Today on MTV, Catfish in on. If you are unfamiliar, Catfish is a terrific show where people who think they’ve found true love online discover, with the help of host Nev Schulman, that the objects of their affections are not at all the people they believe them to be. It’s pretty great tv, where the drama is in the search to find the actual person, then the reveal and subsequent confrontation, and finally the tears and broken heart resolution. Who knows what all is real? (Only children still believe that reality tv is, in fact, reality. It’s more of a ‘based on a true story’ situation, probably.) But there is an undercurrent that is very real, that is too easily missed as we watch shows, detached and judgmental – the judgment either taking the form of sympathy for the fished or disgust for the fisher.
It’s interesting how quickly we can dismiss the Bible as outdated and irrelevant, stories about ‘they’ and ‘them’ and not ‘we’ or ‘us.’ It is much the same with programs like this. The lines that separate us are nowhere near as defined as each of us like to think, and the more we can dismantle these structures and erase those lines, then there is the chance for understanding and genuine connection.
It’s not surprising that we draw these lines of comparison and condescension, it’s all part of the foundation of Catfish. The people who are fishing, deceiving those on the other end of the screen, are creating images of themselves. They are actors on a stage pretending to be someone else, someone they are not, to gain acceptance and belonging. And I watch, pretending to not be just like them, pretending that we are very different. Now, I have never used your pictures or lied my face off to waste years of someone’s life, but I have a loooooong history of image-building. I have been what’s called a pleaser, trying desperately to fit what I think you want, to be cool, smart, funny, mean, trendy, or whatever.
I shake my head and say, ‘these people.’ But like so much, there is no ‘these people,’ there is only ‘me,’ only ‘us,’ and the weight of the show is in the mirror it uses to shows us how unsatisfied we are being who we are. I need better jeans, a better job, a better car, more money, clearer skin, bigger biceps and a smaller spare tire, to find fulfillment, peace, happiness, peace.
Who am I? is The Question that is always looming, just beyond fake plastic filtered smiles and sunshine instagram posts. Not everyone’s food (or workout or pants or marriage) looks that perfect all the time.
Ok, so I am a catfish in all kinds of ways. But I am the catfished in more (and the truth is, everybody is.) I do all of these things, contort myself into more desirable positions, for the same reason everyone has ever done, since the beginning of time – for that beautiful bond, for a hand to hold, for love. That’s why the unbearably naive victims on the show believe EVERYTHING, because they are willing to close their eyes and cross their fingers in the hope that this time it might be true, that they might not be alone. Of course, the paradox is that as long as we wear masks, we’ll never find the authentic relationship for which we are wearing the masks in the first place. But we have to wear the masks because we’re all so busy trapped in ‘us’/’them’ theology, and this catch 22 rolls over and flattens us all.
But yesterday is not today and today is not tomorrow. Just because we have always done it this way doesn’t mean we will continue. It is not just what it is. The revolution starts when we say it does.