Sunday, September 29, 2013

Catfish and Shakespeare

The TV show Catfish (which I write about here and here) is really like a Shakespearian comedy.

Most of Shakespeare's comedies deal with the effect of masking, and how when one person pretends to be another, various reactions and emotions are elicited from those about them that would not be brought out otherwise - even if a girl is pretending to be a boy (which happens a lot in Shakespeare).  Shakespeare applies this "much virtue in if" to theater in general - the pretense and make-believe of drama help us enter into a fantasy world where we can safely draw forth the good and bad within us, all within the confines of a safe place, the theater.

And that can be seen in Catfish.  One of the themes that keeps coming up in Catfish is something like this ...


  • Even if your on-line lover is not the stunning model whose pictures grace her Facebook page - even if she weighs 400 pounds, her real name is Wilma and she drives a semi for a living - the pretense nevertheless can elicit great love.  An actual intimacy can develop, even when one person is hiding behind an entirely false front.

Of course since this is lying and not theater (we go over that distinction again and again for Catholics who make excuses for lying) - because one party is being fooled against his or her will, then even if a strong intimacy develops, the duped party has to decide, "Well, although Dominique the beautiful African-American model and jet-setting heart surgeon is really Wilma, the obese white truck driver from Muskogee, I still love the soul of Dominique - and the soul of Dominique is Wilma!"

But ...

"But Wilma has been lying to me all these years.  Can I love someone who is willing to lie to me like this?"

The truth will set you free, and really that's what this show is all about.  Sometimes the online lovers don't exist; sometimes the duped party bends over backwards to be fooled by the faker; sometimes good is done despite the dishonesty that prevails.

But it makes you realize how a bit of make-believe can go a long way, both for good and for bad.

The show is also about untangling the knots - the honesty and support a person can give, even behind a mask while pretending to be someone he or she is not, this has value, doesn't it? especially if the thread of love and care can be separated from the thread of falsehood and deceit.  

In one episode of Catfish, a woman is pulled out of a slide into sexual promiscuity, drinking and drug abuse by an online relationship with "Stephen", a well-built black man with stunning eyes - but "Stephen" ends up being an online persona created by this woman's pudgy white girlfriend Gladys and Gladys' pasty-faced cousin Tony, who were using the pictures of a model and a cell number the victim didn't recognize when sending her texts from "Stephen".  Hurt as the victim was, Gladys insisted that it was the only way she could pull her friend out of her self-destructive spiral.

All in all, the show reveals our hunger for intimacy, and the way the internet feeds that hunger, in what appears to be a "safe" way.  True intimacy and even a bit of real love can grow between people when this strange game of theater and make-believe is played; but love can never be reconciled with a lie.  God is Truth and God is Love and therefore the two must always go together.

And it can be heart-breaking to see what might have been a long-term intimacy crumble because the true nature of the lie at the core of it is finally revealed.  But that's how many friendships die, isn't it?

The pictures Gladys used to pretend to be "Steve".

Cassie, finding out that "Steve" is really her girlfriend ... 

... Gladys, who ran the scam for the sake of Cassie, helped and assisted by ...

... her cousin Tony.  Well, I couldn't find a picture of Tony, but he looked a lot like this.  Tony would engage in "phone sex" with Cassie, pretending to be "Steve".  Maybe that's why he's smiling.


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