Episode 31 – Catfish: The TV Show

 

This episode: Catfish, Season 1, Eps. 1-4, 7-8, 13.  Watch it on Hulu.

Next episode: Doomsday Preppers, Season 3, Eps. 1-5, 9.  Watch it on Hulu.

This month the show returns to its MTV stomping grounds for one of their most successful and popular shows of recent vintage – which is apparently responsible for launching the term ‘catfish’ into the vernacular.  We were familiar with the term, of course, but not with the show, which had a different effect on each of us.

We discuss the usual fare – concept and structure, episode highlights, authenticity and appeal – but we delve quite a bit more into our personal takes on the show, particularly in the case of JS, who enjoyed the show for what it was until Mike burst his bubble with an article he found online debunking the show’s authenticity.  We also take on some of the larger issues the show focuses on, particularly in terms of what it has to say about social media usage and ‘self-acceptance,’ with the assistance of an interesting academic article we found that analyzes and critiques the show’s messaging.

Show Notes and Links

1:26 / Mike outs himself as the victim of a celebrity podcast catfishing scheme

2:06 / Introducing this month’s show

3:17 / The concept and structure of this show (inspired by a documentary of the same name)

6:37 / Our impressions of the two hosts, Nev and Max

8:07 / Dual roles of hosts – investigation and therapy/counseling

9:23 / The show’s tone ran contrary to JS’s expectations, particularly for an MTV reality show (Our episode on My Super Sweet 16)

11:24 / A coda on some of Nev’s personal controversies – MeToo accusations and somewhat racist tweeting (Maybe he should run for President!)

12:42 / The order in which each of us watched the episodes and how it affected our viewing

13:43 / Episode 1 – Sunny and Jamison (Chelsea)

14:43 / Episode 3 – Kim and Matt

15:01 / Episode 7 – Joe and Kari Ann (Rose) – Watch this one!

16:58 / Episode 2 – Trina and Scorpio (Lee) and Episode 8 – Tyler and Amanda (Aaron)

17:58 / Episode 4 – Jasmine and Mike (Mhissy)

18:46 / Transitioning to the question of authenticity

21:30 / Our initial impressions of the authenticity and how the article affected our reading of the show (the article we mention and discuss – Is Catfish Catfishing America?)

23:15 / Talking about how much we bought the narrative in Episode 7 (Mike mentions The Truman Show)

24:12 / Mike talks about the motivational narrative for Episode 7 (the Instagram post from Rose; Mike mentions the movie Rashomon)

26:28 / How genuine are these investigations by Nev and Max? (Kari Ann Peniche’s Wikipedia article)

28:18 / The one moment of authenticity – the catfishee’s reaction to meeting the catfisher – made us feel uncomfortable (Our Maury episode)

31:15 / Finding out how the show was actually constructed undermined its ethical justification, Mike almost would have preferred it embrace the seamy side (He mentions the show Cheaters)

32:58 / How much did the inauthenticity sour us on the show?  Could it have been done another way?

34:22 / What JS wanted from the narrative and how finding out the truth made him think it was all done on the catfisher’s terms

35:32 / Mike pushes back a little – thinks it would be easier for the catfisher to not go on TV, thinks the show is done more on the producer’s terms

36:53 / The thing that irritated us most about the show’s ethics was the false front it put up of ‘helping’ people

37:10 / Segueing into the article for this month: Catching a Catfish: Constructing the ‘good’ social media user in reality television, Michael Lovelock, Television & New Media, Vol. 18, Issue 3, March 2017

38:05 / The broad thesis of the article and overview of its main themes

38:54 / What Mike thought was most interesting in the article

40:24 / JS also found the emphasis on self-acceptance as substitute for traditional markers of success interesting

42:04 / Mike liked the analysis of catfishing as being on the continuum of online activity and not apart from it

43:52 / Coming back to the usage of hand-held cameras as marker of authenticity (We mention Bridezillas, Vanderpump Rules, and Dirty Jobs as other examples of this kind of technique)

46:50 / What did we think of the article writer’s contention that reality TV narratives are ideal for constructing ‘good’ social media behavior?  (JS mentions the online forum Reddit; Mike mentions Foucault again and our Paris Hilton BFF Dubai episode)

50:24 / Ending on where the appeal of the show lies

52:38 / What specifically in the narrative captured JS’s interest before finding out about the inauthenticity?

54:24 / Mike didn’t enjoy it as much, but that also insulated him from being crestfallen when he discovered the article

55:40 / Mike thinks part of the appeal of this show is due to the inherent uncertainty of online relationships and our fears surrounding them

56:30 / Introducing the show for our next episode (Mike mentions the caravan aka the “terror-van” – remember that? He also confused the presidential and Congressional inauguration dates – you don’t have to email him a correction.)

58:25 / Mike’s half-hearted holiday well-wishes and our plan for the rest of the season

58:54 / Our usual stuff: contact us, rate and review us, and subscribe (or tell your friends to subscribe!)

 

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Episode 30 – My Super Sweet 16

 

This episode: My Super Sweet 16: Season 1, Eps. 1, 3, 5-6, Season 5, Eps. 1, 7, 9, and Season 10, Eps. 1-3, 5-7.  Watch it on Hulu.

Next episode: Catfish, Season 1, Eps. 1-4, 7-8, 13.  Watch it on Hulu.

This month JS is taking a breather, but we’re excited to have our returning guest, Dave, on the podcast to discuss the all-time ‘classic’ MTV show My Super Sweet 16.

We start with our own reminiscences of our unglamorous 16th birthdays before tackling the usual topics of concept and structure – of what ended up being two different shows with the same name, as we also viewed the 2017 reboot.  Then we discuss the show’s worldview and debate whether it is meant to condemn class inequities in America or whether it is a comfortable salve for viewers who would like to believe that they are immune to the behavior displayed on the show because they have superior ‘values’ imparted to them.  We also talk about how the ever-present categories of race and gender play a part in the stereotypes of class being disseminated by this program and wonder just how authentic the narrative of this show is in light of an interview and article we found – is it played fairly straight or going into scripted territory?

Our final through line is an ongoing comparison and contrast between the positive vibes and group hugs of the reboot and the temper tantrums and exclusive guest lists of the original – we speculate as to why MTV decided to change up their successful formula and decide which version of the show we personally prefer.

Show Notes and Links

1:28 / Your hosts’ memories of their ‘Super Sweet 16’

2:14 / Does Dave have any experience with ‘Sweet 16’ culture?

3:48 / The spread of episodes we watched and why we picked them

6:57 / The concept and structure of the show

9:10 / Many segments tended to reoccur, particularly as the formula became more established

15:11 / Hitting the highlights (or lowlights, depending on your perspective) for Ava and Audrey – our most stereotypical celebrants

18:44 / Discussing the role of the parents in the show

20:59 / The formulaic nature of the show and how the first episode of Season 1 hadn’t quite established it yet

22:10 / Comparing the original to the reboot – microcelebrities and positive vibes

25:27 / Returning to the worldview of the original run – is it celebrating or condemning wealth?

27:13 / Did the original series give its participants the ‘Villain Edit’?

30:08 / This show is part of a larger cultural narrative around gender and wealth (Dave mentions the movie Mean Girls)

31:15 / The role of diversity in the show – is it progressive or does it give a false impression of class in America?

34:11 / How race and gender plays into the show’s worldview and popular reception – focuses on safe critique of ‘values’ and ‘spoiled teens’ as opposed to structural conditions

35:24 / Some narratives in the show run counter to the ‘lax parenting’ critique

37:02 / The show both stokes envy and resentment of the upper class – encourages viewers to think they would be ‘better’ in the same situation rather than condemning the situation itself

37:45 / Contrasting the original worldview to that of the reboot (the Guardian article Mike mentioned is here; our episodes on The Fashion Hero and America’s Most Smartest Model)

39:52 / How compelling was the reboot compared to the original? (More compelling participants and narratives, but also lacked some dramatic tension and the rubbernecking entertainment value.)

44:07 / The reboot felt more authentic and less manufactured in its narrative

45:58 / Mike apologizes for his second ‘academic article’ fail

47:00 / Analyzing the original’s authenticity (or possibly lack thereof) – the Babe.net interview is here and the Houston Chronicle newspaper article is here

48:31 / Our previous experiences with the show and initial impression of its authenticity (Our TOWIE episode)

50:58 / Dave was struck by the lack of diegetic dialogue and fast cuts from one segment to another

52:06 / Mike was a little surprised by the claimed extent of scriptedness, etc; expected it to be more on the Survivor end of the spectrum than the Bridezillas end

53:07 / Is there a ‘damage control’ aspect to the accusations of fakery?

58:05 / Final conclusion – there is some inauthenticity, but not full-on scripting

58:45 / Discussing the appeal of the original show

59:27 / Mike notes that this show stopped running when the recession hit in 2008

1:00:36 / What is the appeal of the reboot and why did they change the formula?

1:01:35 / Mike thinks this is a conscious attempt by MTV to cater to the worldview of a younger, diverse, culturally liberal audience

1:04:00 / Which version did we prefer? (We come down of the side of evil over niceness – in true reality TV fashion)

1:07:03 / Ending with our favorite motifs – the exhausted boredom of the adults and mundane nature of it all

1:09:19 / Reminding our listeners about the next show Mike is covering with JS – continuing the MTV train with Catfish: The TV Show

1:10:05 / The usual spiel: contact us, rate/review, subscribe to us (or at least tell your friends!)

 

Episode 4 – Paris Hilton’s My New BFF Dubai

 

This week’s discussion: Paris Hilton’s My New BFF Dubai, Eps. 1-3, 8-9.  Watch it on Tubi TV.

Next week’s discussion: Divorce Court, Season 17, Eps. 1-7.  Watch it on Hulu.

First of all, apologies for the slightly reduced level of audio quality on this episode.  JS was having difficulty hearing the microphone and Mike overcompensated by cranking up the gain – and forgetting to look at the test recording in Audacity (oops) – which led to a great deal of clipping and what ended up being a salvage project.  However, unlike the producers of the show we are reviewing this week, we didn’t just throw in the towel and say fuck it.  Instead, Mike worked up some elbow grease and tried his best to get this episode to an acceptable quality of audio fidelity, so hopefully the final product is at least somewhat tolerable.

As for the episode’s contents, we took a virtual trip to the United Arab Emirates for the last (and possibly saddest) installment of Paris Hilton’s My New BFF franchise.  After discussing the structure of the show and the wealthy and cosmopolitan (mostly) Middle Eastern contestants, we turn to the show’s tangled legal history and how it may or may not have led to its bottom of the barrel production quality.  We then analyze both sides of this rather ‘unique’ mashup, discussing both its representation of the Middle East, good and bad (but mostly bad), as well as the history and background of the show’s rather infamous host, Paris Hilton, and her seminal place in the history of reality TV and 21st century ‘celebutante’ culture.  Finally, we end with how this show may have actually held the promise of being something worthwhile, if only its host and production team had cared enough to film something beyond a glorified infomercial (or hell, even cared enough to hire a camera crew for an entire day of filming).

Show Notes and Links

1:39 / Introducing this week’s show

2:30 / The show’s high concept – which should be pretty self-explanatory (Paris Hilton quote)

3:15 / JS breaks down the particulars

4:34 / Mike sampled the entire BFF oeuvre

6:00 / The ‘little star’ aka the snitch

6:18 / This show is actually quite brilliant at getting these contestants to go at each other’s throats

6:45 / The show’s lexicon – ‘real and fake’, ‘hungry tigers’

8:26 / The ‘Real and Fake Challenge’ (Reality TV Ouroboros)

9:28 / Mike has a confession to make

10:03 / We begin discussing the contestants – mostly from Middle East and come from wealthy backgrounds

12:12 / Bassant – at least she’s honest

12:55 / Mike found these women to be pretty bland and interchangeable

13:24 / Amy – was not here to make friends

13:54 / Dina – Mike couldn’t figure out why the others hated her

14:46 / Reem – seemed to be most ‘traditional’ of the contestants

14:57 / Discussing the ‘cosmopolitan’ backgrounds of the contestants

16:33 / JS discusses the physicality of the contestants and how Branka and Reem departed from the mold

17:15 / Mike belatedly mentions what episodes we watched

18:30 / Reem stuck out to JS as someone who seemed more authentic than the others

19:35 / Mike breaks down the troubled legal history of the show – seems to explain a lot about it

20:58 / Why the hell weren’t the cameras in the house more often?  Lots of discussion in the show of contestants acting different on and off camera

23:19 / Talking about the INSANE level of product placement in this show – not just the Paris Hilton line, but other sponsors (the credits looked like a high school yearbook)

24:54 / Comparing Paris Hilton’s level of involvement to the other seasons of the show

26:28 / A brief digression into the font world

27:32 / Starting our discussion of the show’s ridiculous ‘1001 Arabian Nights’ stereotypes

29:05 / Edward Said’s Orientalism

29:18 / Part of the reason Mike picked this show (other than the absurdity) was an intellectual interest in cross-cultural contact

29:44 / Talking about the role of local authorities in the production of the show and how the show had to change to be compatible with local cultural mores (no alcohol or risqué clothing)

30:35 / Contrasting the Dubai version to the US version

31:06 / Mike talks about how his views on the often fraught relationship between Western and non-Western cultures have evolved since college, the book title he forgot is Modernity At Large

32:20 / Mike’s theory of why Reem was the winner

33:44 / JS hoped that this show would have more interaction between Paris Hilton and the broader Middle Eastern culture

35:21 / Paris is in less than half of each episode – mostly just shows up for challenges and eliminations

36:43 / Mike does praise the show in one respect – gives people a better view of Middle East beyond crude stereotypes of religious fanaticism

37:14 / Mike talks about his experiences with different types of Muslims in Kenya

39:25 / This show gives a view of Middle East that goes beyond a monochromatic depiction of war and suffering

40:14 / Shows the cosmopolitan side of Middle East: many contestants would fit right in to any city around the world

41:41 / The cosmopolitan emphasis is both a strength and weakness of the show

42:34 / Focusing on those in the Middle East who are ‘more like us’ might have been the only entry point for this show’s audience (and is also conveniently the target audience for Paris Hilton’s line)

43:34 / JS hoped the show would be more like ‘An Idiot Abroad

44:08 / This show does once poke fun at Western stereotypes even as it relies on them

45:32 / Paris Hilton’s background and career history

46:52 / The Simple Life

48:23 / Discussing the temporal specificity of her fame

48:58 / Paris Hilton as a seminal figure in reality TV

49:44 / Mike compares her rise and fall to the subprime housing boom (Hilton interview in GQ)

50:21 / ‘One Night in Paris (Hilton): Wealth, Celebrity, and the Politics of Humiliation

51:20 / Does her fame come from love or hate?  Who is doing the loving and hating?

52:41 / Trying to pin down her class appeal; Mike thinks she reminds him of (pre-politics) Trump

53:48 / JS argues that, at least in international terms, her appeal is to an upscale audience

54:50 / We stumble around in the dark trying to figure out where her merch is sold (Mike did post-podcast research: You can at least buy her fragrances at Walmart)

55:20 / Moving from humiliation to adulation and the cult of celebrity; this series represents that

57:20 / Paris Hilton as an icon for ‘new money’

57:35 / This show seemed a little North Korean – particularly with the penthouse décor

58:58 / Trying to figure out the motivations of the contestants – no tangible grand prize

59:30 / Paris Hilton has no real accomplishments – what’s the motivation for getting to know her?

1:00:28 / JS thinks most of these contestants went in with no illusions – and maybe the hope for a few connections or a good word in the future

1:02:12 / What the show is selling the audience in terms of being Paris’ BFF

1:02:38 / JS mentions that some contestants might have been overconfident and ‘caught up in the moment’

1:03:32 / Wrapping up with how this show could have been better

1:04:08 / Yet another digression into the shoddiness of the post-production

1:04:50 / Mike wishes this focused more on the contestants’ backgrounds; wonders how much the production problems played a role

1:06:05 / Even those outside the Middle East could have had interesting backgrounds

1:06:55 / The ‘story challenge’ gave a quick glimpse into the backgrounds of some of the contestants and gave them a little more depth

1:07:35 / JS wonders if the similar backgrounds of the contestants was a weakness

1:09:03 / We both agree they should have been filled out some more (the press release I mentioned)

1:09:41 / Mike thinks the most interesting thing about these women are their hybrid backgrounds and having to navigate between ‘traditional’ and ‘cosmopolitan’ sides

1:10:50 / The show touches on ‘Americanization’ a bit with Dina, but doesn’t really go into great depth

1:12:40 / We are on Stitcher (please rate us!) and have a website on WordPress (you are already here)

1:13:30 / Introducing next week’s show, Divorce Court: Feel free to email us any particularly good episodes from Seasons 16-18: 42minutesofreality AT gmail DOT com