By Rich Figel
After a week of R&R in sunny Kona, I was ready to get back to blogging about new stories I came across while on vacation. Then the Manti Te'o revelation/hoax press conference interrupted the Ellen show I was watching while taking a break, and my first thoughts were: This is just like that documentary film -- "Catfish" -- I was recommending two years ago on Twitter and Facebook!
I also knew the same filmmaker had created a MTV series about that subject, which is essentially people pretending to be someone they're not to hook unsuspecting online users of social media such as Facebook. Yet many people who called in to the morning sports talk radio shows or posted comments on message boards apparently weren't aware these kind of malicious "pranks" have been going on for awhile. In the original Catfish movie, it turned out the perp was a lonely middle-aged woman who created a fantasy life for herself by ensnaring a young guy, who became increasingly suspicious when his online "girlfriend" kept postponing or canceling plans to meet in the flesh. To be honest, I was suspicious of the guys who made the film -- what made them decide early on to make a movie about the guy's involvement with the young girl artist (fake) who introduces him to her beautiful older sister?
On the other hand, the lure of fantasy romances can be stronger than the real thing. This has been the case for thousands of years with people. It's the driving force behind myths and fairy tales. When I was growing up, young people often had pen pals in faraway places they would write to, without even knowing what that person really looked like. Or maybe you met briefly and kept in touch for years -- each of you changing in physical appearance (but never sending updated photos). What mattered were the words you shared on paper or the occasional long distance phone call. Your imagination and needs filled in the rest of the details to create an idealized version of someone you could love from afar...
When you think about it, social media and instant smart phone connections actually make that scenario even easier to fall into, because manipulators can post lots of photos stolen from someone's FB page or "flickr" pictures. And in a time when young people prefer texting or online chatting to physical meet-ups, I can see how someone like Manti Te'o could prefer a virtual girlfriend over a real girl with real needs and flaws. In college, I had a philosophy of art class in which the professor defined love as "desire"... and the essence of desire is wanting something you don't have or can't have. So, in a sense, virtual romances are the very nature of Platonic love, which you could argue is a higher form of love because it isn't mere physical lust.
It also reminded me why I enjoy watching documentaries more than high concept Hollywood crap based on comic books or cartoonish superheroes. Good filmmakers find reality-based stories before they become big news. Or sometimes the stories they uncover inspire copycats, who then become news. In the better documentary movies, it's often art recording life that in turn leads to life imitating the art that was inspired by real life.
Was going to blog about the latest episode of Career Changers TV, now airing daily on OC16 (click here for viewing schedule and details) and how the features on architects and the fashion incubator relate to Design for Living, and also about my latest Big Island trip observations... but that will have to wait until next post!