Does MTV’s ‘Catfish’ Encourage Catfishing?

For anyone addicted to MTV’s Catfish—a reality TV series spun off a popular 2010 documentary of the same name—the haunting question is: who are these people? Who decides to lure someone else into a protracted online relationship through pure and wildly superficial deceit? And, perhaps more pressingly: who will decide to catfish someone only after seeing it done on TV? Seriously, does Catfish encourage catfishing?

It’s not too crazy a question, given that the success of MTV’s Teen Mom spawned countless forums where young women discussed getting deliberately pregnant just to get on the show and traded the relevant casting info. Catfish is poised as the channel’s next flagship program, with countless impressionable young fans—it continues to be a top-tweeted TV show and generate huge buzz on the Internet. Not totally surprising, since that’s where most of its action takes place.

The hosts, Nev Schulman and Max Joseph, never condone the act of catfishing—Schulman is the victim in the original film and here takes on a Dr. Drew-ish fake-therapist persona—and yet even in the second season (still in progress) we’ve begun to track some disturbing signs: when Nev calls the culprits, they’re always already familiar with the show and its premise, and many seem eager to come clean about their duplicity, as long as it’s on TV. The lies have become more outrageous, and often more cunning.

The most recent episode, “Jen & Skylar” featured a bro who got cozy with lonely women online in order to “brush up his game,” only to cease all contact when a relationship reached its climax. Nev and Max were so taken aback at the guy’s inability to admit that what he’d done was cruel that they spent a good quarter of the episode telling him off and didn’t even try to affect the usual semi-reconciliation.

The show disparages him as something of a hopeless sociopath, but he felt like a disturbingly average type.      Other catfishers, when confronted about their actions, are tautologically evasive: “I was bored” and “Why not?” is how some have explained their motivations, which sounds for all the world like what I would say if someone asked why I was watching Catfish in the first place. When emotionally toying with people from across the country comes to seem like a game or even passive entertainment to an entire generation—and may net you a check from MTV—what hope do we have to foster transparency and trust online?

Ideally, the show serves to warn us about “falling for” people we’ve never actually met, though it’s hard to argue that it doesn’t open up a world of possibilities for a scam artist or career narcissist. I guess what I’m trying to say, at the end of the day, is that I’m not really “Miles Klee,” but a woman living in North Dakota who is ashamed to be 6’2″ and therefore never goes out of the house. I just thought more people would click on my posts if I pretended to be a male writer in New York with a phony-sounding name.

BlackBook Tracks #30: Catfish Is A Verb

I guess that these songs are for you to listen to while you think about sports and use “Catfish” as a verb, but I have approximately zero comprehension of what’s going on with that.

This Many Boyfriends – “Tina Weymouth”

It’s been a while since I came across a solid song about music itself, and this track named after the Talking Heads legend fits the bill perfectly. Opening with the line “You love pop songs about love more than being in love in the first place,” it captures the enduring spirit of High Fidelity.

Jamaican Queens – “Kids Get Away”

Unlike what their name suggests, the self-described “trap pop” group actually hails from Detroit. They specialize in pairing accessible hooks with unexpected textures that are worth taking a few listens to unravel.

Shout Out Louds – “Walking In Your Footsteps”

The latest from the Swedish indie poppers might just be warm enough to melt their record made out of ice.

Dutch Uncles – “Flexxin”

The Manchester, UK band has started the year off right by releasing a uniquely intriguing, exquisitely arranged album, Out Of Touch In The Wild. “Flexxin” is no exception.

Foals – “My Number” (Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs remix)

The moody British rockers turned to electro-pop wiz kid Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs to create a haunting, bass-heavy take on “My Number,” a cut from their forthcoming album Holy Fire.

Brandt Brauer Frick – “Broken Pieces” (ft Jamie Lidell)

Alongside preparing the release of his upcoming self-titled album, Jamie Lidell found time to lend his voice to the German electro outfit Brandt Brauer Frick. On “Broken Pieces,” he punches up their raw, pulsing production.

Flume – “Left Alone” (ft. Chet Faker)

Already a hit in his native Australia, electronic artist Flume has his eye on taking over the world. On “Left Alone,” his production serves as a steady foundation for Chet Faker’s soulful, urgent vocals.

Darlings – “Sit On It!”

Brooklyn favorites Darlings serve up crunchy guitar pop that’s perfectly pleasant. This is the best song about waterslides I’ve heard in recent memory.

Woodkid – “Brooklyn”

This one goes out to the endless parade of French people on Bedford Avenue.

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Exclusive Video: ‘Catfish’ Directors Henry Joost & Ariel Schulman on Their Adventures in Filmmaking

It’s been over a year since Catfish took Sundance by storm, setting off a debate about whether the harrowing events portrayed in the film are true. (Zach Galifianakis, for one, doesn’t buy it). Real or not, the film drew enough attention to turn its makers, Ariel Schulman and Henry Joost – together they are Supermarché, Inc. – into something resembling Hollywood players.

While they still live in New York (Schulman is roommates with Greta Gerwig), Hollywood came calling when the boys were offered the reigns to Paranormal Activity 3, the next installment of the horror mega-franchise. From our friends over at the Creators Project, here’s an exclusive video of Joost and Schulman sharing some of their more memorable misadventures in moviemaking.

Movie Reviews: Conviction, Catfish, & It’s Kind of a Funny Story

Conviction Originally titled Betty Anne Waters, Fox changed the name of director Tony Goldwyn’s rich and layered drama to Conviction, presumably to avoid the inevitable Julia Roberts/Erin Brockovich comparisons Hilary Swank will surely get when she’s honored with an Oscar nomination next year. Swank, already a two-time winner, plays a working- class mother of two from Boston who struggles—for 18 years—to get her brother Kenneth (Sam Rockwell, also Oscar bait) out of a life sentence for a murder he didn’t commit. First, she’ll need to get her GED, her BA, go to law school, and pass the bar exam, at which point she’ll reopen a 16-year-old case and appeal the verdict. Although we already know the outcome—the film is based on a true story—it’s a thrill to watch Swank do battle, particularly when she takes on her own Scylla and Charybdis, the policewoman who arrested Kenny (Melissa Leo) and the trial’s key witness (a deliciously crazy Juliette Lewis). Expect serious traction from this one come awards season. —Nick Haramis

image It’s Kind of a Funny Story It’s Kind of a Funny Story is kind of a funny movie, too, but teenage boys flocking to watch their Hangover hero Zach Galifianakis prance around in nothing but a jock strap will be surprised, albeit pleasantly, by its more serious side. They may see some of themselves in 15-year-old Craig (Keir Gilchrist), who checks himself into a mental institution after experiencing suicidal fantasies. Once inside, Craig—who is never really a danger to himself—meets a call sheet of harmlessly bonkers characters. There’s the mentor (Galifianakis), the mute (Bernard White), and the girl next door (or down the hall, as is the case with a highly crushable Emma Roberts), who also happens to cut herself once in a while. Soon, the predictable happens—they change his life and he changes theirs. But directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck who have yet to make a bad film (Half Nelson, Sugar)—navigate the proceedings in a way that’s always engaging and ultimately transcendent. —Ben Barna

image Catfish A raw, low-budget Sundance gem (as if there were any other kind), Catfish finds filmmakers Ariel Schulman and Henry Joost following Schulman’s adult brother, Nev, as he forms an initially benign online friendship with an 8-year- old girl named Abby. She’s an art prodigy living in Michigan who paints one of Nev’s photographs that she finds in The New York Sun. Slowly, Nev begins a virtual affair with Abby’s 19-year- old sister, Megan. As time passes and their long-distance dalliance intensifies, Nev and crew decide to take a trip to meet Megan and Abby in person. What transpires will force viewers to re-examine the trust we place in online personae. Sure, the film’s a nail-biter, but it’s also a true, heartrending tale of internet romance gone awry. —Eiseley Tauginas

image The Company Men It’s an odd coincidence that a movie denouncing redundancies in the workplace should follow so closely on the heels of last year’s George Clooney vehicle, Up in the Air. Both films are about the shell shock of corporate downsizing, but in this one, director John Wells flips perspectives, asking audiences to reel along with his leads—Ben Affleck, Tommy Lee Jones, and Chris Cooper—as they navigate life after being canned. Strongest when its characters are at their weakest, The Company Men injects the recession with humanity and more than a little desperation. Rosemarie DeWitt (the title character in Rachel Getting Married) plays Affleck’s wife with honesty and grace as she strokes her husband’s ego, all the while trying to curb his spending. Meanwhile, Affleck takes a construction job with his brother-in-law (played by lovable curmudgeon Kevin Costner). At this point, the movie, resolved to end on a feel-good note, eschews reality for the sake of a pre-packaged Hollywood ending, without the stimulus. —NH

image Let Me In Dear Cindy and Becky and your entire sleepover posse: we get that you’re hot for vampires. But for every True Blood there’s a Twilight, and despite popular demand, it’s difficult for filmmakers to impress critics when they’re targeting bloodlust-y tweens. Let Me In, director Matt Reeves’ American remake of the 2008 Swedish masterpiece, Let the Right One In, succeeds because it’s about kids, not for them. The film stars Chloë Moretz (Kick-Ass) as Abby, an ancient sanguisuge in the body of a young girl, who befriends Owen, a quiet bully-target played by Kodi Smit-McPhee (The Road). While the film’s heart is the relationship between its two leads, which plays out like a Montessori production of Harold and Maude, there are still buckets (literally, buckets) of gut-wrenching imagery to satisfy those thirsting for Daybreakers 2. As Abby’s guardian, Richard Jenkins turns in an expectedly riveting performance, but it’s Moretz and Smit-McPhee who breathe the most life into this faithful remake about the undead. —NH

Your Guide to This Weekend’s Movies Based on Stereotypes About You

It’s the weekend after Labor Day, the official start of the fall film season, and for the first time in a long while, there’s a lot of stuff in theaters that actually looks watchable. To help you choose what to see this weekend, I’ve created a guide based on broad stereotypes. Good luck!

Never Let Me Go See this if… ● You spent your summer vacations in the British countryside in the care of some distant aunt; you had some lost love affair there that makes you wax nostalgic. ● You always wished you’d spent your summers in the British countryside having love affairs. ● You are a middle-aged British man like my dad, who is obsessed with Charlotte Rampling. ● You are on a date with someone who wears cardigans, keeps a diary, and whose favorite photograph of him/herself involves light rain, tangly wet hair, and staring off into the distance.

Do not see if… ● You’ve seen the trailer, because it gives away the entire film and ruins all the surprises.

Easy A: See this if… ● You are a large group of high school kids sneaking rum-infused 20 oz. cokes into the theater because Mike F’s brother came through with his fake ID. There will be a lot of very broad humor and obvious sexual innuendo that you will find funny, but the girl sitting next to you probably won’t make out with you. ● You are a virgin. ● You are a middle-aged British man like my dad, who is obsessed with American high school movies because he never got to have a prom. ● Your best girlfriend from college is in town and you just want to put on sweats and eat popcorn like the old days.

Do not see if… ● You are a middle-aged man who wants to meet virgins.

The Town: See this if… ● You are from Boston and think anything to do with Boston is the best thing ever. When Fenway Park is shown during a movie, you clap uncontrollably. Also, you love Ben Affleck, even though you think he is a bit gay. ● You are not from Boston, but you think Boston accents are the funniest thing ever. ● You are a man like my dad who will see pretty much anything that involves guns and/or heists/robberies. ● You want to have sex with Jon Hamm, and don’t care that he has a small part in the film. All Hamm is good Hamm.

Do not see if… ● You have a vagina and aren’t from Boston and don’t think Boston accents are funny.

Catfish: See this if… ● You spend most of your life meeting women on the Internet. ● You spend most of your life fantasizing about spending your life meeting women on the Internet when all you really do is play world of Warcraft. ● You loved the Blair Witch Project. ● You are really upset that Craigslist closed their Adult Services

Do Not see this if… ● You are my dad.

‘Catfish,’ The Real Facebook Movie

The story of Catfish begins delicately, with a photograph taken by a 22-year-old photographer, Nev Schulman, published in The New York Times’ Life & Arts section in 2007. It’s a still from the set of a documentary Nev’s brother Ariel and their filmmaking partner Henry Joost shot about ballet. For years, the three young artists have shared the offices of their film-production company, Supermarché, in downtown Manhattan, and compulsively shot a little bit of everything with small consumer HD cameras, which are about the size of a deck of playing cards. These cameras are strewn about their offices, on desks and tables when they are not traveling, in and out of backpacks. During downtime, they roam New York City, capturing small, intimate moments without anyone knowing it: A man falling asleep on the subway, a woman doing her make-up in a storefront reflection, a couple breaking up at a restaurant. Joost has shot short movies and photographs all of his life; Ariel didn’t pick up a camera until he was 21. “We shoot everything,” Ariel says. “We’ve filmed a little bit of each other every day for the last 5 years.” The three filmmakers store their footage on a hard drive, saving it for some date in the future when it might come in handy, or just for the sake of having it. (Ariel says he has a terrible memory and doesn’t keep a diary.) It was from footage like this that Catfish—a Sundance favorite in theaters Friday—was eventually made, a chilling documentary about the risks we take when we connect online.

One of Ariel and Henry’s favorite subjects to shoot was Nev, with his easy sense of adventure and carefree naiveté. “I go for it,” Nev says. “I take risks and act on impulse. Sometimes it gets me into a lot of trouble. But sometimes it leads to the greatest experience in the world.” Like the time he purchased over eBay a 1967 Porsche Spyder that was located in New Orleans and didn’t even run. Still, with two friends in tow, Nev embarked on a road trip from the Big Easy back to Manhattan, which to this day Ariel deeply regrets not being able to film.

“Nev is the face of our brotherly relationship,” Ariel explains, in early September, over the phone. “Even though he is three years younger then me, he is always a few steps ahead, leading the way while I am a few steps behind, telling someone about it or recording him.”

This is exactly what Ariel did when, a few years ago, Nev read him a note he’d received on Facebook from an eight year-old girl named Abby living in Northern Michigan. She wanted his blessing to do a painting of the photo that was published in the Times. After talking to her Mom on the phone, Nev responded, granting Abby permission. They became Facebook friends. She sent him the picture she painted a few weeks later in the mail. It was remarkably good, especially for an eight year-old.


More of these paintings began to arrive over the next nine months, paintings of other photos which Nev had shot or portraits of Nev himself taken from tagged photos on his Facebook page. Nev became friends with Abby’s brother, Abby’s Mom, Abby’s Dad, and especially Abby’s beautiful older sister, Megan. Soon, Nev and Megan had a blossoming online relationship, calling each other on the phone nightly, and even “sexting” about what they would do when they finally met. Ariel and Joost shot all of it—just for fun—in between work on their ballet documentary—a light-hearted side project about a Facebook relationship.

“This movie wouldn’t have happened if it wasn’t shot by two of his closest friends on these small, unobtrusive cameras,” Joost says. “It almost feels like home video footage.” The sensation of guilelessness is what allows this earnest, incidental documentary to turn eerie on dime. When something about Megan is discovered to be false, the facts about Abby’s family begin to unravel into a shocking chain of lies. Jumping on the chance for a new adventure, as well as an explanation, Nev decides to take an impromptu road trip to visit Megan and Abby in Northern Michigan, filmmakers in tow. It won’t ruin it for you to say that what they discover is a kind of bizarre online schizophrenia, aided by a Facebook obsession.

“The internet enables people to tap into so many more fantasies, desires, and fractured parts of themselves then ever before,” Ariel says. “And these virtual personalities can have an impact on the real world.”

In the end, Catfish becomes an haunting, true love story for the internet age. Nev, Ariel, and Joost say they changed in different ways due to this experience, and they all admit to being less trusting of people in general these days, especially when it comes to the internet. When I ask why they think Nev was targeted in the first place as the object of Abby’s paintings—and everything that followed—there’s a long pause before Ariel says, “Because he responded.”

Catfish a Surprise Sundance Hit

The buzz coming out of the 2010 Sundance Film Festival is all about Catfish. The film, a documentary by New York-based artists and first time directors Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman, explores the effect of social media on our lives. Catfish tells the story of the filmmakers’ online correspondence with an 8-year-old Michigan girl and her family, all of whom turn out to be not quite who they say they are. The film unfolds more or less as events occurred and scenes are peppered with reminders of the way the internet has influenced modern life (Google Maps animations, YouTube clips, GPS instructions, and IM exchanges). A deal is likely imminent, with Apparition being the rumored front-runner, as critical reception has been almost universally positive.

Noel Murray, from The A.V. Club, was particularly positive on the film, saying “it’s hard to argue with the results of the way this movie is constructed; Catfish is absolutely riveting.” He went on to describe the film as “nerve-wracking” and “tense,” saying that “[it’s a] more-than-a-little-disturbing study of the relationship between artists and their fans (and between virtual friendships and real relationships).”

Others were equally positive. Steven Zeitchik, of the L.A. Times, asserted that “it’s our own favorite movie of the festival so (and by) far, and by the time this thing wraps up, we suspect plenty of others will make the same declaration.” He lauded the film’s “amazing story” and its twists and turns.

Some, however, have cast doubt on the verisimilitude of Catfish. Movieline offered up an analysis of why the movie might have been at least partially faked (warning: semi spoiler alert). One man at the Catfish Q&A referred to the film as a “faux-documentary,” although the filmmakers vigorously objected.