Friday, May 13, 2011

Strange phenomena, reprise

I'm re-posting this due to the Blogger blip, in case it doesn't re-appear on its own. Comments on the original post are lost for now.
  • The movie Catfish: Real? Not real? John and I watched it last weekend, believing it was a mockumentary. By the end we realized it was supposed to be real. But is it? I don't know. Has anyone seen it?
  • A mountain lion was shot at the H&H Car Wash in El Paso, Texas. This is one of my parents' favorite lunch places. They have good carne guisada.
  • Marfa, Texas, has become a hipster destination (or, if you prefer, the object of postmodern tourism). There's even a restaurant in NYC designed to emulate it: "Marfa NYC captures the spirit of its West Texas namesake within the urbanity of the East Village." It's so banal, it's sublime.
  • I lived in Texas for 22 years and the only thing I ever heard about Marfa was that it had lights. (I always thought they were like aurora borealis but apparently not.) See also Prada Marfa.
  • See also: Taos Hum (just one of several geographies with unexplained hums, AKA The Hum).
  • See also: "Julia" and other unexplained sounds. (Sexism or no sexism, pages like these are my favorite thing about Wikipedia. See also: Inventors killed by their own inventions.)
  • By the way, this Slate article is bullshit: "The idea that these gender imbalances represent gatekeeper bias was demonstrably false even before the Wiki reality check ... Famously, Wikipedia has no gatekeepers. Anyone can write or edit an entry, either anonymously or under his or her own name. All that is required is a zeal for knowledge and accuracy ... Wikipedia provides a naturally occurring control group to test the theory that females' low participation rate in various public forums is the result of exclusion." Spoken like someone who has never actually tried to write or edit a Wikipedia page. It's de facto, not de jure, gatekeeperism, and anyway the problem is not who is doing the editing per se but the implications of that on the resulting content, given our pervasive reliance on it as a source. (Also, I thought DoubleX was Slate's attempt at a feminist "department"? So why are they publishing writers who say things like "the shameless legerdemain with which contemporary feminists and their allies preserve the conceit of a sexist society"? Ugh.)

14 comments:

  1. i just watched Catfish. seemed real to me, and netflix lists it as a documentary. why did you think it was fake? (either way i liked it. it was like a This American Life story.)

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  2. If you Google it you'll see that there's been a ton of controversy over whether or not it was real/fake.

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  3. Ah. The internet does love its conspiracy theories. Of course, it's understandable that people might question it, since the movie is about a deception. There's a bonus interview on the disc, and they talk about the questions they get about whether it's real, and they seem pretty genuine. But even if it wasn't real, it would be a well made work of fiction, and not just a stunt, since (without giving anything away) the story turns out to be a serious kind of story, rather than a cheap entertainment type of plot, which is what I would expect of a prank.

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  4. Thanks for calling my attention to CATFISH. Martin and I watched it last night, and we both think it's fake, or at least *mostly* fake, given how perfect and stage-y it seemed, and how confident and natural and relatively attractive everyone was on camera. We were entertained by it, definitely, but I guess I'm not sure if it's a "cheap entertainment type of plot" like Matt says above or not. The depiction of the mother, Angela, was the part that made us wonder how staged or exploitive it was (or wasn't) and kept us from being totally comfortable with the whole thing (not that we want movies to make us "comfy," but still).

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  5. What about her depiction, Kathy?

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  6. The way it's unclear how lonely and mentally unstable she actually might be, and the way her developmentally disabled step-kids are portrayed. If it's real, it's dicey how ethical it is to bait her and to put her on-screen like that, and if it's not real, it's icky to think that they might have been like "This isn't dramatic enough--let's get some severely retarded children to make it more powerful."

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  7. That's the reaction that a lot of people had and John and I don't understand -- how is it dicey, ethically? I mean let's say it's real: She lied to a guy in a pretty extensive and emotionally manipulative way, approaching the level of criminal mastermind type shit that scam artists do to get people to give them all their money and whatnot. When they found out who she really was, they weren't cruel to her at all. They were totally understanding. Yes, they made a movie out of it ... but most documentaries are ethically dicey if this is. What about Grizzly Man? That guy seemed pretty mentally unstable to me.

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  8. Yeah, I found Grizzly Man fascinating and ethically questionable, too. But I guess when I say ethically questionable, I don't mean "bad" or that they should not have done it. I like creative nonfiction, and don't get hung up in a police sort of way about patrolling or getting upset over the borders of "truth" and "reality." I just think it's interesting.

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  9. you thought it seemed stagey? maybe i'm just gullible, but it didn't seem any more stagey to me than grizzly man. by "cheap entertainment" i meant something like a horror movie. because it seems like it might be heading in a scary direction when they get to michigan (the fact that it's the mysterious and largely uncharted upper peninsula makes it even scarier). you'd think that if it were fake, it wouldn't take a turn into such a mundane, realistic story. there's no attempt at "shock value" as i see it.

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  10. Super-stagey. It felt improvised, but improvised by trained actors. And there were moments like when Angela's husband, who was over-the-top in his inarticulateness before, addresses the camera to deliver his sort of too-on-the-nose "Catfish" anecdote about how the Catfish of the world keep everyone on their toes. It was so self-reflexive and auto-interpretive. I'm not saying I disliked it, just that it did not seem real.

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  11. I thought about the catfish anecdote too—but isn't it possible that it was only our knowing the title of the movie that made it seem on-the-nose? If the title had been something else, we wouldn't have been thinking about catfish until we heard the anecdote, and it would have seemed more natural.

    I remember when I saw Road to Perdition, and when they mentioned the title in the movie, everyone in the theater groaned. That wasn't a great movie, but people would never have groaned at that line if it hadn't been the title.

    Also the husband wasn't on screen all that much before that, and I think his inarticulateness might have just been due to the awkwardness of meeting strangers from far away. I could be wrong about it, but it's something to think about.

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  12. Their decision to make that speech by the husband the title seems like a clue that they may have actually planted to signal to people that the whole project might not be 100 percent "true."

    And I should add: I *like* that you can't tell if the movie's "real" or not, or rather how much of it might be real. It seems as though that uncertainty was clearly their intention: to make people feel off-balance about the authenticity of the story, and thus to make them talk about it more, a la what we're doing.

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  13. I agree that speech seems fake in the context of the movie, given its placement and the title, but anything you place at the end of a movie takes on forced poignancy. If you watch the extras, the directors say they had a bunch of different titles for the doc, but someone who watched it told them they should name it Catfish, and at first they were like, Huh? But eventually went with that.

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  14. Yeah, my gut feeling is that the only reason I had doubts (or do know if I didn't before) is because of the power of suggestion—the idea that others have questions being a seed planted in my mind. It's possible that both the movie and the Q&A were faked, but I think it's just as likely, maybe more, that outside perceptions are influencing any doubts I might have.

    Of course the art of film editing is all about suggestion/influencing too, so either way... I guess you can never really know if a documentary you're watching is totally "true".

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