Something fishy about this profile

I saw the movie Catfish which seems to have garnered a significant amount of attention and is in many ways the *real* Facebook movie because it actually takes place on facebook and addresses real issues we have all dealt with instead of the dealings of ultra-rich privileged kids at elite-universities.

The setting is an internet relationship as we have seen described many times before and probably have experienced ourselves. Who hasn’t met up with somebody they met on the internet? The premise is given a twist because it adds in elements of a standard internet hoax.

Some thoughts about the movie.

Because it features the web and real elements from that web (instead of a fictionalized computer network as seen in many other movies), it gains a level of authenticity and also is a great example of what James Bridle coined ‘network realism’. This movie could not be made without the (social) network it portrays and a large part of the story take place on it.

Jon Taplin reported that according to Fincher & Sorkin The Social Network is a movie about class in modern day America. The class differences in that movie are relatively minute compared to those in Catfish. On the one hand there’s the young, handsome, rich, metropolitan Nev who is employed in a creative profession and who can pretty much do whatever he wants. On the other hand there’s a poor, rural family who are ill and relatively older and not very attractive.

That part of America is mostly unseen but very real. A vast rural expanse filled with the shattered dreams of the American working class (see also Bubble and this piece on food and class in America).

Another theme is how people with enough time and/or knowledge can turn around Facebook’s mechanisms to regain a feeling of privacy. Kids deactivate their profiles when they are not using the site, others falsify their names so as not to be findable and in the movie somebody constructs an elaborate false identity and backstory for herself.

Privacy is not so much the right to hold secrets about your most private things, it is much more an issue of control and being able to both control and shape the information about yourself that you disseminate. Real and false signals that we send out and the flexibility with which we navigate the waters of sociality are what makes us human, not the strictly defined checkboxes of Facebook’s arcane privacy system.

It is not Assange who has ever said he wants to make everything public, Zuckerberg however has (that would not be a good idea says Dalrymple).

Angela employs the means given to her to live the life she wants to even though it is not real. The way that it falls apart and resolves into a better mutual understanding between her and Nev is a valid outcome, but in a different world, they perhaps would not have needed to find out the truth about each other at all and that would have been an equally valid outcome.

In any case in the end I am more touched by the plight of Angela who’s life as portrayed is a harrowing ordeal of bleakness, whereas for Nev besides some juvenile embarrassment the consequences do not seem at all as serious and maybe even net positive.

Whether the movie is a real documentary or parts of it are fictionalized or whether the whole movie itself is an elaborate hoax (though then exceptionally well meta-written and acted) in the end does not really matter to me. I would like to believe that the events transpiring in the movie and what they say about us and about facebook are true —at least to some extent.

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