Tag Archives: ageism

“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.