“Catfish” exploits Internet romance


By Sydney Calander

Maybe I’m just clueless, but I don’t get this widespread obsession with MTV’s hit television series “Catfish.” Like many of my friends, I am part of the reality-obsessed television generation, and I can get down with some good drama now and again, but “Catfish,” really?

The popular reality show is actually based on a documentary that stars Nev Schulman, an adorable twenty something who finds love online. He chats with Megan (the super-model love interest) for a period of many months before realizing that something’s a bit “fishy.” Nev eventually follows the clues leading up to the discovery that Megan is really Angela, not the super-model-singer she said she was, but rather a middle-aged mother of four. Even though Nev had presumably fallen in love with Megan for more than just her looks, at the sight of Angela, in all her “averageness,” all feelings of love dissipate.

The premise of the reality show is a lot like the documentary. Nev attempts to unite couples who have met online, but who have never met in person. Often, one individual in the couple is not who they said they were, what Nev calls a “catfish.” Most of the time, the lying individual is not the J Crew-Abercrombie-underwear-model-world-renowned-choreographer like they said they were, but a much larger, and much less attractive individual (at least by societal standards). This revelation often leads to tears as the other partner articulates that they can’t continue the relationship because it was built on a lie.

Come on. Let’s be real. Most of these partners break things off not because they feel betrayed by their partner’s lies, but because they aren’t happy with the way the other partner looks. If Nev and the others on the show thought they were talking with regular people the entire time and then discovered that they were really talking with Kate Upton, none of them would care in the least whether or not they’d been lied to.

I know this documentary and resulting television show have been hugely successful, but all I gather from the phenomenon is two points: 1) people are a lot shallower than I thought they were and 2) people love laughing at anyone who doesn’t subscribe to our unrealistic, idealized and repressive standard of beauty. Nev has had great success from his television show, but to what end? Should these “liars” be the butt of everyone’s jokes?

Yes, lying is bad, especially when it comes to relationships, but as the documentary and television show reveal, these situations aren’t so simple. Angela had a difficult life for a multitude of reasons and her Internet persona was her only way of escaping her daily prison. How can we blame her for a desire so human?

How can we blame someone who doesn’t have the kind of social capital that it takes to succeed in our society for wanting to be someone else for a change? How can we blame a person who may be ignored daily for wanting a few hours a day to escape?

Felicia, the “catfish” in this season’s finale who had a history of lying about her appearance to men online, said it perfectly:

“I just wanted attention. I just felt like I wasn’t getting attention from anyone. Everyone’s always told me that I’m, ugly…and that [I’m] fat. I needed an outlet and I found that outlet through online dating because I could pretend to be someone that I wasn’t and I got the attention that I needed because they saw what they liked on the outside and they wanted to get to know who I was.”

Before we laugh at these relationships and make Felicia and Angela the butt of our jokes, maybe we should take a second to remember that all anyone wants is love and for some, finding that love is a lot harder when you don’t look the way society tells you that you should.

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