Friday, March 1, 2013

News And Commentary: MTV's "Catfish" Looking For Second Life Couples

By Bixyl Shuftan

It was several weeks ago when the term "Catfish," meaning to create a fake Internet identity and trick someone into believing the identity is real, made the national news when a rising football star was exposed as being in an Internet relationship with a pretender. While many felt sympathy for the athlete, others expressed confusion, or ridicule. Of the latter, some posted pictures online of themselves sitting next to an empty seat at an event, or sitting at a diner table and raising a glass to an empty chair, saying they were on a date with their Internet friend.

With this only recently having faded from national headlines, I was surprised to come across the following announcement in the Linden blog.

MTV's "Catfish: The TV Show" brings together couples that have online relationships to meet online for the first time, often with surprising results as the differences between online personas and offline lives are revealed.

MTV is now casting the show's second season, and they're interested in hearing from Second Life users who have fallen in love inworld, and would now like to meet their love in person. If you're interested in being on the show, you can apply online here.

I couldn't help but wonder just what Linden Lab was thinking with this "Catfish." I hadn't seen the show, but I could certainly imagine it. And what I thought was something worthy of the worst of canned reality TV. I felt given how Second Life is often portrayed in real life media, I imagined producers with zero interest in the well-being of hopeful couples, and more interested in getting carwrecks for ratings, and smearing the Grid in the process.

In the Linden And SL Universe forums, there were threads on the matter. Most expressed skepticism, "I wouldn't touch these guys with a ten foot barge pole. … stations like MTV: they are not interested in proper reporting. They look for the seedy icky stuff … if necessary, they will invent and script stories to pad out the show." Blogger Botgirl Questi took it upon herself to actually see episodes of the first season before making a conclusion, and what she saw was different than expected.

I expected it to be an exploitive Jerry Springerish freak show. What I found was a thoughtful series with a well-intentioned host who helps messmate positive resolution for both parties. The show takes situations that conform outwardly to the sensationalized stories we hate, and respectfully reveals the underlying humanity.

With this kind of review, perhaps the Lab wasn't being as dumb as I initially thought.

Something not unlike this happened a couple years ago when Oprah Winfrey's OWN Network did a documentary on Second Life, Life 2.0, which included an inworld couple who decided to meet in real life. Most expected a positive review, though Oprah's good reputation may have helped in creating higher expectations. Many were satisfied with the results, though some were less than happy with what they saw. But the show didn't result in much change in people signing in, nor did other mainstream media pay any more attention than before either.

So perhaps "Catfish's" interest in Second Life isn't worth so much of our worry. Then again, I can't help but wonder if one episode that shows a freak show will once again result in the kinds of mockery displayed by those poking fun at Manti Te'o, only this time aimed at the residents of Second Life.

Hopefully nothing goes wrong, but I'm not holding my breath.

Bixyl Shuftan

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