Why Catfish


Now that I’m officially “old as dirt,” and still above-ground to watch it all, I keep coming across spectacles that make me stop and stare and try to shake the cobwebs out of my brain.

So, let me explain, prior to writing my prior two novels, I generally stayed the hell away from technology with the exception of my computer, where I wrote, and used for research. Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat were just words to me, a language that somebody else spoke like a secret code so they could discuss something they didn’t want me to know.

I only learned to text because sitting around a holiday table one night, I noticed that all my kids, (adults), were not talking but busy poking their index fingers at their phone keys. I was the only one at that table of seven who was trying painfully to engage in conversation. How twentieth-century of me I now realize. So, I asked to be shown how, and after a number of false tries on my decrepit cell phone, I learned. That was a few years ago, now I know better than to hope for a real conversation with anyone where I can look them in the eye, hear their voice to try and determine what they really think.

These days I have a Facebook page, and thanks to the push from my publisher, I have a web page too, where I’m finally able to post my blogs, (another new word). That’s about all I can do. I tried reading the manual the developer provided but it makes me sleepy and somehow I can never find whatever icon they’re talking about. Maneuvering things around by clicking on different symbols just brings to mind my mother telling me,” Don’t touch that! “You’ll break it and we’ll have to pay.”

The purpose of the Facebook page they told me was to “build an on-line network, make as many connections as possible. It was perfectly okay to add a friend of your cousin’s ex-girlfriend and her hairdresser’s therapist as “friends.” The quantity was what mattered, not who the person really was. So, I wondered, and wonder still, how do we know if anybody is who they say they are?

I was flipping through the channels when I discovered the program, Catfish,” on MTV. It immediately drew me in because it deals with people who are intentionally deceptive when they post their social media profiles. Exaggeration is the norm, with the intent of attracting a romantic partner. Apparently, the use of fake photos, fake life histories, and even fake supporting friends are used. Catfish follows the stories of people who have been in online relationships for periods of time and have never met the other person in the relationship. They contact the producers of Catfish because they are ready to take their relationship to another level or they suddenly feel suspicious because something seems off. At this point, they want to learn the truth about the person they think they are involved with. They travel to meet the person and find out if they are really who they say they are.

I watched a few episodes and the of course, the best ones were where the party being questioned had been deceptive. Either they were using somebody else’s’ photo, identity, or were of a different gender than they claimed on their profile. It seemed that once the individual had structured their on-line identity, the information was not questioned. So, I guess it would be fair to say that we see what others want us to see. In addition to this, the catfish says everything that the person following him wants to hear. They like everything that the object of their deception likes. They’re sympathetic and understanding of the circumstances in the object’s life. They make an impression that emphasizes their knowledge, skills, and positive behaviors. They use a photo or photos that represent their best physical features. Of course, all of this is insurance for acceptance.

One episode that struck me as especially sad was about an east coast rapper. (I guess he is pretty famous even though I didn’t know his name). He was involved in an online relationship with a woman in another state. Apparently, they had been involved for some time although they had never met personally. The rapper had numerous posted photos of her. She was a top model, and she was absolutely gorgeous. He produced the photos for the producer and the public watching on television. In addition to that, she was kind and understanding and very supportive of his life decisions by offering advice and suggestions for how he should handle his music career. She commiserated when one of his records didn’t get nominated for a Grammy and had a whole bank of suggestions for the future promotion of his music. Beauty and brains! He could not believe how lucky he was. The only problem was, she had backed out numerous times when they were to meet, citing trouble with transportation, various modeling assignments, etc. Now he wanted a meeting and no more excuses.

The meeting was set up by the producer and the rapper and the cast sat at the designated park, under a tree to wait for her. When she finally appeared, she walked toward the camera in shadows, so she was only visible to the rapper and the producers. The camera panned in for a close up of the rapper’s face. I’ll never forget the complete look of sadness and disappointment as she came closer. The woman was not a hot young model the way her pictures indicated, but an almost- middle-aged woman, overweight and dressed in sloppy unstylish clothing, plain-featured, with less than combed or styled hair. His dream was destroyed.

His first reaction was anger when she said she had misrepresented herself. The anger turned to sadness when he asked her why she had deceived him for so long. She told the rapper and the producers that she always had a crush on him but knew he would never look at her if she showed her real photo and so she lied. The pictures were of someone else, somebody thin and beautiful, but everything she expressed was really from her. As she pointed out, it was true, wasn’t it? He was turned off.

They talked off-camera for a while and although he seemed bitter, they appeared to have come to some sort of understanding. They would continue to communicate, especially about his career. They would be friends, but nothing more. The rapper seemed to “forgive her,” for lying. Maybe because the only thing she’d lied about was her non-existent modeling career and the way she actually looked. From there forward he’d be more careful on-line he said.

I felt sympathy for both of them. Online personas can pressure individuals to put an emphasis on personal data like, height, weight, and age so they can maximize their attractiveness. Height is at a premium for men, and skinniness is desirable for a woman. Why not create the ideal person?

There’s something about the anonymity you get online that may make people ignore moral behavior. Maybe we all like to think we fooled someone sometime, especially if we know we don’t meet the expectations of the viewers or the standard norms of beauty and success. The feelings of stress and guilt can be avoided by someone as they create the character that they want to be and see how far they can press the story while keeping their object on the line and emotionally connected. Catfish build a relationship on confidence and trust where they encourage you and are encouraged themselves to share information. Once you have a friendship its hard to believe that this person would deceive you. But, I wonder, as we widen our online networks, where all this will lead. As more and more on-line networking is encouraged people to look to the web as a place where anonymity is permitted. When we as users go on-line we see what others want us to see. We probably don’t question what we see because it is what we want. The person posting is posting the best of himself and we provide our acceptance automatically. Maybe, we need to look at the pitfalls of the specific images that are planned, crafted and adjusted over time. There is no ideal self and without real-time interaction, it’s too easy to be dishonest. What you see might just be the result of some exceptional editing and conformity to the type of perfection that usually doesn’t exist.