An Unexpected Catch
Reality television, regardless of your opinion on the matter, is a societal obsession that is here to stay for the foreseeable future. While there are some that are about talented people competing for some sort of grand prize, there’s also the more drama-ridden shows that highlight some of the worst of human nature after many already-unstable contestants are plied with alcohol and thrown in front of a camera. The exploitive nature of these shows is rather misanthropic and shallow–and yet it’s compelling. There’s something about someone else’s suffering that allows us to get on the roller coaster with them, but we can get off when the program ends.
One popular show right now is MTV’s Catfish, which is about people who have online relationships yet haven’t met in person. The host of the show, Nev Schulman, brings a camera crew and documents the meeting between the two prospective lovers, which often culminates in a lot of drama because so many people lie about themselves, for various reasons.
Initially, the show seems as exploitive as any other–if not more, because it documents a time in which people are in very emotional fragile situations. If you watch the show, you’ll realize there is more compassion expressed than almost any other reality show I’ve ever seen.
The show is a spin-off of a film about Schulman who happened to document the love story that transpired online between him and a woman known as Angela. I won’t go into great detail. Suffice to say, he learned about “catfishing,” the concept of pretending to be someone else and reeling them in, the hard way. The fact that he personally experienced this phenomenon is what makes him not an exploitive host, but one who truly cares about the people he is trying to help. What’s interesting to me is that his role doesn’t simply end when the reveal occurs, when the two people come face-to-face with one another. He offers support and compassion and is very interested in the motives behind those who are lying, and helps others who initially contacted him for help gain confidence by being a rock for them.
Why does this matter? It’s just a silly reality show that entertains us for 22 minutes before we forget about it. Possibly, this is the case, but I believe that the show also spreads a message of compassion and self-confidence that is uncharacteristically positive for reality TV. What is interesting about this show is that even though the show is innately going to be dramatic, it’s not supposed to humiliate the people on the show.
I hope the compassion and kindness that Schulman conveys through this show is something that will catch on. However, the unfortunate fact is a compassionate and kind show probably won’t sell, as well.