After I saw Catfish today, I wondered why I'd been so intrigued, and after a moment, I remembered that I had heard a short NPR story on it, teasing the "riveting" final 40 minutes, the amazing twist ending. Darn you, NPR, for making me believe you when you say something is riveting. Often, you're right -- but not every time.
This morning, videochatting with my partner, I mentioned that I might see Catfish, and I think I said something like "it's a documentary about a relationship on Facebook, it has some sort of twist, and I'm curious about the storytelling." He passed me this article in response. From his perspective, I'm experienced at Facebook -- I have 269 virtual friends, and I'm on it most every day. I thought, later that morning, of trying to explain that I don't feel like I'm part of the classic FB crowd; I had to be told what it meant to "poke" someone, and never used any of the numerous actions with anyone without great irony. From poking came SuperPoke, which, if I recall, had a write-your-own custom poke option; and so in my peak superpoking period, I threw Helen Vendler at several friends. (Much better than throwing sheep, and I promise you, I would never throw Helen Vendler at anyone who wouldn't appreciate her.) Later, the same friends and I discovered that the "teabag your friend" option corresponded to the teabagging entry in the Urban Dictionary, and we were equal parts titillated and horrified.
"Look at me," I wanted to say to my partner; "even I exhibit fogeyesque horror at the things kids do these days."
But I didn't have time to write him, because after getting back from the farmer's market, I had to rush downtown to play a sexy secret agent for a company that does corporate teambuilding games.
I got to my assigned spot, planted myself at the bar, and explained to the bartender what I would be doing for the next couple of hours. He was amused. So was the couple who were sitting a couple of places away, who were equally intrigued by my English accent. I didn't really want to break character, or explain why I have the accent, or anything, so when they asked where I was from, I just shrugged, and said "Oh, I'm from London -- but I've lived here most of my life. Where are you from?"
And they said they were from Montana, which, of course, they said, I wouldn't know. (Why would a Londoner know about Montana?)
But I did. And I told them how I had been close friends with a girl who lived in Great Falls, and her family. They were incredulous. "But we were from Great Falls before we moved out here! What did you say her name was?"
I hadn't said. And Great Falls is a swarming metropolis compared to many cities in Montana. Wait, what am I saying? There aren't even that many cities IN Montana. But of course, this nice couple who I'd just casually sat next to at a bar knew my friend's family; were still close to her aunt and uncle.
They thought it was amazing and hilarious. (So did I.) But if they call up C's family, and try to tell her that they met C's childhood friend from England, I imagine they'll get some strange reactions.
I put three teams through their paces. They had to use their best pick-up lines to get my phone number. When they were pitiful, I mocked them; when they stepped it up and started pretending with energy, I rewarded them with higher points. Along the way, they bought me a couple of glasses of wine. A nice afternoon. And I got done just in time to scurry up the street to catch the 15:00 showing of Catfish.
So, Catfish. Spoilers here, at Wikipedia; and more obliquely here, at an article critiquing the film. Spoilers here, too, I suppose, but I'll give you a few carriage returns in case you want to look away.
Catfish is about a woman who lied on the internet. To an extreme extent, I suppose, because creating 15 Facebook profiles is ambitiously imaginative.
People have been lying on the internet since long before Facebook. I had a brush with an elaborate internet liar in my first couple years of college, through an early shipper fandom group for Picard and Crusher on ST:TNG. I've read stories about others. Uncovering one is as strange as the first time you reached into a pond and scooped up a cluster of frog eggs; felt slime where there ought to be water, and perhaps saw the small black tadpole bodies beginning to wriggle their way out.
But frog eggs are everywhere, and so are internet liars. The Schulmans and Joost act as though Facebook have suddenly made these deceptions possible, as though it's some sort of grand advance allowing so much more intimacy than before, and the chance to be intimate with strangers. Clearly, they're too young to have ever been active in Usenet groups.
As the film ended, people were murmuring about how sad Angela was, and how bizarre, and how nice Nev Schulman was, and all I could think of was "Jeebus, folks, haven't you ever desperately wanted to be someone else? Or imagined what it would be like to be someone different?" I couldn't help thinking about how easy it is to slip in and out of different facets of my personality in Seattle. If I want to be a sexy Brit for an afternoon, and get paid to sit in a bar and heckle teams, I can. And there are much easier ways of indulging in feeling like a different sort of person: usually, it's as simple as going to a different neighborhood. It's much easier to do than in small rural towns like Ishpeming, MI. For three upwardly mobile guys in NYC to not get that? I guess it's not surprising, but I still found them sad; the filmmakers as much as the family.
At the end of the day, then, I guess I am old in internet years, if old means that I know that people will go to a lot of trouble to find ways to love and be loved.