BY: AYA TSINTZIRAS
When young adult author Kathleen Hale read a negative review of her first novel on the popular site Goodreads, she didn’t shrug it off. Instead, she wanted to connect with the person behind the screen, and found her address. Concerned the reviewer was using a fake identity, she tracked her down, knocking on her front door. She tells her story in the October 18th The Guardian piece, “‘Am I being catfished?’ An author confronts her number one online critic.” Hale believed she was catfished, a term that is now part of popular culture thanks to the 2010 documentary Catfish, where New York dance photographer and filmmaker Nev Schulman realized his online relationship was not what it seemed. There is also a current MTV reality series of the same name.
But there was one problem with Hale’s story: in order to be catfished, you have to be in an online (usually romantic, sometimes platonic) relationship with someone using a fake identity. It usually starts on Facebook, or at least some form of social media. Hale wasn’t catfished at all.
I believe that the fact that an author would treat an online reviewer as if they were both characters on a reality TV show proves how much reality TV has invaded our lives. When these shows first came on the scene – Survivor and Big Brother, which both premiered in 2000 – there was much discussion about how reality TV just wasn’t that real. Rumours flew that these were just glorified hoaxes and set-ups. Reality TV writing after all is a well-paying profession. Hale even used the same investigative techniques as Catfish: the TV Show hosts Schulman and Max Joseph – or in other words, she used Google. She typed in the reviewer’s address to find her phone number and image, and also looked up a census report and phone directory.
It begs the question, if we expect our everyday lives, experiences and connections to echo what we see on our TV screens, where does our personality end, and where does the performance begin?
SEE ALSO: Tinder Is The McDonald’s of Love
In his 1964 book Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man, Marshall McLuhan called TV a “cool” medium and theorized that viewers become fully involved in what they’re watching in order to finish the image. This is no more true than of the experience of watching a reality show like Survivor or American Idol where viewers phone in to vote on who stays or leaves the competition. I will never forget the day when my high school Media Studies teacher told us that we never actually watch TV shows – instead, we watch advertisements with shows in-between. As a lifelong TV fan, that seemed to be a sombre revelation. But it’s now truer than ever: the rising costs of TV production have resulted in the lower-cost production of reality TV.
It seems strange that someone would want to be catfished – it’s not a pleasant experience. I can imagine how awful it would feel to learn that the person you have been spilling your secrets to and confessing your feelings to for a long time is lying about their identity.
What is, of course, fascinating about the popularity of reality shows is the idea that anyone, even regular people could become famous, not for the sake of talent, but for the sake of fame itself. There was even a CW show this past summer, Famous in 12, which ended up as a failed TMZ experiment. Viewers were supposed to make a family into the next Kardashians, but instead, the show was cancelled during the fifth episode.
As the infamous Andy Warhol quote says, “In the future, everyone will be famous for 15 minutes.”
Clearly we are currently living in that future, and now even the reality stars are falling and their 15 minutes are up. TLC recently cancelled Here Comes Honey Boo Boo after her mother was photographed with a convicted child molester, a clear case of real life invading the small screen. And Teresa and Joe Giudice’s recent convictions for mortgage, bankruptcy bank fraud will send them to jail, leaving fans wondering what will happen to the New Jersey outlet of the popular Real Housewives franchise. Unlike characters on dramas or sitcoms whose problems stem from the dramatic conventions of storytelling, which require conflict, these are real people with real problems. And when things get dark, the shows get cancelled.
Almost every episode of the reality TV ends the same way: people are not what they seem.