During these final minutes of Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman's 2010 Catfish, Vince Pierce explains the film's title and names a phenomenon that would achieve infamy during the more recent Manti Te'o hoax. However, the popular meaning of catfish—a person who fakes an online persona for the purpose of deceiving others—is far more damning than in Vince's parable. Specifically, his monologue suggests that the "catfish in life" are essential to our well-being; without them we'd be "boring and dull."
While the editing makes it impossible to know who Vince alludes to when he "thank[s] God for the catfish," it is unmistakable that the filmmakers want us to believe he is talking about Angela, his 40-something wife who impersonated a young, single musician to woo Nev online. At first, the film alternates between Vince relaying the catfish parable from his porch and shots of seemingly random things in their home. However, as Vince's monologue reaches its zenith, Angela's image begins to punctuate his words at essential junctures: after he explains how catfish "keep the cod agile;" when he equates catfish with people who keep us "guessing," "thinking," and "fresh;" and following his thanks for the catfish of the world.
Together, these interwoven shots create a clear parallel between Vince's metaphorical catfish and Angela; her vacuuming even mimics how catfish suck algae from the bottom of tanks. But it is the mirror-image shots of Nev and Angela alongside their respective portraits that I find most compelling. While both Nev and his portrait occupy the foreground of the first shot, only Angela's portrait occupies the dominant foreground position in the second shot, suggesting that we should see her as more fake than real. Yet despite how these shots underscore Angela's artificial nature, Vince's monologue insists that we feel grateful for her and her type. Moreover, the high-pitched piano soundtrack that accompanies the montage cements such gratitude, evoking a whimsical acceptance of deception as an ingredient of contemporary life.
Therefore, to close this week's media hoax theme, I'd like to us consider whether the film's apparent advocacy for catfishing is laudable. After all, at a time when we are all curating our identities through various media and mediated environments, isn't there a little catfish in all of us? And isn't that what makes our "real" lives as cod more palatable?