The popular MTV series Catfish, which has become even more prominent since the Manti Te’o girlfriend hoax story broke over the last few weeks, actually cast looking for people who were admittedly lying to someone about who they were. The show itself, however, is presented as an investigation into whether or not a person is lying.
MTV’s casting page from last summer asks, “Do you have reason to believe that your online crush isn’t who they say they are?” But that’s the only question targeted toward those who are being deceived; the other two are focused on the liars: “Have you started an online relationship based on a lie and are in too deep? Do you have multiple facebook accounts with different identities?”
A casting video featuring the show’s star, Nev Schulman, also has the same focus. He’s not looking for people who suspect they might be in a relationship with some who’s deceiving them, he’s searching for the liars. “If you’re using a fake profile to talk to someone online, it doesn’t make you a bad person, it makes you interesting,” he says, suggesting that the show will “give you the chance to come clean” and give people a “chance to tell it like it is: the whole truth, unfiltered” because “it’s exhausting and challenging to live two lives. If you’re ready for a change, this could be it.”
That’s perhaps Catfish‘s greatest deception: it purports to be an investigation into whether or not someone is involved with a real person, but Nev and its producers clearly knew–at least in some cases–the deal going in, because their first contact was with the liar. This also explains why the liars are rarely surprised by the confrontation; I’d assumed it was because they were contacted first just to know to expect a TV crew, but it may have actually been that they contacted the TV show, which changes the equation altogether.
Why is the show not presented as liars who want to come clean? Maybe because they’re not sympathetic, and reality television is often produced to get us to identify with and root for the protagonist.