Catfish, pt 2 (or 3 or 4)

COVID-19 is now a fully political issue. Of course, it has always been a political issue (alcohol- and smoking-related illnesses kill far more than this virus could in any worst-case scenario, but they have much better public relations, more effective lobbyists, so we’ve decided we don’t care too much) but now we have straight party-line protests and “Republicans are now pro-choice” memes. Ah yes, the meme, an ultra-modern genre that feeds on generalized oversimplifications. This particular meme obviously goes both ways but the point of politically generalized oversimplifications is to ignore all that doesn’t support the opinion of the writer. Our hopes that this was a human issue that would bring us together and not a left/right issue have been dashed on the rocks of partisanship, replaced with the usual political maneuvering and more of the same acid-tongued sniping. It’s super depressing and has driven me to posting Red Hot Chili Peppers and Billy Idol album covers on Facebook just to break up the vitriol – I am now that guy. I swore I’d never be that guy, yet here we are.

Everybody knows I loooove the tv show Catfish, about people employing fake profiles online. They do this for any number of reasons (from romance to revenge) and the hosts/detectives track them down and expose them. The show began as a movie, also called Catfish, where the soon-to-be host of the tv show was himself “catfished.” He had fallen in love with a woman that turned out to be a married, middle-aged mother of 3. She had created several fake profiles to interact with each other on Facebook to add depth and reality to the deception.

When you watch the movie (or the show), as the ruse begins to unravel, you’ll feel some level of indignance – “How could they do that????!!?” – decide they are “monsters” and wish for their just desserts. You will get angry at their inhumanity, their vicious callousness at breaking another’s heart. They are the villains in the story, and we along with the victims are the righteous innocent.

In the movie, the filmmakers show up at her door and she continues to lie, as my mom says, like a rug. Finally, she is forced to come clean and the narrative transforms, as do our easy characterizations.

Earlier, I wrote that they do this “for any number of reasons,” and that’s not really true. They mostly do it to find a personal connection that has been lacking.

That sounds familiar, doesn’t it? We’re created for personal connection – this is undeniable, especially now.

But why have they decided that who they are isn’t good enough for this connection?

Well, why have we? Think of all the ways we compromise or cultivate an image that might be more appealing to him or her…because we aren’t satisfied with who we are, because we have believed that we aren’t good enough.

This woman, the “monster,” is a talented artist, 2 of the 3 children are severely disabled. In fact, they are step-children, she chose to marry a man and care for those 2 boys for the rest of their lives. She is intelligent and soft, empathetic and funny. She is terrific. She made a very poor catfishing decision out of loneliness and disconnect that she will regret forever, but it is something she did and not who she is.

I think Catfish should be required viewing for every human being living on earth. We easily fall into the trap where we think those who believe differently are dumb, inhumane, ignorant, misinformed, heartless, but they’re not. (Well, maybe they are, but not always;) Usually, they are exactly like you and me, formed by experiences, wounds, mistakes, ideas, environment, education, suffering, and on and on.

Every Catfish follows pretty much the same arc. Fingers crossed that the person is actually the person we think it is. This wish melts into broken-hearted sadness that what was hoped for, isn’t the reality. Finally, we rebound into a deeper understanding, where we see the other as they are, not an idealized picture on a screen and not the 2dimensional generalization based on their behavior and our fear. This last space can also be called love, where it’s not about control or our wants and desires, not about us at all. Love because it is free of our fearful boxes and labels, free of The Other, free of the desperate need to win (and for someone else to lose.)

Maybe this COVID-19 crisis is like that, too. Maybe this IS a human issue, a global act of grace, but we first have to get past the fearful grasping for what we want, what we think, what we need, before we can discover the love that has been there all along, just waiting for us to arrive.

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