Catfish tackles PTSD

The television show Catfish, adapted from the documentary of the same name, is undersold by simply explaining its premise but it is necessary to do so when talking about it. The show follows people pretending to be other people who create fake relationships. Most Catfishers are insecure in their appearance, personality, or some part of their life and use a more attractive person’s photo or a personality with less baggage to ease these insecurities to a point where they can make an often, however based on lies, real relationship in the sense that it is emotionally fulfilling for both involved. Each episode climaxes with a face-to-face meeting of the two people and often the realization from both parties for why they desired the real experiences that occurred in the fake relationship.

Catfish is an important cultural artifact that not only tells stories of our relationships to others but how they are mediated by technology. These stories also represent societal issues at large and technology is simply the entry-point into them and what ties them together thematically. The simple truth is that lying to impress a potential partner is nothing new, but technology has made doing so much easier. Catfish is the contemporary Jerry Springer show, if Springer worked equally hard to ask his guests their motivations as he does to provoke them into nude wrestling matches.

More than any episode of Catfish I have seen, the episode “Candic and Titus” is a painful, emotional portrait of the present in which we live.

The episode begins with Candic reaching out to the hosts of the show. She’s been married for seven years but her husband has grown distant and emotionally unavailable. They’re both recent veterans and Candic suspects that her husband may have post traumatic stress disorder. She’s been talking to a man online named Titus who is seemingly everything her husband isn’t but she remains faithful. She wants to meet him in person to get some closure. The hosts try to find out who the person is in the photos Titus has been sending Candic as a way of hunting down who is actually behind Titus. An account that they find is connected to the name “Spencer Duncan,” a soldier who Candic had trained with — who died in combat in 2011. In Catfish’s typical, suspenseful way, it is eventually revealed that Titus is in fact Candic’s husband, Jamie, and that Spencer Duncan was his best friend who died while they were serving together. Jamie has Catfished his own wife because he sees it as the easiest way to be emotionally available for her.

While never outright confirmed, it is hard to imagine that the producers of the show did not intend for the audience to walk away from the episode believing that Jamie has PTSD from his time in combat. He uses technology to ease into communication about heavier subjects, including the death of his wife’s mother, because for him it is easier than doing so in real life. This is a recurring theme of Catfish, however this is the first episode that implies that someone’s issues with communication are not based in body issues or their personality but because of what they suffered in war.

Unlike other stories of war “Candic and Titus” is painful in how mundane and everyday the after-math of experiencing combat is made. The episode offers not a look into the worst day Jamie has ever experienced, but a look into how he copes with that and other days like it in his relationship with his wife and every day life. The effect is suprisingly humanizing in the sense that it is relatable. The take-away from most episodes of Catfish is the realization that what we watch unfold is the result of struggles that we all deal with in our own way. This, put simply, is not that case and many Americans will never know PTSD, but the impact it has on Jamie is put in a light that is distinctly not othering. To see a rather mundane impact of the wars that the United States wages book-ended by episodes of otherwise typical Catfish episodes that deal with body image insecurities, is some of the most moving media I’ve ever consumed.