Tuesday, October 5, 2010

To Cheat, Lie, and Steal…and Get Away with It

Last night, I saw the new documentary Catfish (site, imdb). Three geeky guys and a crazy mystery were enough to raise my curiosity. Over all, I enjoyed it. It remained light and funny as the story about the fake identities unraveled. It also could serve as a wake-up call about the danger of internet relationships and of making personal information public and, therefore, available for use by the public.

There has been debate about whether or not the events in the film are genuine. After the showing, I overheard one viewer argue with another about actors not being able to fake being in love. (I agree.) And on my way to the parking lot, I overheard someone else pointing out an inconsistency between one character’s portrayal in the film and what was said about him during the Q&A. There were also a lot of questions about shots that were too perfect or events that were too coincidental.

Without any hard evidence to the contrary, I’m inclined to believe that the story’s real. Documentaries in general end up bending and morphing the truth anyway. What bothered me was the filmmakers’ decision leave out information that would make the story more coherent and convincing to naysayers. After the showing, Nev Schulman, the leading geek, discussed the reasons why his brother took up the project initially and chose to continue filming. Not including that in the movie is asking the audience to question it’s spontaneity.

Also, it was a bad decision to leave out the after-the-fact interviews of Schulman’s mom, friend, and the model Aimee Gonzales, whose physical identity was stolen. Why should we not see these people hurt, furious, and trying to readjust their lives? It was almost as if nothing was included to make Angela Wesselman-Pierce, the mastermind of sorts, look bad.

Someone in the audience asked who the victim was. Really, it shouldn’t be the woman who lied her way into the spotlight. Anyone who has felt deceived when meeting an online correspondent, anyone who has had to deal with identity theft, really anyone could be offended by this. Maybe Schulman doesn’t feel as though he has really been hurt. It’s not like she scammed him out of thousands of dollars. But that doesn’t make what she did to him or others okay. Maybe he feels sorry for her unsuccessful attempts to promote her art. But the world is full of honest artists, and we don’t see him helping their careers.

Real or fake, the documentary portrays a woman who’ll play any untrue sympathy card – an alcoholic daughter, cancer treatment, and a burdensome, unfulfilling life – to get out of taking responsibility for her actions. The whole thing about her unrealized potential and the hardship of caring for her disabled stepsons was ridiculous. She has a caring husband who thinks that people should follow their dreams regardless and who went to all the trouble to give her space and time away from the children to pursue her work. Instead, Schulman essentially holds her husband responsible for “setting her up” for an online affair. Really, the image of a woman eager to sign release forms for a rather embarrassing film tells me that she had to only be interested in the publicity. And Schulman’s expressed regret that people would send her nasty emails is laughable. Why didn’t she expect that?

Identity theft of any form is a serious crime. Treating people’s hearts like dirt by awaking them emotionally and sexually to love under false pretenses of any kind is a serious sin.* I think that Nev Schulman is more of a victim than he actually realizes. He forgave her and tried to help her, and she tried again to build a relationship with him through a phony alcoholic daughter. Now he’s proud that she’s made money off her paintings from the movie? No, the moral of the story isn’t that we should be careful on Facebook. It’s that we can use the internet for evil purposes, get caught, and still expect to get away with it.

*Why is it that a young woman’s a “tease” if she gets a man’s hopes up with no intent of following through with any promises, but when an older woman does this, she’s a martyr looking for fulfillment?