Pop Theory 25: The Fantasy of Happiness in "Catfish"

  • The service having id "propeller" is missing, reactivate its module or save again the list of services.
  • The service having id "buzz" is missing, reactivate its module or save again the list of services.
Pop Theory 25: The Fantasy of Happiness in "Catfish"

Because of their “negative buoyancy” caused by their big fat, flat, bony heads, catfish are bottom feeders and bottom dwellers. The modern appropriation of the term in online parlance, according to the Urban Dictionary, is used to refer to a scheming romancer: a “catfish is someone who pretends to be someone they're not using Facebook or other social media to create false identities, particularly to pursue deceptive online romances.”

A bottom dweller can only successfully feed off those who, let’s just say, dwell at the bottom.

This irony, however, is lost on the Brothers Schulman in their 2010 documentary Catfish as well as their eponymous MTV spin-off series which premiered earlier this fall. A half-dozen episodes in, this show feels like a combination of the faux-thriller Scary Movie series (coincidentally one of the Schulman’s co-directed the third installment of Paranormal Activity), plus the trashiness of Jerry Springer, plus the pathetic-pity-me-party of The Biggest Loser, all mixed together with a PSA about online dating.

As I mentioned in a previous Pop Theory column, technological advancements have rendered us “alone together” in that we’ve become more comfortable communicating virtually than physically; we prefer texting than talking in person. As Sherry Turkle, author of Alone Together, explains, "[w]e are lonely but fearful of intimacy. Digital connections may offer the illusion of companionship without the demands of friendship. Our networked life allows us to hide from each other, even as we are tethered to each other.”

And it’s not just comfort but conveniency—it’s really difficult to meet someone, especially someone new outside your friend circle. Not to mention that, if you’re a homo living in the middle of nowhere, it’s exponentially difficult to find a potential mate. Going online is the most efficacious way of meeting a special someone.

I understand—I tried online dating, once. For the first month, the emails were glorious, long, and laden with literary allusions. Romantic. Funny. “Intimate.” I fell in love with that virtual figure and, then, not surprisingly (because the ideal was already created in my head and ready to be transferred to the real, regardless of the reality of that real person), I fell in love with that person. Or at least the idea of her; one that was very much