Archive | September, 2017

What we talk about when we talk about Parks Denton

6 Sep

I never interacted with Parks Denton, but I totally would have. I’d like to believe I’m easily able to suss out a catfish, but I know myself and my embarrassing weakness for pale redheads who look like they’d never swipe right. I don’t have a Parks Denton story — I’m just fascinated by him. Not because this catfish is shocking, but because of how stunningly unsurprising it is. For anyone attuned to the way internet culture has changed over the past several years, this all feels like it was inevitable.

I mean, it also feels like it could have been avoided. Do you know how many episodes of Catfish have aired at this point? (Ninety-four. I checked.) I’ve seen all of them, and I’ve struggled not to judge the catfish victims. How is it possible in 20-fucking-17 to not spot a catfish a mile away? How do you completely look past all the obvious warning signs and red flags? And, like, yes, I think most of us would put a pin in things at the point of an internet stranger asking for money or a longterm commitment, but I also think we’re largely more trusting and easily manipulated than we’d like to believe. If he seems too good to be true, he probably is — but if he’s sliding into your DMs and telling you you’re pretty, maybe you ignore those doubts.

I’ve been thinking a lot about how our online behavior has changed. There’s this idea that we were once way more naïve about what we put out there — and I think that’s true in some ways. But when I was in high school, there was such a huge emphasis on stranger danger. Never use your full name. Never agree to meet. Assume everyone is lying. Trust no one. I definitely slipped up. I also had a (public) LiveJournal where I openly talked shit about my classmates and teachers because I didn’t really think about anyone but me reading it. But for the most part, I was cautious — in the back of my mind, there was always the deeply held belief that people are liars online, to be kept at an arm’s distance.

And then there’s my online life now. I talk to strangers all the fucking time. The vast majority of my real-life friends are people I met on the internet. And some of the people I’m closest to are people I’ve never even met in person, but whom I’ve confided in for years. And that’s just the tame side of it — like many gay men, I have also confessed some of my most private sexual feelings to nameless torsos, knowing nothing about them but how many feet away from me they were. At some point, my perception of strangers on the internet changed. Facebook played a huge part in that: Suddenly we were all sharing our real names and the details of our lives with a much wider audience. There’s this, frankly, bizarre expectation that most of what we know about each other online is true. We’ve gone from cautious restraint and paranoia to radical honesty and trust. We are operating on the honor system, and until a Parks Denton comes along to undermine that, none of us really thinks it’s all that odd.

It’s a little hard to reconcile all of it: Like, we absolutely know better than we did a decade ago. We understand the realities of internet deception; we even have a word for it that we didn’t before Nev Schulman fell for a fraud. But I’ve never been more open — and more willing to make a connection with a stranger — than I am now. And I know I’m not alone. Sure, some of it is thirst. Maybe more than some, especially when it comes to catfish like Parks Denton, who by all accounts was not particularly smart or interesting or funny and skated by on good looks that weren’t even his. But I think it also has a lot to do with the way we now conceive of Twitter and the internet at large as a sort of online community. We’ve redefined friendship, for better and worse, and we’ve learned to prize openness and oversharing. I mean, my god, just look at some of the things I’ve written about in this (again, public) blog.

And like. I love that. I really do. It may be unwise — it may be completely fucking batshit from an outside perspective — but it’s also kind of the best? The fact that for many of us, our online friends are people we can rely on, people we can trust, is a saving grace as we wade through the hellfire of the world as it is. And a lot of that requires blind faith, which is a risky proposition. But you sort of have to come into things with an open heart, often against your better judgment, to make these connections. Surely there’s a middle ground, a way to protect ourselves against the Parks Dentons of the world, but I’ll admit that I haven’t found it. And I’m not trying all that hard. I like the way things are now.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t like that people get taken advantage of. It’s fucking gross and terrifying that, if people answered the poll I put on Twitter today honestly, at least 50 people sent this catfish nudes. I’m sure the real number is higher than that. And we should be more cautious! We should have doubts. We should, at the very least, not accept everyone at face value. Maybe some of us will harden, but I also think we’re largely past the point of no return. And I don’t have any answers, just a lot of useless feelings and opinions I feel compelled to deliver to an audience of strangers.

So I don’t know. Might delete later, but like and share if you agree. My DMs are open.