King Catfish: My Manti Te’o Theory (And How It Could Happen To You)

Two years ago, in conjunction with VSB’s three year anniversary and the release of “Your Degrees Won’t Keep You Warm At Night,” we threw a huge party in D.C. Titled “Three Deez,”, it was a mix between a book-signing event, a meet and greet, and a swinger’s ball, and 500 or so people attended, some coming from as far as Seattle and Miami.

That day was also the first time Panama and I met each other in person.

After three years of doing VSB together and six or seven years of knowing each other, we just…never met. There’s really no explanation why. I mean, only four hours separate Pittsburgh and D.C., and I’d actually been to the DMV area a few times in the year before we finally met. It just never happened.

To us, it doesn’t really seem like a big deal. I mean, of course you can start a popular blog and a business and write a book together without face-to-face interaction. We did it because, well, we just did it. Others seem to find it a bit more peculiar than we do, though. Some even think we’re making it up to cultivate some sort of mystique. But, trust me when I say that neither of us care enough about this factoid to carry on a lie this long.

Anyway, as odd as our relationship may initially seem, I don’t think it’s really all that unique. I’ve been pretty engaged with the internet for over a decade now, and in that time I’ve seen numerous people cultivate all types of relationships—friendships, partnerships, businesses—online with people they hadn’t even met in person yet. This knowledge and experience definitely helps me understand how a person could have a “girlfriend” they haven’t even met before, and for this reason I do believe that Manti Te’o was just a victim of the most high-profile case of “catfishing” ever.

(Btw, isn’t it amazingly coincidental—or not coincidental at all—that the year when the term “catfish” enters our national lexicon happens to be the same year the most talked about instance of catfishing ever also happened? This relationship began before Catfish aired, but do you think the fake “death” was at all influenced by the presence of the show?)

There are other theories floating around—he knew all along, he’s gay and the online girlfriend was a convenient beard for him—and each can be true. But, knowing what I know about internet goggles and how easy it can be for someone to cultivate real feelings for a virtual person, I think he was duped, found out about the hoax in the last few weeks, and just went along with it—hoping the truth would never get out—because it would have been too embarrassing to admit.

Now, just as it takes a certain type of person to have the type of relationship Panama and I had, it takes a certain type to fall for someone they haven’t even met. Many (if not most) people would have pushed harder for evidence that the person they were in love with actually existed. But, as we all know, sometimes it’s easier to delude ourselves, to believe in the improbable (and likely impossible) than to just admit the truth. In this sense, Manti Te’o is no different than the chick who’s had a “boyfriend” for three years but still doesn’t know where he lives or what he does for a living, or the guy who “believes” that if he just acts nice and waits his turn, the woman of his dreams will finally give him a key to break out of the friends’ zone. What happened to him has happened to many of us and could have just as easily happened to many of those who it hasn’t happened to.

Actually, nah, f*ck that. This shit is crazy, and that n*gga is nuts.

Anyway, you’ve just read my King Catfish theory. People of VSB, what are yours? What the hell do you think is really happening here?

—Damon Young (aka “The Champ”)

That’s A Catfish!

You aint tell me you had whiskers tho. Youse a lie and youse a cheat and I don’t want ya!

It seems like the MTV show Catfish! has taken over mainstream consciousness now. I’ve read articles about it and before I saw my first episode, no less than five people had asked me if I’d seen it.

For those who haven’t, the show is a spinoff of a documentary called Catfish created by  filmmakers Ariel and “Nev” Schulman who found himself in a long distance relationship via the Internet with a chick named Megan who ended up being an older woman named Angela who’d created a fake profile using pictures of somebody else and maintaned the lie for as long as possible, etc. Shenanigans ensue. Basically, somebody got okeydoked on the Internet.

You know, the usual.

Anyway, the documentary was spun into an MTV series where Nev helps folks connect with their Internet interests who have managed to hide their identities and come up with reasons to never meet up. Now, some of these episodes highlight a darker side of American culture: namely, many of us aren’t that bright. And are extremely, extremely naive.

It ALSO highlights how pressed people are to find love. This isn’t a bad thing mind you, but the amount of red flags people are willing to forego to maintain contact with this person they’ve rarely spoken to and largely only texted or chatted with is amazing. Oh, and in this world, Skype doesn’t exist. This is very important to remember. Or is broken. Skype breaks sometimes.

In most of the episodes I’ve seen, the person behind the love interest is never who they claimed to be and sadness usually ensues. Let’s just say you should check it out. Since so many people make connections via the Internet nowadays (Facebook, Twitter, dating sites, etc) there’s a good chance that a large number of us have met folks in real life that we were introduced to via the Internet. I can’t tell you how many folks I’ve met in the real world b/c of VSB. You know why I can’t tell you? Because it’s a lot.

Well, I figured that I’d tell you all about a few Catfish like situations I’ve found myself in. Because they do and have happened. To be fair, most of these were well before FB existed and before Google even. Yes, all of these interactions were created via the world’s first online night club…

AOL Chatrooms.

Background first. Back in the late 90s everybody was in those AOL chatrooms. I’m still friends today with some people I met in those chatrooms in the late 90s or early 2000s. Like 2000. Two people are folks I count as true friends of mine. The other good friends I’ve met online have usually come via blogging. But back then they didn’t want me now I’m hot they all want me AOL chatrooms were my sh*t. I can’t remember the names of them but they were entertaining. I do remember screennames though. I won’t put them out there like that, but I do remember.

There were two particular individuals who stuck out to me. Now remember I was back in school during this time. So I remember meeting this one young lady via one of those chatrooms and we ended up becoming friends. We’d IM at all hours and have deep convos about life and stuff. We talked a few times…

(By the way, these scenarios aren’t real Catfish moments like in the show…there’s no surprise endings like they weren’t who they said…just not what I expected or odd Internet encounters…)

…and I was like, yo, we should meet up. After all, she went to one of the other schools in the AUC (Atlanta University Center – Morehouse, Spelman, Clark-Atlanta, Morris Brown, ITC). So we set it up to meet on “the strip” the popular hang out spot on CAU’s campus. This one particular day there was NOBODY on the strip. So I’m sitting there waiting. Now, this chick told me she was an athlete. Let me rephrase…told me she “had been” an athlete. So I’m looking for a slender-ish athletic chick to come traipsing up the walk. About ten minutes after I got there comes this rather portly (not there’s anything wrong with that) young lady who looked nothing like the person as had been described to me. She walks up, introduces herself to me and we sit down. Now, I’m not a total douche so I wasn’t rude but I definitely felt untruthed to. She was like 4’11″ as well. Basically I was looking for the athlete in her. Anyway, we talk for a second then she looks at me…

…then smells me neck. All up in my personal space. Needless to say I was taken fully aback by this. I distanced myself from her at that moment and she told me that’s how she tells if people are nice. She smells their necks.

Look, I ain’t saying it aint a way to do it. I’m just feeling like there are others ways to do it, ya dig? Well, we chatted for a few more minutes and then I’m pretty sure I bounced quickly. We talked a few more times but that tailed off after a while. I’d see her around campus on occasion. But we didn’t talk much more after that as I stopped reaching out and then we faded to black. Maybe my neck stank.

Then there’s the stripper that chased me down the strip that day. (Yes that happened. And no it has nothing to do with anything).

Then there’s that chick who told me she looked like a particularly hot African-American comedienne who only sent me pics of her from the eyes up. From like 10 feet away. Who would never meet up with me. Ever.

Point is, we’ve all got stories of mishapped meetings. Or folks who weren’t who we thought they were. Hell, that’s happened here at VSB with folks thinking we were going to be different than we were. Maybe it turned out better – that did happen to me once.

Lawd did that happen once. F*cked up my whole perception of a certain American city I have since wanted to visit.

So what’s your story. Let’s get some levity on this here Friday!

No more drama!

What’s your “catfish” story?