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Today we watched a movie in class that I had been anticipating all semester. Catfish is a documentary made in 2010 happenings in real life and on the internet in 2008. I had never seen the whole movie start to finish, but I did watch the show (after large critical reception to the movie, MTV invited Nev to create a television show version of Catfish, where he helps connect other people to their online girlfriends or boyfriends to find out whether they are who they say they are) and I came into class knowing the plot twist already. Before I discuss my emotions about the film, I would just like to say that I loved the editing: the integration with social media technologies like Facebook and their real life adventure (like using Google Maps arrows over real footage of their journey) was creative and perfect for the subject matter. Despite already knowing what was going to happen, I found myself sobbing by the end of the movie when the big reveal is made. I heard some comments from the class calling Angela a “creep”, and that some people were upset with her. I, on the other hand, have nothing but sympathy for the woman. Clearly, she has lots of problems, and is very unhappy with her life. Not only do I not find her actions “creepy”, I can sympathize with them 100%. I would never create such an elaborate lie or hoax (maybe that is because I can never truly imagine what it’s like to be Angela, being quite happy with who I am and with my life) but I can understand the feeling of escape the internet can give you. As we’ve discussed in class, on a social media network you can be whoever you want to be. When your life is difficult, or a disappointment, it can be therapeutic to imagine you are someone else. Especially when you are connecting on a real level to someone else.

I don’t mean to defend her dishonesty. I’m just saying that I don’t think Angela is a bad person. She allowed the cameras into her house and she knew she was being filmed when she admitted that all of the identities associated with Megan’s profile were in fact her. Once she saw Nev in real life, the object of her affection for so many weeks and months, she was ready to give up the lie, with the hope that he wouldn’t be upset with her or hate her. I think that in itself was extremely brave: if I were Angela, and I saw Nev knocking at my door, I would run away. I wouldn’t have been able to handle all my lies crashing down on me, but she approached it maturely and it all worked out in the end: in the intro to Catfish the television show, Nev explains his backstory and adds in that he and Angela are still friends to this day. Something that is important to remember is that no matter what Angela looked like, her and Nev had a real connection. He read one conversation through stifled laughs that was of a more sexual nature, but mostly they just talked about ideas and feelings. They had a real connection and even though she was not a 19 year old model, the connection they shared was REAL.

Catfish

A publicity shot for the film, released in 2010

But now, we are faced with the question of whether the movie itself is being completely honest. When Morgan Spurlock, another documentary filmmaker saw the movie, he said that it was the best fake documentary he had ever seen. The Catfish team was confused by this comment–to them it was all real. I tweeted a link to an interview (http://www.mtv.com/news/articles/1647028/catfish-filmmakers-respond-it-real-debate.jhtml?xrs=share_twitter) where the filmmakers stand by their claim that all of this was real. It isn’t that crazy to believe that they would have started filming Nev’s relationship before his quest to find out the truth: they are professional filmmakers, they probably film a lot of things in life they don’t think will go anywhere.  It seems too real to be true: but unless Angela is a professional actress, I don’t see how her confession could be staged. She started crying when admitting that the 15 online profiles she created were all “fragments of myself…things I wanted to be, never could be.” I think this idea of creating an online world where you can escape from real life is not only fascinating, but legitimate and real.

However, the question still stands of whether Nev and his team staged any of the film. It is possible that certain conversations were altered, staged, or amended. But after thinking about it, I have decided I don’t really care whether it’s real or fake, or to what degree. I think that is part of the point of the movie: it sparks conversation about online relationships and authenticity of documentaries in general. It elicited emotion in me, anxiety in my classmates who didn’t know what the twist would be, and thought in all of us. So even if Nev and Angela’s connection wasn’t as real as it seemed in the film, my reaction to it certainly was. 

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2 thoughts on “Was Catfish Real or Fake? or Does it Even Matter?

  1. A lot of good points. I would also add that the filmmakers took the deliberate approach of trying to humanize Angela by showing how tough it is for her to care for those handicapped kids and including comments from her about giving up her life as a dancer when young and other dreams later when she married Vince (and took on the care of his kids). They also made the quite kind decision not to confront her, but tell her softly that they had figured out what she was up to. If they had decided to act aggressively and portray her as some kind of freak, it would have been a very different movie, and, I would argue, much less successful.

  2. How can it matter that Angela represented herself falsely to Nev, but not so for the film-makers to their audience?
    If ‘Catfish’ isn’t an actual documentary, that would make it the ultimate project in hypocrisy. It would make it a joke, really… a film about a lie that is itself a lie… like publishing a novel as a biography — which is illegal!
    Of *course* it’s relevant if it’s real or not!
    Does anyone know more information regarding the legitimacy of this movie that presents itself as truth?

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