For this week’s homework, please post your response to the documentary we watched in class today, Catfish (categorize it as Catfish). [You can learn more about the film by clicking “Enter Nev’s World” and chat with Megan, see his photos, etc.]
Just like the articles, this film is a “text” that you have to read closely/critically and that you need to annotated. For your response post, you should think about this film in relation to the other texts we have read this semester (especially Turkle’s “The Flight from Conversation” and Marche’s “Is Facebook Making Us Lonely?” … you should quote/cite them) as well as our in-class conversations about how/why the individual self, connections/relationships with others (and the world), communication, privacy, authenticity, intimacy, trust (etc.) are altered in digital, networked spaces. What do we gain from these spaces? What do we lose?
In thinking through these issues, you should consider our in-class discussion from today and also the questions we raised at the end of class after watching the film. Some things to think through as you work on composing your response:
- The various “voices” in this documentary, and how they all participate in “storytelling” (the stories we tell, about our lives and our worlds, to ourselves, and to others) of some sort: there are the actual “characters” in the film (Nev and the two filmmakers, Ariel and Henry), Angela and her family (Vince, Abby), “Megan,” and all the other characters that Angela constructs with her “great imagination.” Consider “Megan’s” txts, phone calls, and messages to Nev, the conversations that happen on everyone’s Facebook walls (where various people comment and participate in the construction of this great lie). A particularly complicated/fraught moment is when Nev gets “txts” from Megan telling the “truth” that Megan is an alcoholic, and then Ryan sends him a “Facebook message” confirming this, and Angela validates the story in “real” life (which then turns out to be false).
- How does “Angela” “curat[e] the exhibition of the self” (Marche 9) as well as the multiple selves she creates, through Facebook, phone conversations, “snail mail” with the packages of the artwork that “Abby” did, and the “postcard” (with the “pennies” that Nev makes)?
- How do Nev & crew track down the “real” story, the “truth” (through using Google, GoogleMaps, a call to a real-estate agent, in-person visits, interviews, etc.)?
- Is there one “real truth” here (or in life, in general)? What are the competing versions of the truths/selves in this documentary? What pieces of evidence (and by whom? how? why?) to support these competing versions?
- What kinds of things in Nev’s relationships with Angela and her “family” established his “trust” in them and these characters’ “authenticity”? Nev mentions that he is “gullible,” but then later says he was not “fooled’.
- In the car, driving back from fake Megan’s fake house, Nev states his feelings for her was “genuine” (“I really cared about this girl … now, I don’t even know what to feel”). Can he have genuine feelings even the situations/people were fake (or non-existent)?
- What is the interplay of real-world identities and digital/virtual identities? Consider how we learn at the end of the film that even in her “real” face-to-face (F2F) life, Angela lies, about all sorts of things (like her cancer/chemotherapy, about Megan, etc.). Discuss the complex nature of her multi-layered “fabrication.”
- Turkle claims that technology “change[s] not only what we do, but also who we are” (1), that with it, “we can end up hiding from one another” (1).” Vince talks about needing to figure out which life one wants to live, and while he says Angela chose to be with him and the kids, and that she wants “security,” Angela still goes about creating this vast imaginary world, which she says contains “fragments of myself” “fragments of things I used to be, wanted to be, never could be.” If these lies are things Angela believes she could be or wishes she is, are they, in some counter-intuitive, paradoxical way, “authentic”?
- Angela says she was able to keep track of most things in her stories because of the Facebook platform, which is endlessly customizable. Technology “let[s] us present the self we want to be. This means we can edit. And if we wish to, we can delete. Or retouch: the voice, the flesh, the face, the body” (Turkle 2). Marche also discusses our “projected identities” (6) and “the constancy of the performance it demands” (9). Who is the “real” Angela?
- Angela says, towards the end, that she “betrayed” the family friend who is the girl in the pictures. What about the “real lives” of these people, all the ones that she embellished/exploited for her own purposes? What happens to “privacy” and “ownership”?
- Turkle claims that, with technology, we can keep people “carefully kept at bay” (2). How does Nev’s visit and the convergence of real/virtual worlds challenge this dichotomy? Does this display the “mess of human interaction” (8) that Marche mentions?
- Turkle claims we confuse “conversation with connection” (3). Nev ultimately asks Angela for a “real talk” “sit-down conversation to sort of go over a couple things and clear some stuff up.” Is he attempting to establish real “conversation at this point? If so, does he succeed?
- Marche states how technology sometimes encourages “ersatz intimacy” and situations that are “surrogate” (7). And yet Nev characterizes his relationship with Angela as an “amazing correspondence,” a “real friendship.” What do we make of this?
- Marche claims that technology can lead to a “leaching of empathy and humanity” (8), and Turkle even goes as far as to say that “we seem almost willing to dispense with people altogether” (3). Yet Marche argues that we are becoming lonelier and lonelier. Did Angela act out of loneliness?
- What does Vince’s story about the “vat full of codfish” at the end of the documentary mean, about “catfish,” about “Angela”?