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Monday, March 26, 2012

Wolf's Reality Test: Crockumentaries and the Fall of Civilization

Nev photoshoping his supposed internet girl... (from Catfish)
Over the last few months I have crossed paths with a few other "crockumentaries" like the "bird man" video.  One was called "I'm Still Here" - a fake documentary on the supposed decline of the actor Joaquin Phoenix.  The other "Catfish" - a weird story about a couple of New York film makers chronicling a younger brother's interaction with a woman on Facebook.

Today I think we live in a society where this kind of faux reality is becoming more and more the standard fare.

When you think about it these videos are not different than commercial video promoting botox to women, or the group of men sitting around singing about Viagra and their erectile dysfunction.  Both, for the most part, are fictions created for the viewer.  Fictions that you need the products.  Fictions that the product will make you like the people in the videos.

In the past things like movies were expensive to make requiring directors, paid actors, and the like.

Creating faux reality was a corporate endeavor - if I wanted you to buy my hair color I had to make sure of several things when creating a TV commercial: you had to see an image you wanted to be part of, it had to seem "real" to the viewer, and so on.  This required scripts, makeup, sets, and other expensive things in order to make the illusion seem realistic.

But today's "crockumentaries" don't require these things.  I can buy an HD video recorder at Walmart for $200 USD.  I can buy a cheap PC video editing tool for a few hundred more dollars.  I can make a movie.

But there's more.  Even this is out of the reach of people like Angela Wesselman, the woman covered by Catfish.  Anglea starts out (supposedly) by sending a painting her daughter "Abby" supposedly made of a photo in a New York newspaper to the paper.  The paper prints the photo (without fact checking).  Nev - the protagonist in Catfish picks up on this and starts a Facebook dialog with "Angela" the supposed mother of "Abby" - the girl who made the painting.

"Anglea" creates a vast faux Facebook profile - stealing images of others to create a family network including a 19-something year old daughter who is supposedly falling in love with Nev.

Anglea creates this world with a couple of cell phones and what look like a bunch of phony gmail accounts.

Now whether or not the sequence of events in "Catfish" is real or the movie itself is a "crockumentary" is hard to tell (you can see her appearance on "ABC News" from 2010 here).  Of course she seems genuinely sorry for what she did who knows - maybe its all an act as well.

What's fascinating here I think are two things:  First is why someone like Angela (or anyone else including the birdman creator) would do this.

In the case of Angela - presuming again the facts presented - it was a miserable life taking care of a husband or boyfriends severely disabled sons (one of whom has since passed away).  This is depicted in the movie.  So apparently Angela turns to Facebook fantasy to fulfill her emotional needs.

Once, as she says, she "crosses the line" of making up one lie the rest seem to simply multiply on their own.  And though she repeated and genuinely (at least apparently) apologizes (on both ABC News and in the movie) one has to wonder how genuine it really is.

Today, as I said, creating fantasy is cheap and easy.  Its an easy tool to distract yourself.

No wonder employers are asking people to give up their Facebook passwords as a condition of being hired.

Secondly, what does this say about us and our ability to control and govern ourselves as a society and people.

I think it says that as time and technology progress peoples ability to connect with reality diminishes.

Take, for example, a set of articles at the WSJ about whether the sexual revolution has been good for women.  Opposing points are presented: one pro and one con.  (This same can also be said for the climate change debate - and it even involves movies.)

It would seem that both cannot be true.

Yet there are vast associated "systems of belief" that go with each opinion - diametrically opposed - and all "fact based."

Clearly faux reality must be at work here as well.

Today I think people define themselves first with a made-up reality based on simple emotion: I'm a "I hate guns" person.  Something like that.

Then they sift through objective reality and create a subjective-reality-based world for themselves based on these feelings.  Paste together bits and pieces of other peoples material to make themselves into what they are.  Which is fine so long as none of the bits comes unraveled - like Angela Wesselman posting a song she supposedly wrote for Nev on her Facebook - which begins Nev's journey of discovery about Angela.  (Nev's Googling turns up the true singer and writer.)

And while you might argue that's the case with the blog I write (though I provide extensive links to back up my points my impression is that view or few check them)  I still think there a few anchors in reality one can cling to...

I guess I could call these the "Wolf's Reality Test" (one point for each):

A) Does your career and life (including your personal beliefs) happen in real time out in the open, i.e., not edited on film or video, for all to see?

B) Does the "you" you present publicly or privately at any time via any form of media or in person match the "you" defined in #A?

C) Do you actively disengage from situations creating a false perception of yourself?

D) Do you never claim ownership of things you did not not create?

If you score four out of four then you are probably grounded in reality - otherwise I'll be looking for your video on Youtube.

As for employers and Facebook - who can blame them.

I myself have been duped by a variety of employees over the years - and my guess is that if I really applied my own "reality test" to these employees I'd be much better off today.

In closing its interesting to point out that there are legal aspects to this as well.  In the Catfish video the song Angela posts as her own for Nev (the turning point of the movie) is the intellectual property of the writer and publisher.  If Catfish were a true documentary then the songs appearance in the movie is "fair use" and no royalty is owed for its appearance.

On the other hand, if the movie is a true "crockumentary" then the song's use requires a royalty (the matter is still being fought in the courts).

While living a life according to "Wolf's Reality Test" might seem dull and boring I can assure you its not...

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