Consider the Catfish

You’ve all just finished watching Catfish: The Movie, which can be read as a kind of origin story for the TV show, as young Nev himself is “catfished” but ends up developing a friendship with and empathy for his “catfisher.” The article I asked you to read last week, “Consider the Catfish” discusses the TV show, but I want us to explore some of the idea of virtual vs. physical reality, identity, intimacy, and connection, using the following questions:

  1. The article contrasts Catfish: The TV Show with other MTV reality shows by saying that while “most of these series label and codify youth identities into bounded, concrete categories, “Catfish” breaks those identities apart.” What do you think this means? How does Catfish “break apart” traditional categorical identities?
  2. The author makes the (I think, convincing) argument that the catfish and catfishee, by agreeing to appear on the show, are “articulating their desires (unconscious or not) to be named a fool, a liar, or both.” Do you agree? Why would a catfish or catfishee agree to appear on the show? Why do so many catfishees appear to want Max and Nev to uncover the truth, when they could so easily do it themselves? Why does any catfish ever agree to an in-person, on-camera meet, when they know they are lying?
  3. In discussing the plot of one episode, the author attempts to understand the catfish’s motives by writing “the Internet gives Heather the opportunity to detach from the body she doesn’t like in order to connect Michael with what she does like about herself—her feelings, her hobbies, and her intelligence.” Does this give you any insight or empathy for the act of catfishing? Why would this endeavor be “liberating, almost intoxicating” in modern America?
  4. Finally, let’s think about what we can learn about our own online identities from studying catfishing. “In the words of the sociologist Nathan Jurgenson, “We’re coming to terms with there being just one reality and digital is part of it, not any less real or true.” He adds, “What you do online and what you do face-to-face are completely interwoven.”” How is this true for you? In what ways is your digital identity “real” or “true” — maybe even more so than your face-to-face self? How are your two worlds interwoven?

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