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I Just Need to Know: Catfishing, Creativity, and the Costs of Therapeutic Authenticity

Fri, November 9, 12:00 to 1:45pm, Westin Peachtree, Seventh, Augusta D (Seventh)


In the MTV series Catfish, each episode features a protagonist who has fallen in love with a digital persona and has decided to locate, once and for all, the embodied person behind the screen. The show embraces a simple moral calculus: authenticity and deception hinge on how closely one's biological and digital selves align, with gender and fatness as the most common fractures. My paper argues that Catfish represents a shift away from an earlier vision of the digital world as a space of bodily liberation, where new erotic identities could emerge. I will focus on Kate Bornstein and Caitlin Sullivan's Nearly Roadkill (1996), a novel about 1990s chat rooms where the characters Winc and Scratch find creative ways to remain tethered across multiple identities and gender performances without embracing any specific configuration of selfhood as more authentic than the rest. Thanks to a backlash from advertisers who find it difficult to target demographics in this world of fluid identities, the state passes an emergency measure requiring all users to register with their "real" names and gender identities. The novel, in short, anticipated the biopolitical logic of shows like Catfish as well as digital marketing cookies and other efforts to contain anonymity and pseudonymity as threats to the economic and moral fabric rather than creative tools of liberation


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