This construction of hope begins in the opening scene of every episode where Nev and his sidekick Max read the email from their soon to be “guest” on the show and call or Skype with them to get the first part of their story. There are usually small hints as to why the person might not be real, but these are skimmed over for the most part and the topic of conversation is based on their connection, how they started talking, and how much they desperately want to finally meet the love of their life. This gives us viewers a sort of mini love story which we as a society tend to support, encourage, and hope for. We connect to this guest as if they were a friend in need. Nev and Max then pack up and travel to their guest’s house to meet up and discuss the situation further. This is when the logical side starts pulling us in.
On their way to their guest’s house, Max and Nev share their thoughts, most being skeptical and some being hopeful. When Max and Nev meet their guest they start digging in right away and asking questions to get leads and try to find gaps in their story or clues to who they might really be. Most of this first in person conversation with their guest is still usually hopeful that the person is real and suggests that maybe some of their stories have been lies but that the person is still who they say they are. Max is generally more skeptical than Nev, maybe because Nev knows exactly how the guest feels and quite possibly hopes their catfish is the real person just as much as they do. Nev said in an interview “I want to connect people with each other in the same way I tried to find connection in my film” (Zeitchik, 2010). Nev keeps our emotional connection in the back of our minds by being sympathetic and hopeful. He genuinely wants this to work out for the guest which in turn makes us want it to work out. Max, however, thinks logically and critically and so his skepticism makes us think critically as well. We are being pulled in both directions simultaneously.
After getting more background information, Nev and Max leave to start their research and investigation, AKA Facebook creeping. They continue to be mostly optimistic even as they uncover more and more about the catfish. They maintain the innocent (real) until proven guilty (fake) mentality rather than assuming the catfish is a fake and attempting to find the proof that they are real. This keeps us hopeful even though most of what they are finding out screams to us that the catfish is not being truthful at all. This goes back to fact that Nev has been in this position and really wants it to work out. One of the “Catfish” documentary producers, Henry Joost, said in an interview "What Nev's story does is speak to the idea that if you want something to be true badly enough, you'll overlook a lot of red flags," (Zeitchik, 2010). Nev and the guest are looking past a lot of the red flags, and a part of us wants to look past them too because we want it to work out also.
When Nev and Max return to the guest to reveal the information they have found, they break the hard stuff to them gently and present the good stuff optimistically. In most cases we connect with the guest over their vulnerability and anxiety and hope for their sake that the parts that make us skeptical are just weird circumstances and that their story will have a happy ending. In some cases however, the guest’s reaction to the bad news is too shallow and we find ourselves against them in a way. In both situations, we have been guided to a point where we think we know that the catfish is fake, but we want to know who they are and why they have lied about the things they have lied about. Nev and Max then continue to search for answers and eventually make contact with the catfish to try and set up a way for them to meet.
The meeting is almost always what we expect, that the person is not who they say they are. We feel like we knew the entire time because all of the things Nev and Max uncovered pointed to the catfish being someone other than who they said they were. At the same time however the optimism up to this point, the connection we felt with the guest, and our societal support of love stories has made us hopeful that they might, by some small miracle, be who they said they were.The show always ends with some sort of closure. Nev and Max and usually the guest go back after the initial shock wears off and talk to the catfish to really understand the motives behind the fake profile. Even though the happy ending is not what we initially had hoped for, the show generally ends on a good note. This is one thing the show is aiming for, they want us to see the catfish’s side too. In an interview with the LA Times the chief executive of the TV unit of the entertainment company said that they are interested “in the fallout, in who’s on the other end of the computer screen. They’re usually not bad people, just looking for a connection too” (Zeitchik, 2012). Max said in an interview, “The catfish wants to come clean; it’s therapeutic…..we’re not pointing fingers, we’re not judging them” (Vilensky, 2013) The show is not being made to make us hate the catfish and hope for failure, they want us to be hopeful even when the odds are against the catfish being a real person the way the story is presented helps facilitate this.
Vilensky, M. (2013, May 13). Heard & scene: 'catfish' host on internet love and new online film. Wall Street Journal. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/1350142292?accountid=14663
Zeitchik, S. (2010, September 19). ‘Catfish’ blurs line between documentary and feature film. Los Angeles Times. Retrieved from http://articles.latimes.com/2010/sep/19/entertainment/la-ca-catfish-20100919Zeitchik, S. (2012, November 09). ‘Catfish: The TV Show’ on MTV looks into online relationships. Los Angeles Times. Retrieved from http://articles.latimes.com/2012/nov/09/entertainment/la-et-st-catfish-tv-20121110