Pop Rocks: MTV's Catfish Is the New Barnum Sideshow Spectacle
MTV's Catfish is now deep in its second season, and this week's episode caused something of a poop storm. If you are not familiar with the show, it follows two "documentarians," Max Joseph and Nev Schulman, who find people in fake Internet relationships and after some digging and confrontation, the reality of the situation is brought to light. Normally, the story involves one member of the couple having a fake profile online only to be outed by the crack team of Max and Nev.
This week's episode focused on a rather bizarre love triangle of a guy, Dorian, his real, live-in girlfriend, Raffinee, and his fake online girlfriend Jeszica - the spelling should have been a dead giveaway.
I have watched this show (don't judge) a few times now and up until this week, I honestly thought that it might be a charade, but now I know it is. I have no problem with fake reality shows; none of them are real in the end, but Catfish is one that I just don't understand. How does anyone believe this show to be real? And then it occurred to me: it doesn't matter if anyone thinks it's real or not. That's the point. It's a humbug.
Let's take last night's episode as an example: Dorian has been chatting with Jeszica for two and a half years online and has never met her in person, nor has she ever video chatted with him in this entire time. She is stunning and a self-proclaimed model, college student and single mother. Right off the bat, red flags should be shot up. This gorgeous woman with a very weighty past (she must have an ex-something) who makes her money by being gorgeous, has the need to meet and maintain a relationship online with a stranger. Maybe I am clueless, but this seems a bit odd. Even more so than her looks being a factor in her aptitude for obtaining a 3D man, is the fact that she has a daughter whom she surely wants a father for. Is Dorian, the pseudo-homeless guy she met on the Internet going to be a solid patriarch? If I were Dorian, I would be asking myself this very question.
But the flip side to this story is that not only is Jeszica not a real person, but Dorian already has a girlfriend whom he lives with who is aware of this online affair - and she's fine with it! She doesn't want to lose him, but she's cool with his sexy chatting. How does any of this even remotely sound real?
Let me ask a very honest question, have any of you ever had an online relationship for an extended period of time where you neither met nor Skyped/Google Chatted/Facetimed with the other person? If so, how long did that go on for? At what point do you say to yourself, "Hey, something smells pukey here?" I would give it a good six months and then be done. Let's pretend though, that your new online romance is very long distance, across the pond. Maybe they don't have an iPhone and can't figure out Skype, how long then? A year perhaps? But two and a half years of being in a "committed relationship" with someone you've never met before sounds ludicrous.
Of the episodes that I have watched of Catfish, Max and Nev never seem to have much trouble nailing the phony perp in about ten minutes. It's simple; they do a Google search and find everything out about the person behind the profile. Doesn't the person on the other end of the computer screen think to do this for themselves? Do they know what year this is? The Internet is so pervasive you can't not find out things about people even if you try. I saw a stranger at a show the other night that I am not even Facebook friends with that I know just had a baby. That's creepy and weird but that's the way life is these days. How did you not know, Dorian, that your online girlfriend, who was using the picture of, what was described as, "the most used fake profile picture on the Internet," which you confronted her about and she said, "no mine's the real one," how did you not know she was a fraud?
Well, you did. Or more likely, none of this story is real. This is a show about catching fakers; how accurate could it possibly be? As a TV watcher, I have no interest in this show, but as a culture enthusiast the whole idea of why viewers are OK with this, knowing full well that it's got to be a fake, is fascinating. The only comparison I can make to this show is that of P.T. Barnum and his curiosity museums and sideshows of the mid-1800s. Barnum had a series of museums and subsequent tours where he showcased "freaks of nature," midgets, giants, Siamese twins. But more than just putting these human oddities on display, he would make up elaborate stories about them. One of his biggest attractions was a woman named Joice Heth, who he said was George Washington's nurse and 160 years old. When she died, she was found to be in her 70s, and no one cared. Another attraction Barnum had was a half monkey half fish named "Feejee" the mermaid. It was obviously a fraud.
But the thing that was so fascinating about these times was that people totally knew. Rumors swirled that his attractions were fake, news was out about it, even Barnum himself planted stories about how his sideshows were filled with phonies. Why? Because it got more people talking about it and thinking about it and finally going to check it out for themselves.
MTV's Catfish is the modern day Barnum spectacle. You want to see just how ridiculous it can get, so you tune in. And, I hate to say it, it's pretty brilliant.
Get the Theater and Arts Newsletter
Exclusive discounts and announcements to Houston theater shows and art events