The pathetic fate of women caught on television

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Netflix’s “Clickbait” and Hulu’s “Nine Perfect Strangers” don’t seem to share much on the surface – the former is a twisty thriller about the apparent death of a local family man via viral video; the latter is a psychedelic mystery set in a spooky wellness center. But they do have one thing in common: the portrayal of unhappy and pathetic single women as victims of predatory online cat fishing.

Fictional cat fishing stories can create such a compelling storytelling that on-screen representations of the phenomenon are almost the “clickbait” of streaming these days. Real-life cat fishing on dating sites is the subject of MTV’s beloved reality show “Catfish,” in which its hosts travel the country helping unsuspecting Americans decipher every day. if their online suitors are who they say they are. Part of the timeless appeal of on-screen portrayals of Catfish is the opportunity to showcase what we see in “Clickbait” and “Nine Perfect Strangers” – the pitiful spectacle of sad, often crazy, single women. loners deceived in their desperation for company.

In the Hulu adaptation of Liane Moriarty’s “Nine Perfect Strangers”, Melissa McCarthy plays Frances Welty, a successful novelist who travels to the seaside resort of Tranquillum to heal her broken heart. Frances was recently duped by a man she met online and fell in love with, who ghosted her shortly after accepting thousands of dollars from her for the equally fake and life-saving surgery on her false son.

As the show progresses, and with the help of psychedelic drugs, Frances gradually seems to heal, become more confident, and get past the guy who hurt her. But her progress doesn’t exactly replace the way we were first introduced to her – as a woman whose celibacy and dedication to romantic ideals made her so miserable and desperate that she was swindled by the first. Internet stranger to pay attention to him. Because Frances is played by the irresistibly charming McCarthy, she is ultimately sympathetic, fiery and sympathetic, but her character still feels like an uplifting tale of the supposed and inevitable tragedy and clowning that comes with being a single woman. aging.

On Netflix’s “Clickbait”, cat fishing plays a much bigger and fatal role. At the start of “Clickbait”, we were initially sold on the idea of ​​Nick, played by Adrien Grenier (best known for “Entourage” or aka America’s Most Hated Boyfriend of “Devil Wears Prada”), as the perfect all-around family man. That is until a wave of dating profiles under his name and image were discovered across multiple apps and platforms, and his wife and family were left to analyze the pieces of his double life after his death. dead.

But at the end of the show, the truth is finally revealed that one of Nick’s stark and lonely female colleagues had stolen her photos and other files from her computer to create the dating apps, and caught dozens and dozens of women pretending to be Nicknames. Dawn (Becca Lish), a remarkably technologically gifted older woman, even managed to do some deep fakes, altering her voice to sound like a man to some of the women she’s spoken to.

The women Dawn Caught is meant to be peripheral in this show, which resolutely focuses on uncovering the identity of Nick’s killer. But it is clear that being caught had a huge impact on their lives. In one of the most shocking revelations, a woman took her own life as a result of encouragement from Dawn masquerading as Nick, ultimately setting off the chain of events that led to Nick’s death.

In addition to this victim, Emma Beesly (Jessie Collins) is the most notable face of the series’ many trapped women, due to the extent of her obsession with “Nick”. After Nick’s death, Beesly travels from Los Angeles to the Bay Area where Nick’s family resides, telling his airline that she and Nick were engaged before his death. We later learn that his intimate “flashbacks” with Nick are delusions resulting from sexting sessions with Dawn. As real physically and emotionally as her relationship with “Nick” might have been to her, she had never even met him, and it was actually all in her head. Surprise, surprise – she’s still a woman so bitter about her single status that she goes crazy and delusional.

One would think, based on stories like these, that the victims of cat fishing are exclusively desperate and lonely women. Yet in real life, men are more likely to be trapped than women. In 2018, 43% of men surveyed said they had been caught with a cat, compared to only 28% of women. After all, it was Nev Shulman’s own experience that got fooled that inspired the film, and then the next TV series (and now a podcast!) “Catfish”. He wasn’t looking for romance, and he was told everything, a pretty hip young man when he was taken away. And then there’s Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o who claims he was fished, although there are still lingering doubts if he helped perpetuate the hoax of a deceased fake girlfriend. ‘leukemia. Also, just ask any man on any dating app.


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On the other hand, those who are into cat fishing are not as easily classified as those who need more love in their life. Despite the way the cat fishing “Clickbait” culprit turns out to be a bored old woman so dissatisfied with her life without children and grandchildren that she steals a man’s identity , one in three men say they have practiced cat fishing compared to only one in four women.

Neither “Clickbait” nor “Nine Perfect Strangers” attempt to present themselves as accurate and realistic representations of cat fishing. But consciously or not, both are capitalizing on the trope of single women as hopelessly lonely and pathetic, therefore more susceptible to delusion and predation – while we have ample evidence that victims of cat fishing are not. always single women in love.

Frances in “Nine Perfect Strangers” is a wealthy and commercially successful novelist, but we are led to believe that because she is a single woman her life is unsatisfactory. In “Clickbait,” our glimpses of Emma’s life aren’t particularly exciting or happy. But unlike what we see on screen, most single adult women in the real world don’t see boyfriends online as the silver bullet to the larger problems in their lives.

Even more problematic is the portrayal of Dawn as necessarily unhappy, mean, and evil because she has no children, and therefore has nothing else to do in her life. Is this how “Clickbait” expects us to perceive childless women as they grow up – as psychopaths, maybe even dangerous?

Neither “Clickbait” nor “Nine Perfect Strangers” are labeled as comedies. Still, there is certainly some level of comedic subtext in dealing with their cat fishing victims. In these shows, the catfished women are pitiful, gullible, and decidedly single – and for these reasons, they are the butt of the joke.


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