Just caught this on MTV today while lying around with my Thanksgiving hangover. First the original documentary from 2010, then an episode of the new weekly show based on the film and hosted by the same guy who was the "victim" in the original doc.
The doc is about a young NYC photographer, Nev Schulman, who is initially contacted on Facebook in 2008 by an 8-year-old child prodigy named Abby, who lives in Michigan and wants to send him a painting that she's made based on one of his photographs she's seen online. Abby and her 40-something mom Angela strike up a light friendship with Nev via Facebook, and Abby continues to snail-mail him actual paintings she's done. And through Abby's Facebook photo gallery, Nev discovers her older half-sister, Megan, a gorgeous dancer and songwriter. Over the next few months, Nev and Megan graduate from sharing casual photos and songs online to eventually becoming a lot more emotionally involved, even sexting and having hours of intimate phone conversations. (In the meantime, Nev's brother thinks all of this is funny and starts filming their burgeoning relationship.)
After nearly a year, Megan is still reluctant to meet, and Nev and his brother start to get a bit suspicious, especially after they search on YouTube for one song she has claimed to have written and discover that the very same song was performed by a completely different person. So the guys decide to make a surprise road trip to Michigan...
They're greeted by mom Angela, who is hospitable to them, also revealing she has uterine cancer. Angela is a stay-at-home mom married to a simple guy named Vince, and she cares for Vince's 2 severely disabled sons. Nev asks about Abby and Megan. They all go to see Abby, who's playing at a friend's house; she's very puzzled when he asks her about her art. Megan, it seems, has just been admitted to rehab, which is why she can't see him...
With a little gentle prodding, all is eventually revealed: It's been mom Angela who's been doing everything: painting the pictures, having sex-talk with Nev on the phone, etc. She does have a daughter named Megan, but they don't speak. The photos of Megan were all of a completely unrelated young woman in Washington; Angela just copied all of them. (And she doesn't have cancer.)
I watched all this, uneasily fascinated, kind of sickeningly knowing how it was all going to turn out since a very similar thing had happened to me.
Through a Joan Crawford message board in 2001, I initially met "Julie L.," a bisexual woman from London who'd moved to Norway to live with "Ivar B.," a Norwegian businessman sugar-daddy that she'd met in a London nightclub. Ivar was stifling, and her mother, who was heartbroken that Julie had left England, had recently committed suicide. Oh yeah, and Ivar also had a brother, Geir, with whom Julie was sleeping, since Ivar was so dull.
Julie was a troubled soul, who'd had miscarriages, had been raped as a teen, etc. I was fascinated by both her wit and her shadowy personality, though, and pursued her online. We e-mailed constantly, and exchanged gift packages on 4 or 5 occasions. But she wouldn't ever send me a photo or talk to me on the phone.
She constantly behaved skittishly, getting mad at me over trivial things, and we'd often not be in e-mail contact for a month or more at a time. After months of this, I finally got fed up and e-mailed in a fit of pique, "All of my friends are telling me you're a man, anyway." Which my friends and family WERE indeed telling me since she was acting so oddly and so reluctant to share any pictures or talk to me on the phone, which I'd often asked to do.
Whoa! At that statement of mine, she completely cut off all contact. Puzzled at the yet-again over-reaction, I remembered something she'd once told me: She'd been an exchange student in the US at Patsy Cline's old high school... I looked up the name of Cline's high school online. And, from what Julie had told me, she was 3 years older than me. As it turned out, that high school had a website with yearbook photos of their alumnae going back for decades... I looked up the appropriate year... No, no "Julie L.," but on a hunch, I then looked up "B.," the last name of her alleged "sugar daddy"... Sure enough, there WAS a Norwegian exchange student with that name...
I couldn't personally ask her about any of my discoveries, since I was blocked... but I posted a coded message on our mutual Joan message board: "Julie/Geir: Contact me IMMEDIATELY." When I posted that message, I still wasn't 100% sure about what was going on, but her reaction immediately confirmed it. She first responded on the board about what a lying, obsessive "dyke" I was. When I posted the link to the high school yearbook pages, she broke down and confessed everything: "Julie Lindberg" was, in fact, a pre-op transgendered male who'd always lived in Norway and who lived with his parents. ("Ivar B." was her real father; her mother was quite alive. "Geir" was her own male birth name. She, of course, hadn't had miscarriages or been raped. Her age was real; she'd, luckily for my research, also actually been an exchange student at that Patsy Cline high school.)
I didn't have a computer or regular online access 'til Christmas of 2000. When I met Julie in early 2001 online, my feelings for her were so intense... To me the Internet was still new and intense. I was a complete naif. And I thought I was completely crazy and alone for being so "into" someone I'd met on the 'Net, and for being so utterly heartbroken and upset when I fought out the truth. Everyone I knew thought I was pretty crazy, too.
But now here's a documentary AND a show about what exactly I went through!! THANK YOU, Nev Schulman, for making me feel not so crazy, 10 years later! :)
p.s. A "catfish," as explained by Angela's husband Vince in Schulman's documentary: Cod shipped to markets overseas were sluggish and their flesh thus "mushy" and not so edible/sellable. Sellers discovered that a way to keep the cod active and alert was to place catfish in their tanks with them. People like "Angela" and "Julie" are the "catfish" among us.