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This is the blog of Ian Rosales Casocot. Filipino writer. Sometime academic. Former backpacker. Twink bait. Hamster lover.

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Thursday, December 23, 2010

entry arrow11:35 AM | You Are Not Who You Are

This is the other Facebook movie, the perfect bookend to David Fincher's The Social Network [2010], the slow-burning but incredibly delicious film that has become this year's uncanny mirror of the zeitgeist. (Most of us do live on Facebook now, right?) But while Fincher's film is an intelligent myth-making re-imagination of Facebook's troubled start-up, ostensibly recreating the days of Mark Zuckerberg's life as he deals with the assorted drama of Facebook's creation, Henry Joost and Ariel Shulman's Catfish [2010] depicts the real-life repercussions of our online interactions. The documentary follows Nev, Mr. Schulman's brother. Nev is a New York photographer who covers the dance world, and one day he receives a painting of one of his dance photographs by a girl named Abby from a little Michigan town. A friendship takes root and soon comes to involve Abby's family -- a mother named Angela, a father named Vince, a brother, Abby's friends, and finally, a beautiful half-sister named Megan, a veterinarian who models, paints, sings, and plays the piano. Online romance ensues. And then soon after, already smitten like a boy in a long-distance love affair, Nev starts discovering that some things ... just don't add up.

The film does start off as a kind of Facebook thriller (complemented by much use of YouTube, Gmail, GoogleMaps, iPhones, Google Earth, and the assorted online applications that have come to define our daily lives). But it ends with such quiet and devastating drama about alienation and hope, artistic manipulation, the allure of storytelling, and the slippery boundaries of identity that we use to navigate the unguarded highways of the Internet. This reminds me of a post that I blogged (with a subsequent shorter 140-character version in Twitter) a few days ago : "Sometimes when I look at my own Facebook posts and pictures and videos and stuff, I cannot help but feel a little envy for the life that this online persona, this electronic version of me, seems to have. And of course I feel weird feeling that." It's weird because the Ian Rosales Casocot online, in Facebook and elsewhere, is indeed "me" -- and those are my thoughts, my photos, my videos, my life. And yet, I am also aware that in many ways, what I am "creating" online is a persona a little removed from me -- it's the concentration of the best of who I am, the face I want to present to the world, having edited out the humdrum minutes where I just stare off into space, waiting for something to happen. It is from this acknowledgment of how we live our present-day reality that the film manages to appeal to me. This is happening. And then there is also the film's quiet conclusion, its statement about artists. It broke my heart, and angered me a bit -- but I also found a capacity for empathy. And when we finally get to the part about the catfish of the title, everything else that comes before it makes so much sense.

But of course the film did not make sense for a lot of people who came to screenings of Catfish and expected a twisty thriller in the vein of M. Night Shyamalan. Reading ordinary moviegoers' comments online about the film (or its trailer) is another reason why I have a certain urge to puke over the notion of "the wisdom of the masses," the same mass of herd-thinking people whose idea of enlightenment is the dumbing explosions of Transformers and the saccharine inanities of Twilight. The following comment, from somebody named jocybum* in YouTube, is typical of the many online posts that have been coming out: "I just watched this last night, I was so unbelievably bored and disappointed by what happens after driving to the barn scene. It was so predictable. Plus the fact that they called it a documentary and some people believe this is lolworthy" [unedited].

I look at that, and I feel pity. They don't get it. Most people will not get this movie, and it's sad. It reminds me of what the film critic Roger Ebert once wrote about similar people in his review of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey [1968]: “Man is a curious animal. He is uneasy in the face of great experiences, and if he is forced to experience something profound, he starts immediately to cheapen it, to bring it down to his own level.”

* A quick look at jocybum's YouTube profile shows that he or she is 21, from the United Kingdom, and likes the following videos: "Father Christmas Fucked My Pussy (Christmas Pussy Song)," "He Bite Me in My Vagina," and "Fart Trek: The Next Flatulation." I rest my case.

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