not so quietly) judgmental, even mean. (One unfortunate use of this technology found a sketcher commenting that an overweight kid “loved [McDonald’s golden arches].”) That’s because French Girls is really the opposite of social media, even though it puts you into some form of contact with millions of strangers. The only thing French Girls asks you to share is your face.
Otherwise it preserves anonymity. You don’t get to identify yourself, post your job title, make quips that will be archived at the Library of Congress. It assigns you a handle (like “OpulentlyMissingBrain”) and that’s it. There’s no jotting down devastating portraits of friends; everyone’s a stranger. This is an era when we seek to put our stupid name on everything we do in public, to gain recognition for something we wrote that caught on with a handful of people and was forgotten seconds later. French Girls actually embraces the ephemeral nature of the Internet, where all is disposable and no one is knowable.
Follow Matt Prigge on Twitter @mattprigge