February 17, 2011

Digital Masks

Catfish is the real Facebook movie.

By Robb Witmer Full 

The Social Network is and will forever be "the Facebook movie," but Catfish is a movie that takes place within Facebook. The site is used as a tool to set up an entire fantasy world for the center of the documentary, Nev.

And he falls for it, hook, line and sinker. But who can blame the guy? He is seduced by an impossibly beautiful and talented country girl who is completely taken with his Big City Life and perfect teeth.

That she isn't real doesn't make their relationship any less authentic, their connection any less strong. The truth is that Megan, or Angela, rather, doesn't know the real Nev any more than he knows the real her.

Okay, a little bit more. But Facebook is just another in a long line of technologies, dating back to masks and face-paint, that allows us to hide our true selves, if even just a little. The internet hasn't changed this, it's just given us a new venue for it.

Who we are on Facebook is not who we are at work, or out for drinks on Friday evening, or at Sunday dinner with our parents; it's like a Fight Club that you can talk about. But we are all these people at the same time. Technology has allowed an unbelievable amount of connection, but also allows us to fracture our personalities in ways we chose, and in ways that we can lose control of.

Catfish is about that loss of control, and the depths to which that fracturing can take us. And like drug addiction, when we've lost that control we often hurt someone we care about.

There's nothing malicious about what Angela did, but it is incredibly fucked-up. She certainly needed the fantasy more than Nev did, and she probably ended up hurting herself more than him.

Angela is a sad, creative person, not happy with who she is, but she's able to live vicariously through her own imagination. Nev fell for her deception, but it's hard to view him as a victim. She did it for his benefit as well as hers, to continue the real friendship going between two fake people.

Robb Witmer Full is editor-at-large of America-Thrust.