A couple days ago I brought you a review to the indie documentary floating around in select theaters called CATFISH. [ Catfish Movie Review ] I say documentary because that is how the film is presented and that’s how they refer to it during the film. I do not doubt the reality of the events during the film; in fact in my review I stated that I approached it believing that the material was real. I simply know that the reality of today’s audiences is that there will be people that believe its all fake. I still don’t want to give too many details away about the film, but in order to get into a meaningful and in depth look to the themes and what the film can teach us, there is a possibility that certain last act twists, turns and plot details could be spoiled, so consider this your official spoiler warning. I will say that I’m not going to actually come out and blatantly explain exactly what happens, but certain themes and lessons I will discuss could hint at what is contained in the film.
A little over a week ago there was a release of a small film you may have heard about call THE SOCIAL NETWORK, which chronicles the creation of the world’s most popular social networking website known as Facebook. For anyone playing catch up, Facebook is a website that allows you to register your email and create an online profile which you can post pictures, befriend people you know and even people you don’t know around the world. In the beginning the website was exclusive to only students at colleges which gave students .edu email addresses to simulate the social experience that college offers. As we all know now the website is now open to anyone who has an email address and time to waste. Facebook can also be used just like any dating website, meaning you can meet, chat and communicate any number of ways back and forth with people you don’t know and haven’t even met. Trust is something you should never dole out lightly, and we find ourselves in an age where adults and kids alike divulge all sorts of information without weighing the consequences.
CATFISH was shown at this years Sundance Film Festival and inspired a lot of buzz. Its marketing strategy centers around a mid to third act mystery and a tagline that reads “Don’t let anyone tell you what it is.” The film centers largely around Nev and his relationship with a family he came into contact with due to the young 8 year old daughter painting the photos that Nev takes. Their communication is done mostly through Facebook, phone calls and text messages. Herein lies the central conflict of the film; Nev knows very little about the people he has been communicating with except for what he’s learned from Facebook, yet Nev begins somewhat of a romance with the 18 year old daughter, Megan, of the family he talks to. While in Colorado for a dance competition, Nev and his buddies discover some glaring discrepancies in some information Megan shares and decide to go and fish some truth out of her.
If you step back and take a look at the risks we take everyday with people we don’t know you would probably question some of the decisions you make. For example, when you buy goods from people on Craigslist you often either invite these people into your home or meet them at theirs. The social risk involved is trusting this person to represent themselves as trustworthy and friendly as opposed to possibly letting someone dangerous into your home. The same kinds of possibilities lurk in online social networking sites like Facebook and Myspace. We invite people into our virtual lives to poke around and see our personal information and look at our pictures of family and friends without thinking twice about it.
Not everyone is irresponsible about the people they befriend on these sites. Many people have rules that they will only add people they’ve known for years, have met in person or have grown to trust. There are even privacy filters that keep your information hid from people unless you’ve accepted a friend request. Once you click that add button though you leave yourself open to the possibility of misrepresentation in the form of altered photos and straight old fashioned lies, and those are the types of themes explored in CATFISH.
Nev first came into contact with the 8 year old Abby when she painted a photo of his that was published, thus the opening into her family’s life. The two exchanged photos and painting back and forth eventually becoming friends with Abby’s mother, Angela and the rest of her family on Facebook. Nev communicates enough that a level of trust is built, but what Nev and others never really considered was that giving too much trust to people you don’t truly know makes you vulnerable and blind to how far people can go to fill holes in their own lives by deceiving and leading people on.
If a film like CATFISH accomplishes just one thing, it will modify and tighten how loosely we give out our most personal information to strangers. The importance of doing so is much more important amongst the younger people that live their lives online where predators are always stalking and looking for ways to ease you into letting your guard down. Rather it’s for social gratification or for much more sinister urges the threat is always there and CATFISH outlines the kind of damage that online misrepresentation can cause.
Part of the beauty in a film like CATFISH is that it can spark debate about the different types of online deception without actually representing them all. It does though bring the snowball effect front and center, where one small lie breeds more lies until it becomes too hard to unravel the complicated webs we can create for ourselves. Everyone wants to be viewed a certain way, so we doctor up or pictures or skew a certain piece of information like how tall we are or how much we weigh and stretches over to things like what our natural hair color is. Some people just want to conform and say what we think people want to hear like rather or not we want kids or what our political views are. The lengths we go to often don’t represent who we truly are so the ultimate tragedy is that sometimes the lies run our lives, and once they take over they become harder to let go of.
We live in a digital age where younger and younger kids are putting themselves on Facebook conducting themselves in inappropriate ways. It’s in the language we use and the ways that we talk that can send out the wrong signals and impressions of ourselves. Many times we can attract the wrong types of people and trust too liberally in our quests to be discovered and loved. We owe a film like CATFISH the respect for opening our eyes to the dangers and perils to information we use like gospel on websites like Facebook. We owe it to ourselves to analyze our day to day relationships and acquaintances and make the best decision we can make. Sometimes though all it takes is for something as small as an indie movie like CATFISH to open our eyes.