Wednesday, 19 January 2011

Catfish & the Nature of Deceit Part I

So I watched a movie called "Catfish" last night and then followed it up with a podcast about the movie recorded by Kevin Smith and his wife Jennifer (Plus One, available now). If you haven't seen this movie yet, go ahead and watch it now, before you read any more. You really should see this movie with no prior knowledge of what it's about whatsoever.

Go ahead...I'll wait.



Okay, you ready??

So "Catfish" is a documentary about a young photographer named Nev Schulman who develops a relationship with a family after receiving a painting of one of his photos by a little girl named Abby, who paints extremely well for a pre-pubescent girl. The premise of the documentary is initially to get to know Abby through the young photographer. Nev grows to know the girl, her mother, and the whole family, including something like 20 of their friends via Facebook and even begins a long-distance romance with Abby's older sister, a 19 year old named Megan. However, things take a turn for the surreal when, over the course of the documentary, Nev and the filmmakers learn that the entire family and almost everything he has been told has all been one tremendous lie, perpetuated by Abby's mother, Angela, who has gone to outrageous lengths to fabricate this huge fantasy for no discernible reason or gain. It turns out that Angela has her own incredibly tragic story and has been using Nev as...what? An escape from reality?

It's incredibly mind-boggling how far Angela has gone to fool young Nev and sort of heartbreaking when you learn of her terrible secrets and how it affects her when the whole story finally falls apart. This is a riveting, and allegedly 100% true story.

Anyway, Kevin Smith and his wife, Jennifer, saw this film and made a podcast about it wherein they got into a somewhat heated debate about who the protagonist really is. Kevin sympathizes deeply with Angela, whose life is really like a living hell, saying that she clearly needs this escape from reality and that she's not really hurting anyone or getting anything material out of it so it's okay for her to indulge this fantasy. Jen, on the other hand, is simply flabbergasted by the boldness and sheer audacity of the woman, and just can't believe that Angela could be so dishonest. Even when caught in the documentary, Angela still lies and even starts new lies to try to gain further sympathy. Jen cannot get behind this behavior for any reason. This debate made me stop and consider the nature of deceit and what might be considered a justifiable or harmless lie. Is there such a thing?

I can relate to Nev in this movie as I had a similar experience in 2001/2002 when an online friendship and then romance that I got involved with turned out to be much more complicated than initially expected due to some half-truths and lies I was told. Further, I've had many, many loved ones blatantly lie to me my whole life. These experiences have taught me two things.

Lesson 1: In all of my dealings I should always try to be as honest as possible. At my worst (these days) I am guilty only of withholding the truth, or parts thereof, mainly in an effort to be diplomatic. This has led some people to believe that I am a quiet person. Those who know me know better. One of the consequences of my friendship is that I become much more willing to voice my full opinion du jour, whether it proves popular or not. While this sometimes causes trouble, I feel it is preferable to keeping my thoughts and feelings bottled up inside 24/7. Whether I'm right or not, time will tell.

Lesson 2: I've learned the hard way that regardless of how much you love and care for someone, no matter how close you become or how well you know a person, you can never really trust anyone. At least, not without making a conscience effort and knowing that someday, sooner or later, you are very likely to be hurt. Before I start to sound all "holier-than-thou" let me say that I put myself firmly in this category along with all of humanity. You should not believe in me. Trust no one.

So where do my sympathies lie in regards to the people of "Catfish"? Do I feel bad for Angela, with her truly horrendous life? She was using the internet to build a fantasy world as her one means of coping with reality, only to have it cruelly torn away from her. I can understand her behavior, given her situation, and can certainly empathize.

Do I side with Nev who is hurt and baffled by his betrayal at Angela's hands, almost unwilling to believe that the events he has lived through are some incredible fabrication? He was literally falling in love with a lie and as a result may never trust again. I think I've made it clear that I can relate to that.

Well, watch the movie (you should have already if you've read this far) and think about who you think has the better case. Who does your gut want you to side with? Who gains your sympathies and, in giving said sympathy, what does that say about your own character?

I'm going to go off and think some more about it as well. Then we'll reconvene as I struggle further with these questions in Part II. Maybe I'll come up with an answer.


Thursday, 13 January 2011

2 Answers...

...of a sort. I really asked 2 questions without firm answers in my last post, rather intentionally as an intellectual exercise. They were just examples of the sorts of things I think about on a day to day basis as I'm driving my train around in circles. However, I was shocked and gratified by the number of responses I received, mostly face to face but also via email or right here in the comments section. I didn't even know that many people read my blog! So thanks for those who expressed interest and opinions.

And on to my answers. Incidentally I reserve the right to change my mind about this or anything I say, ever, at any given time. I do my best to tell the truth as I see it in this moment of time only and refuse to write anything in stone. Just so you know.

Okay, question 1 was Does God know the future?

I am somewhat undecided on this issue. I'd like to answer that he does not (although this opinion seems unpopular). The future is yet to be written and even a supreme being cannot see for certain what lies ahead. At least since He gave us free will. However, I will allow that God is an expert on cause and effect and can see the most likely outcomes. It's just that, looking at the world, reading the bible and other texts about the nature of God, I think it is safe to say that mistakes have been made. I mean, according to the bible, God's on at least plan C by now. (Please note that I am basing this on the Judeo-Christian version of God as that's the one I know the most about and is most commonly referenced in Western culture. Just in case you thought I might be talking about Zeus or Allah or something).

Let's explain.

Plan A: Drop humans in paradise. Live happily ever after. Clearly that didn't work out. Here we have an inexperienced deity who had faith in humanity to do the right thing. A more jaded God of the 21st century would NEVER make this mistake.

Plan B: Life sucks but at least you live a long time and there's lots of space. This of course got out of hand right away and "Angry God" had to come smite the crap out of humanity over and over...finally rebooting us with a big flood and saving only a handful of people. Of course that won't work either. Human nature 101...if there's a rule and a human in the same room, the rule will soon be broken.

Plan C: Jesus is the answer. Taking matter into his own hands, God gives up on us behaving and simply incarnates himself as an avatar on Earth, dies, goes to hell, and basically pays off on all our sins. Seems overly complicated to me...since it's his choice anyway why not just say "Hey, forget it...I forgive you." Instead, he puts himself (now his son? So much for monotheism) through hell, literally, to help us out. This is very nice of him. However, it seems like it could be easily avoided with just a little forethought, never mind the ability to already know it would happen.

Perhaps the future is set in stone to the point that things HAVE to happen because they already did? This is the way it is in such excellent fiction as "Watchmen" and "The Time Traveler's Wife." That doesn't negate the fact that mistakes have been made though. And why would God make it that way if he knew universal suffering would result?

Anyway so I'd like to think that God is all knowing as far as past and present are concerned, but doesn't have a solid grasp on the future. That just makes the most sense to me. It also puts me firmly in charge of my own fate, which, while scary (I'm definitely under-qualified), seems more desirable than to consider myself a puppet performing a script laid out billions of years before I was born for a purpose I can never know (unless I die. Maybe).

Anyway I could go on and on but this is already a long post. Let's move on to question 2.

"What if we all disappeared..."

First off, my friend assures me that most things that would catastrophically explode have fail safes to prevent such an occurrence (at least in North America). While this is comforting, I have to think that billions of cars, gas stations, small power stations, etc would still create a lot of toxic explosions almost immediately. Smoke from fires on a global scale would certainly drop Earth into a perilous state, probably resulting in a new Ice Age and the mass extinction of plant and animal life around the globe. At this point in human history, as much as I hate to say it, I think the Earth needs us to keep moving forward as a viable ecosystem. While we hurt the planet every day, unless we all shut down everything before we left, we'd hurt it a lot more by going. Sad but true. Of course at this point the idea of Earth as a viable and sustainable ecosystem may very well be a fool's dream, with or without humanity. I guess we'll find out soon enough.

And what of the aliens who've landed in our deserted streets, trying to make sense and garner meaning from the objects we've left behind? I don't think they could do it. They'd certainly figure out what it's all for, given enough time, but I suspect that they would be completely baffled by the whys behind the way we live. I can't really prove this, it's just a gut reaction. Mainly based on the fact that I am personally completely and continually baffled by the way that humans live and behave. If I don't understand it, how could an alien being who may not even perceive things on the same level?

As for meaning? Author Douglas Coupland claims that the only way to interject meaning into one's life is to make your life like a story. I don't know if this is the truth, but it seems like a good starting point. Without humanity, there are no more stories and thus no more meaning. Perhaps aliens would make up stories and thus inject us with meaning that we never saw, but it seems more likely that they would just be baffled. At the end of the day, I see an alien landing party looking around, shaking their heads and thinking to themselves "better them than us."

That seems fairly negative. It's not meant to be. All I am saying is that IF there is meaning to be found here, it will have to be found by human beings for human beings. So now you have a job to do. Go find meaning, and tell me about it.

Well, what are you waiting for???

Thursday, 6 January 2011

2 Questions...

A couple of questions that have crossed my mind today...

1. Does God know the future?

a) If you answer yes to this question, then does it follow that the future is immutable? That everything that has happened, is happening and will ever happen is set in stone and cannot be changed? If this is the case, then what is the point of any of it happening at all? It certainly cannot be just to satisfy curiosity. Also, doesn't this scenario completely remove personal responsibility for any action, no matter how vile? Any action can be justified by saying that this is the way it had to was all part of God's plan.

b) If you answer no to this question, then doesn't that make God fallible? Imperfect and fully capable of making mistakes? If He doesn't know the future then He's just waiting to see how it will all turn out just like the rest of us. Certainly humanizes an otherwise very distant and unfathomable deity.

2. If all of humanity simply ceased existing right now, vanished off the face of the Earth without a trace, how long would it be until the things we made would start blowing up and how would the Earth be damaged without any maintenance on all these automatic things that we have created? Also, if aliens visit the Earth about 2 weeks after we have all vanished, what do you think they would make of what's left behind? Do you think they would understand all of our artifacts and see what logic there is in them? Would they be able to understand how we lived? Better yet, would they be able to understand WHY we lived the way we did? Do we? Would they be able to garner some higher meaning from the human experience that we cannot see, being too close to the subject matter? What could that meaning possibly be?


If I see a few answers (and maybe eventually even if I do not) I'll post my own answers to these questions. However, I would seriously like to hear your thoughts on these subjects, whoever you are.

Saturday, 1 January 2011


little party girls
in little party dresses
so pretty
and ridiculous

drink and fall and vomit and grope and laugh and sleep
without dreaming

wake up to a world of fog and missing underwear
where's the advil? Where am I?
does this define the human experience?

where is the new frontier?
it's hard to see in this purgatory...