WBEZ | MTV http://www.wbez.org/tags/mtv Latest from WBEZ Chicago Public Radio en On MTV's 'Catfish,' reality is what you make of it http://www.wbez.org/blogs/britt-julious/2013-09/mtvs-catfish-reality-what-you-make-it-108675 <p><p dir="ltr" style="text-align: center;"><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/catfish-tv-show-blog.jpg" title="(MTV/Catfish)" /></p><p dir="ltr">The thing about insecurities is that we often forget that other people have them too. I certainly do. And the brilliant and underrated MTV docudrama <a href="http://www.mtv.com/shows/catfish/series.jhtml" target="_blank"><em>Catfish: The TV Show</em></a>, is one of the best showcases for the ways in which people try to mask their insecurities when given the opportunity. Two people who were in contact but previously had not met are introduced on the show. Hosts Nev Schulman and Max Joseph &quot;investigate&quot; the lives of the &quot;catfisher,&quot; the person who, more often than not, has created a complicated series of lies to deceive the &quot;catfishee&quot; into liking him or her. Based on the 2010 documentary <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Catfish_(film)" target="_blank"><em>Catfish</em></a>, the TV version seeks to reveal the potential insidiousness of online dating.&nbsp;More than dating though, the show reveals the power of identity creation in the Internet age.&nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">The greatest gift the Internet has provided us is not just an endless amount of information. No, the Internet has served as a means for the individual to find, create, and build a &ldquo;better&rdquo; or &ldquo;newer&rdquo; version of him or herself. The Internet has said, &ldquo;This thing you&rsquo;ve always wanted to know, you CAN know. This person you&rsquo;ve always wanted to be, you CAN be.&rdquo; To many, that possibility is heady.</p><p dir="ltr">It certainly was for me. I always used the Internet as an outlet for my curiosities as a young girl, ranging from fan fiction to learning how to code. But it was during my senior year of college that I actually created a new idea of myself through the things and people I saw online. I never truly lied about my existence, but I was able to play up the best parts and filter the worst. And in establishing relationships with strangers online, I had to wrestle with the person they thought I truly was (overly confident, exceedingly fashionable, witty) and the person I actually am (deeply insecure, usually quiet).</p><p>However, the power to see this version of ourselves is important and underlines <em>Catfish</em>&rsquo;s appeal. What <em>Catfish</em> shows us is that people who seemingly have it together can harbor identities to mask the parts of themselves they find unfavorable. Its appeal then lies in its place in reality. The desire to mask and recreate is not unusual. Most of us do it to some extent. But rarely do we think the consequences of our actions would spiral as deeply out of control as the ones we see on screen. Rarely do we fall in love while trying to create and promote these better versions of ourselves. But inherent in the similarities between the people on screen and the audience watching is the desire to present a self that is &ldquo;better&rdquo; (financially or physically or perhaps even emotionally).</p><p><em>Catfish</em>&nbsp;both fails and succeeds in examining the root cause of the catfishing. There are a handful of episodes that are outliers. The catfisher in those instances is usually an undiagnosed sociopath at most, a pathetically-bored &ldquo;tester&rdquo; of human emotions at best. But for the most part, we learn that the catfisher is not as malicious as their deception claims. Rather, the catfisher is weak, insecure, and ultimately unhappy with him or herself. A longer show would possibly give us more insight into the catfisher&#39;s motivations. Have they ever received therapy? Are they depressed? How long has this insecurity (about their career, about their weight) crippled their in real life interactions? For now, we are given glimpses and left to our own interpretations.&nbsp;</p><p>On <em>Catfish</em>, the majority of the episodes are founded on <a href="http://www.hollywood.com/news/tv/55001491/catfish-mtv-catfishing-america" target="_blank">the catfisher contacting the show</a>&nbsp;rather than the catfishee. In the scope of the television show, this is critical to understanding the importance placed on identity creation. Although the catfishers might appear to be hesitant to meet the person they were speaking to online, they ultimately find a sense of relief in no longer seeing their actions fueled by a version of themselves that does not exist.&nbsp;</p><p>The purpose of the show is not to act as a therapeutic endeavor. Although Max and Nev provide comfort and defend the catfishee, they fail to truly dive into the reasoning of the catfishee&rsquo;s devotion and the catfisher&rsquo;s manipulation, deception, and exploitation. And as an audience, we don&rsquo;t expect them to. It is apparent in each episode that the issues of the &ldquo;stars&rdquo; of the week are more complex and multi layered than could ever be explored in a mere one-hour show.</p><p>These are the sort of insecurities that we can understand and recognize. Body image is a big component to the character&rsquo;s interactions. Rarely will the catfisher look like the photos they have sent their victim. More than just an act of deception, their desire to choose new photos and find them easily reveals an immediate distance from the catfisher&rsquo;s actual identity. They &ldquo;know&rdquo; that their physical appearance will deter their online pursuits and have an alternative &ldquo;face&rdquo; and body to call their own.</p><p><em>Catfish</em> takes pains to not avoid their subjects as much as they could. They show little bits and pieces of the online relationship. But rather than detailing the intimate moments between the two subjects, they instead focus on the clearly outrageous and lovesick actions that would make any sort of deception seem especially cruel. What happened between the catfisher and the catfishee usually remains more implied than broken down. If we were given a more in-depth analysis into their relationship, the deception would be more than just wrong. It would seem cruel, devious, maybe even evil.&nbsp;</p><p><em>Catfish</em> displays the ways in which we seek to better our &ldquo;real lives&rdquo; by creating and fueling our online lives. And it also in turn shows how deeply insecure we all are, how we allow smaller negative things about ourselves to overtake our lives, growing into something bigger than it ever was or should be. I can&#39;t turn away from each episode and I often find the most devastating episodes to be the most compelling. Evident in each hour is a reality I am all too familiar with, a reality that as I&#39;ve grown older, I&#39;ve managed to break apart slowly but surely.&nbsp;</p><p><em><strong>Catfish: The TV Show</strong> airs Tuesdays at 9 p.m. on MTV. New episodes of <a href="http://www.mtv.com/shows/catfish/series.jhtml" target="_blank">Catfish: The TV Show</a> are available online. Season 2 ends Oct. 5.&nbsp;</em></p><p><em>Britt Julious is the co-host of&nbsp;<a href="https://soundcloud.com/wbezs-changing-channels" target="_blank">WBEZ&#39;s Changing Channels</a>, a podcast about the future of television. She also writes about race and culture in and outside of Chicago. Follow Britt&#39;s essays for&nbsp;<a href="http://wbez.tumblr.com/" target="_blank">WBEZ&#39;s Tumblr</a>&nbsp;or on Twitter&nbsp;<a href="http://twitter.com/britticisms" target="_blank">@britticisms</a>.</em></p></p> Mon, 16 Sep 2013 08:00:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/blogs/britt-julious/2013-09/mtvs-catfish-reality-what-you-make-it-108675 Why UK's e4 network produces some of the most beloved television shows for American audiences http://www.wbez.org/blogs/britt-julious/2013-04/why-uks-e4-network-produces-some-most-beloved-television-shows-american <p><div style="text-align: center;"><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/FBC2D62D-D20F-4DD6-A578-7A0C4130A242_extra.jpg" style="height: 466px; width: 620px;" title="(Skins/e4)" /></div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>It wasn&rsquo;t just that <em>Skins</em> was good or even great. It was that <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Skins_(UK_TV_series)" target="_blank"><em>Skins</em></a> was real. And even when it didn&rsquo;t seem as real as actual life, it was smart, funny, and respectful of its teenage characters. That is what drew me into the British digital <a href="http://www.e4.com/" target="_blank">e4</a> television network (home of <em>Skins</em>) and what drew many others to the network as well.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Marketed toward the 15-35 age group, e4 programming also includes US imports such as <em>How I Met Your Mother, The Big Bang Theory</em>, and <em>Revenge</em>. &nbsp;Although e4 produced a handful of shows before the groundbreaking <em>Skins</em>, it was that show that gave the network visibility in the United States. For many, it also nurtured a love for British television in general. Whether it is the language, the humor, the nudity, or the music, what translates for audiences (in particular, young audiences) is the network&rsquo;s ability to understand, showcas, and respect their lives.&nbsp;</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Since then, e4 shows including <em><a href="http://www.e4.com/inbetweeners/index.html" target="_blank">The Inbetweeners</a>, <a href="http://www.e4.com/misfits/index.html" target="_blank">Misfits</a>, <a href="http://www.e4.com/mymadfatdiary/index.html" target="_blank">My Mad Fat Diary</a></em>, and the brand new <a href="http://www.e4.com/youngers/" target="_blank"><em>Youngers</em></a> have found fans abroad too. Each has a different premise, but they all feature storylines surrounding mid-to-late teenagers. This is e4&rsquo;s core audience, and in terms of building a devoted fandom both in Britain and across the globe, its greatest strength.&nbsp;</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>&ldquo;With e4, I know I&#39;m going to get a show that is worth my time to watch, because it&#39;s going to entertain me, make me think, engage emotionally, or some combination of all three,&rdquo; said Taylor Dalton, a 21-year-old college student from Connecticut.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Rather than watering down content because it features someone who is 18 or 19, e4 places as much warmth, seriousness, humor, and heart into these shows as any adult-targeted show.&nbsp;</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Although some U.S. fans can watch e4 shows on networks such as <a href="http://www.logotv.com/shows/misfits/series.jhtml" target="_blank">Logo</a> or online via Hulu, the majority watch online through other legal (and illegal) streaming services. e4 shows are created in the standard short-format of the majority of British television, with seasons of about six to nine episodes. This makes it especially easy for fans to catch up and to consume the show in one sitting. This also reflects the level of attention, care, and character-building needed from the start to create these new narratives. There is no room to play around with format and structure. These shows must be good from the start, and they are.&nbsp;</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div style="text-align: center;"><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/AD5F6489-850B-468F-A66B-3A96D5BAF51E_extra.jpg" style="height: 466px; width: 620px;" title="(The Inbetweeners/e4)" /></div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>It is probably difficult to gauge the success of their shows based on the streaming available, but a quick glance on Twitter or Tumblr reflects the emotionally-invested fandom abroad. As a college junior and senior, I created a tumblr dedicated to discussing <em>Skins</em>. That show immediately clicked with me. Its angst and heart was missing from any of the American television shows I watched.&nbsp;</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>I think that&#39;s the success of e4,&rdquo; Dalton said. &ldquo;They push for the shows that are more challenging to the norm, that might be more controversial but also have a bigger payoff in terms of emotional engagement from the audience.&rdquo;</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>e4&rsquo;s popularity is real and is perhaps most evident in the numerous attempts by MTV to re-make their shows for American audiences. These attempts (<em>Skins</em> and <em>The Inbetweeners</em>) were both <a href="http://www.mtv.com/news/articles/1665509/skins-season-two-canceled.jhtml">canceled</a> after <a href="http://www.deadline.com/2012/11/inbetweeners-cancelled-mtv/">one season</a>, even though their original British counterparts were immensely popular. <em>The Inbetweeners</em> is still on the air and culminated in a movie, a box office smash that became the highest grossing British comedy of all time. <em>Skins</em> has thus far spawned six seasons with plans for a movie. &nbsp;</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>But one of the major mistakes MTV made was that they assumed the premise of the shows was enough to bring in fans. MTV&rsquo;s versions frequently changed core character elements of e4&rsquo;s shows (such as removing diversity and changing a character&rsquo;s sex). What MTV failed to realize was that these shows were perfect from the start. Their shows are not watered down, actors are never &ldquo;too beautiful,&rdquo; cursing and nudity are present just like real life, and for the most part, things like drugs, sex, sexuality, and violence are treated with a level of respect that doesn&rsquo;t sensationalize them. American audiences are not as challenging as entertainment creators suspect. An accent or nudity or cursing won&rsquo;t deter eyes (just look at the success of <em>Game of Thrones</em>). When it comes to shows about and featuring the everyday lives of young people, the more true to reality the better.&nbsp;</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div style="text-align: center;"><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/DE267667-A57B-4B09-B58F-2E5684B28114_extra.jpg" style="height: 466px; width: 620px;" title="(e4)" /></div><div style="text-align: center;">&nbsp;</div><div>E4 shows often experiment with direction, cinematography, music choice, and story structure. With the exception of <em>The Inbetweeners</em>, which is a straightforward comedy, many e4 shows are a combination of comedy and drama, reflecting the realities of real life: times can be good and they can be terrible, often within only a few minutes of each other. In addition to the story arcs, I was also drawn to e4&rsquo;s shows because of their diversity, whether it was of experience or of race and ethnicity. Jal, a black female character from the first two seasons of<em> Skins</em>, and Alicia, (seen above) from the first three seasons of <em>Misfits</em>, are still some of my favorite characters of all time.&nbsp;</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>&ldquo;E4 does an amazing job of being diverse without feeling like it&rsquo;s meeting some &ldquo;racial quota,&rdquo; said Zora Hurst, an 18-year-old from Iowa City. &ldquo; There are so many different backgrounds, nationalities and orientations mashed together that it feels like real life, like real blindingly-painfully-nauseatingly unflattering life.&rdquo;&nbsp;</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Other fans agree.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>&ldquo;They deal with racism, sexism, gender expression, fatphobia, mental health and more. And they deal with it in a relatable way,&rdquo; said chelsea cleveland, a 24-year-old from New London, Connecticut. &ldquo;I can see myself in these characters. I can see my friends.&rdquo;</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>More than anything, e4 shows, while marketed and usually about teens, are written with respect and care for their audiences. The actors are real. The scenarios are real. The humor, lust, angst, and fears of their characters are real.&nbsp;</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>&ldquo;These projected realities seem tangible ... simply because they are inclusive of POC and Queer characters,&rdquo; said Felix Ruben Ortiz Cruz, a 21-year-old Skins fan from Jacksonville, North Carolina. &ldquo;Their inclusion is not what defines my love for these shows and these characters; it&rsquo;s the writers and producers&rsquo; ability to let these characters flourish by their own accord that makes keep me attentive.&rdquo;</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Audiences across the globe have connected with their shows, making them successes in a way not seen with traditional television marketed toward young adults. They are not implausible like <em>Gossip Girl</em> or melodramatic and model-driven like <em>The O.C.</em> or <em>The Vampire Diaries</em>. No, e4&rsquo;s shows are great because they find a kernel of truth that many audiences want and need to truly love a show. If anything, e4 is saying we hear you. We <em>get</em> you.&nbsp;</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div><em>Britt Julious blogs about culture in and outside of Chicago. Follow Britt&#39;s essays for <a href="http://wbez.tumblr.com/">WBEZ&#39;s Tumblr</a> or on Twitter <a href="http://twitter.com/britticisms">@britticisms</a>.</em></div></p> Fri, 05 Apr 2013 07:48:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/blogs/britt-julious/2013-04/why-uks-e4-network-produces-some-most-beloved-television-shows-american For the 'Underemployed' twenty-somethings, sex is recession and life-stage proof http://www.wbez.org/blogs/bez/2012-10/underemployed-twenty-somethings-sex-recession-and-life-stage-proof-103187 <p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/happy.png" style="height: 323px; width: 620px; " title="Sarah Habel, who plays Daphne, surrounded by her castmates," /></div><p><a href="http://www.mtv.com/shows/underemployed/series.jhtml">MTV&rsquo;s <em>Underemployed</em></a> is the last of three pilots for the fall television season shot in Chicago. Still, I was a little surprised when the show opened with shots of the Windy City at night. It was so buzzy, so teeming with energy that I admit I expected it to pan to some shots of the City That Never Sleeps, a location all too familiar in movies and TV.</p><p>The creators might not want you to think that this is New York, but they&rsquo;re definitely stressing themes usually found in shows set there. Namely the &ldquo;Oh man, I have no idea what I&rsquo;m doing&rdquo; vibe so commonly felt by young people. The pilot episode of <em>Underemployed </em>opens with a few friends roaming the streets of downtown Chicago, celebrating their graduation, interspersed with scenes of the valedictorian/wannabe novelist of the group writing her novel at her laptop.<em>&ldquo;They were young and hopeful, lucky and sweet. They&rsquo;d just finished college and were ready to jump into life,&rdquo;</em> she tells us via her screen and voiceover.</p><p>&ldquo;Hey guys I wish it could be now forever!&rdquo; yells a friend.<br /><em>But now turns into then almost as quickly as hello turns into goodbye.</em></p><p>This earnestness quickly crashes down with a reality check a year later: the valedictorian/novelist Sofia (Michelle Ang)&nbsp;is working with donuts, the wannabe model Miles (Diego Boneta)&nbsp;is stripping in offices, the advertising guru Daphne (Sarah Habel)&nbsp;is shilling -- and eating -- dog food at her agency as an unpaid intern, the singer/songwriter Raviva (Inbar Lavi)&nbsp;isn&rsquo;t opening for Sleigh Bells but tending bar (pregnant), and Lou (Jared Kusnitz)&nbsp;is canvassing. There&rsquo;s only one person represented from their graduating class who&rsquo;s doing &ldquo;well,&quot; a tangential character who is clerking and going to law school at night.</p><p><em>Underemployed </em>gets one thing that&rsquo;s definitely true in recession-era and competitive-minded America: its title. That&rsquo;s the focus of young people today. That&rsquo;s what defines you.</p><p>&ldquo;I&rsquo;m just working. You know, paying the rent. Underachieving,&rdquo; says Sofia the novelist. This is a generation of kids who pretend they&rsquo;re &ldquo;funemployed&rdquo; but would rather be anything but. On that note, <em>Underemployed </em>is a little too upbeat in tone, considering the depressing topics it covers. That happens to be an MTV specialty, one they&rsquo;ve mastered with reality TV shows from <em>Jersey Shore</em> to <em>The Real World</em>. What&rsquo;s most interesting, unrealistic and consistent with the channel&#39;s other programming, is how the only real commodity for these twenty-somethings is sex.</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/city%20shot.png" style="height: 328px; width: 620px; " title="" /></div><p>Take Daphne. She goes from wanting a job, to being okay with being called &ldquo;smart and pretty&rdquo; by her boss, who kisses her in broad daylight after he says &ldquo;nothing&rdquo; is happening between them and he&rsquo;s not sure when he can pay her, and then has sex with her in a car. The one laughable moment of this exchange is when Daphne asks, &ldquo;Is this, like, a normal lunch for you?&rdquo; For the sake of HR departments across the nation, hopefully not.</p><p>Daphne essentially blackmails herself into a job, because <em>Underemployed </em>teaches us that &ldquo;the real world...is selling out.&rdquo; More specificially, finding your value in your youthful, sexual being. Raviva returns to Chicago pregnant with Lou&#39;s child, quickly making it clear that music is on the backburner and her ability to childbear front and center. Sofia gets uncomfortably hit on by an older lesbian, but that quickly turns around, who awakens her sexuality and with whom she has sex with for the first time. And Miles continually finds as much as he wants to be a legtimate model-slash-actor, his only worth is when he&#39;s in his underwear serving drinks.</p><p>It&rsquo;d be one thing if this constant emphasis on sex was a part of larger commentary on the abilities and aspirations of these characters, but they don&rsquo;t feel all together that nuanced, especially as a group; their dynamic is mildly cringe-inducing, with only a few of the jokes coming across the way real young people talk. And the Carrie Bradshaw-esque voiceovers from Sofia reek:</p><p><em>&ldquo;You grow up wanting a sort of kind of life, a dream of a life, but by the time you get there, that life is gone. You have to make your own life, and you have to make it your way. everyone goes through this.&rdquo;</em></p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/gibson's.png" style="float: left; height: 160px; width: 300px; " title="Unrelatedly: Is Gibson's the only bar you're allowed to see in Chicago?" />And:</p><p><em>&ldquo;If life is just about working and earning money, we&rsquo;re all screwed. But if life is about living, none of my friends are underemployed.&rdquo;</em></p><p>What&rsquo;s odd is that the show seems to be trying to prove exactly the opposite of that life-is-what-you-make-of-it mantra. If anything, the pilot wants to make the audience believe that life is a smack in the face and you&#39;ve got to ignore what you really want.</p><p>In the preview for the coming season, one of the characters asks, &ldquo;How do you give yourself over to work so much that you succeed but not so much that you end up becoming like a total whore?&rdquo; It&rsquo;s unclear if <em>Underemployed </em>meant us to take that literally, but it sure seems that way.</p><p><em>MTV&#39;s </em>Underemployed <em>airs Tuesday&#39;s at 9 CST.</em></p></p> Wed, 17 Oct 2012 08:00:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/blogs/bez/2012-10/underemployed-twenty-somethings-sex-recession-and-life-stage-proof-103187