In 2010 Catfish, a documentary film called by Nev Schulman, became all the rage because of it’s skillful presentation of Nev’s journey to find the woman he thought he had fallen in love with on Facebook. Not only was he excited to see this woman, Megan, who he had feelings for, but he’d gotten to know a lot about her family; especially Megan’s younger sister Abbey, who is supposed to be a painting prodigy.
When Nev arrives in Michigan to meet them all he doesn’t find Megan at all, but instead a married 40-year-old woman named Angela who had made up the whole cast of characters. After the movie came out, Nev was greeted with a flood of emails and messages from people who are going through similar online romances, and they desperately want to find out what’s true and what’s real about their cyber relationships. Soon afterward he started filming Catfish the television show, which was picked up by MTV, and has not been running for two weeks. It’s utterly fascinating and addicting, and even though from the beginning you can tell something’s not right about the unknown person in the relationship, it’s still a suspenseful and emotional ride. At the end, even when there is disappointment, and we’re 2-for-2 on disappoint so far, there’s relief that the truth is finally out.
Catfish is now accepted jargon for someone pretending to be someone they’re not online for romantic purposes, but that’s not what it meant when they named the movie that. Where does the Catfish term come from?
When Nev was visiting with Angela and her husband Vince, Vince tells them a story about a problem when live cod were shipped to Asia from North America, and the flesh ended up gross and mushy from inactivity. In order to keep the cod active, according to Vince’s story, the fisherman started putting catfish in with the cod to nip at their tails and keep them active. Vince implies that Angela is like those catfish because life would be “dull and boring if we didn’t have someone nipping at our fins.”
Vince’s story comes from a tradition of Christian writers, with the earliest known version by Henry W. Nevinson, who wrote essential the same story in an essay called “The Catfish” in his 1913 book Essays in Rebellion.