“On the Internet Nobody Knows…”: Who You Are and What You Create

Lynne Murray says:

The documentary Catfish

set me to thinking about how people represent themselves on the Internet and also about how differently art work is received depending on the persona behind the art.

Peter Steiner’s 1993 New Yorker cartoon

a dog at a computer monitor talking to another dog on the floor. Caption: "On the Internet, nobody knows you're a dog."

has inspired dialog and homage (or possibly updating)

I hope I’m not spoiling the fascinating twists and turns of the Catfish story by letting slip one detail about the “reveal” of the film that hit me particularly strongly.

The “hero” of the documentary, Nev Schulman, and his attendant film crew consisting of his brother, Ariel, and friend Henry Joost, visit the home of the family he has been corresponding with online and on the phone. The woman who answers the door and identifies herself as the mother does not resemble the “hot” photograph he’s seen online. His instant reaction is that she is “not thin.”

Obviously that’s a major red flag for me. The worst thing someone can be (and hide from another person with a false picture) is fat. Older is a close second. It turned out more profound revelations were coming, and yet that first one said something to me about how the woman would never have engaged Nev’s interest if she had posted accurate information.

As the secrets behind the Facebook mask unfolded in Catfish I was reminded of another misrepresentation that first sparked a tremendous success and later caused a scandal. Middle-aged author Laura Albert presented her books as written by JT Leroy, described by Wikipedia as “a transgendered, sexually questioning, abused, former homeless drug addict and male prostitute” who was supposedly telling stories based on his experiences.

The deception was eventually exposed and many lost interest in Albert’s work, in part because of the hoax, but also inevitably because the exact same stories written by a middle-aged woman just don’t spark same the interest as they would if written by a teenaged literary prodigy with a colorful past.

The internet offers options to “meet” people and yet filter out or select details that would instantly be revealed in face-to-face physical interaction. Details that can allow the opportunity to get to know someone at a deeper level whom one otherwise might rule out at first sight based on superficial standards. Yet, as most people who have dated online know, superficial standards often will prevail if/when an eventual meeting occurs.

Interestingly, many who try online dating are particularly anxious about accidentally forming an online connection with a person who has not disclosed her or his fatness. These people may specifically note in their ads that no “BBWs” or fat people may apply. My view is that such filters work both ways and save fat people from wasting time on a potential date who is bound to exclude them in the end.

When it comes to artwork however, I hadn’t really thought how much art of various kinds is filtered by the CPAQ (Conventional Physical Attractiveness Quotient) of the artist.

Catfish reminded me of all the men who will never knowingly read a book written by a woman, and of all the women authors over the centuries who took on male pen names or used initials to widen their readership.

Finally, it pointed up what I should have known all along—that the very same work, if not known to be created someone with a low CPAQ, can suddenly evoke a very different and more compelling interest if the audience believes it was created by someone with a higher CPAQ.

4 thoughts on ““On the Internet Nobody Knows…”: Who You Are and What You Create

  1. Thank you, LJ! I promise to be good and not reveal spoilers about the movie “Catfish” which does deliver twists and turns worth experiencing, but I was also both amused and saddened by the promotion of it as if monsters were lurking in the shadows…the horror, the horror!

  2. Hmmmnn…despite pictures on my blog that would make me instantly recognizable should the right or wrong person stumble over them, I use a “pen name” on my blog, conceal locations and use nicknames for friends for privacy’s sake. Because being known as transmasculine and lesbian identified can cost me relationships, jobs and maybe endanger my life. I’m an artist – I can’t just not post my work and things that are so important to me…but I writhe over actually setting up a website for business purposes, because my artwork covers religious and gender issues and nudity and what will land me a job in one place will lose me a lot more than a “job” somewhere else. Is this hiding and caution a bad thing? I’m not sure if it falls quite into the point you are making…but sometimes people conceal with valid reason. We have had homophobic murder done less than 2 miles from where my partner works. I don’t live in a safe area for who and what I am. I am far more Out than I ought to be, if I was truly going to avoid the dangers…and I suspect that I will not be able to dodge the bullet forever. These are just the thoughts that ran through my mind, reading this post…I suspect they maybe belong to a different post…like maybe the Transgender Day of Remembrance or something. Ah well. It’s here and I am pushing the comment button. Maybe if you think it fits somewhere else, you could snip and paste…(and yes, you are getting a bunch of comments from me all of a sudden because I am FINALLY on break between semesters in graduate school. I have a 4.0…I don’t have a brain for much of anything else during semesters. So I am playing catch up. Thanks for your patience.)

  3. Thanks, Cameron, for the thoughtful comments during your window of comment availability (whoa, 4.0 average in grad school, I’m impressed!).

    For some odd reason your comment reminded me of two things, First, Walt Whitman’s famous quote: “Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes.” (Section 51) Song of Myself, Walt Whitman.

    Second, it reminded me of something said by the surprisingly thoughtful Russell Brand in an 11/17/10 interview with Conan O’Brien link is: http://www.russellbrand.tv/
    when discussing his acting school background and his part in new film of “The Tempest” (with Helen Mirren playing the magician, Prospero–for a little gender bending film magic).

    “I’m a genuine actor–such as you might see in a play.” Brand said, “You pretend you’re someone you’re not. Then you are given some money. It’s a very simple procedure.”
    Conan’s sidekick Andy Richter commented, “Isn’t that every job?”

    It kinda is, ya know. Part of being able to do any job is behind able to shoehorn the vast multitude of selves we have into the narrow mold of the job requirements. Personally, and even artistically I’m in favor of (A) surviving–particularly when expressing certain aspects of yourself would put you in physical danger, and (B) surviving–on a less imnmediate danger level, doing the job that’s available in order to put food on the table.
    Even when your job is self-expression, there’s usually an audience to communicate with and you need to express yourself in such a way they understand.

    Just my own take on the matter.

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