Catfish and the Power of Imagination

Recently in class we watched documentary called Catfish. This is basically the story of some guy named Nev Schulman who gets involved in an online relationship with a girl named Megan that doesn’t exist. Basically, it’s the same thing that happened to Manti Te’o. Nev eventually figures out that the relationship is false, tracks the woman down to her house in the upper peninsula of Michigan and discovers that she is a forty-something-year-old who created an elaborate Facebook account for Megan, acted like her on the phone, and duped Nev into a romantic relationship that existed solely in cyberspace. 

The obvious take away from this movie is that the internet is dangerous and that online identities can be easily manipulated and that we need to be careful because we don’t know who is really behind the profiles, and on and on and on.

Except I don’t think this is the story of Catfish. Yes, all these things are true and serve to give the movie an overt message in the birth of the digital communication age. But to me, this movie is all about the fundamental desire for humans to emotionally connect.

There is a scene in the movie, near the very end, where Nev and Angela are sitting in a room face to face. Nev has already confronted Angela about the lie and is about to leave back to New York, presumably to never see Angela again. (They remained Facebook friends, but I highly doubt that Nev is going to speak to Angela in person again). In this moment, Nev asks to hear Angela talk in Megan’s voice just once more. If you look at Nev during this moment, it is as if he is saying goodbye to someone he truly loved. He really felt a connection to this person, and facing the reality that she didn’t exist was hard. That is why I think he felt compelled to travel from New York, all the way to the upper peninsula of Michigan. Because I think Nev held onto the hope that Megan was real. Or rather that she existed in the physical world. Because the painful thing about seeing Angela speak Megan’s voice had to be the realization that the emotions attached to her were authentic. No matter how much he rationalized the fact that Megan didn’t exist, that she was product of an elaborate lie, he knew what it was like to wake up in the morning and not feel lonely.   

I truly believe that everyone is looking for someone that will guarantee they will never feel lonely again. Perhaps this is a deeply engrained cultural thing that we believe in soul mates and life long companions. Whether that is true or not is impossible to say. The internet creates a vast tool for the imagination. And the human imagination can be a very dangerous thing.

Even though Nev’s story was too good to be true, would it have been that unrealistic if it wasn’t? This is the whole premise behind online dating. Eternal companionship is potentially the next click away. The sad thing however, as Nev found, is that the physical world, and the metaphysical world aren’t always compatible, and the physical world ultimately is the one that dictates the rules.

 

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