Sweet Bobby: What the actual F?

Tortoise Media

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If you ever indulge in the cerebral laxative that is youth TV, then you’ll have come across the term “catfish” (also the title of a popular MTV show). Both a noun and a verb, catfish describes the deceit whereby one particularly odd person — the catfish — dedicates time and energy to misleading a gullible romantic partner they meet and snare online.

The catfish will share fake photographs, invent a life for themselves (almost always more impressive than their reality), and generally create a fantasy world built on mostly text messages and online chat. It’s a strange — but usually non-malicious — type of pastime. Often the perpetrators are shy, under-confident types that just want to be loved.

Yet, even in a world where we’re all pretty accustomed to such internet-based weirdness, Sweet Bobby from Tortoise Media is mind-blowing.

The podcast chronicles an intensive online relationship that absorbs years of of the life of British radio host, Kirat Assi, ultimately leaving her broken and confused. That’s because, after the best part of a decade defined by a messages, voice notes, medical traumas, children, divorces and number of other dramas, Kirat discovers that her online boyfriend Bobby is not who he says he is.

In fact, he’s a character that is being puppeteered by someone much closer to home. A female family member.

But this is no regular catfish. No no. Not only did Kirat’s tormentor conceive a fantasy land for the two of them, she built an entire world with a range of characters — aunts and uncles, younger siblings, older male relatives, entire Facebook groups of people. A whole parallel universe of individuals constructed in their entirety as part of the dupe. To convince Kirat that Bobby was a real, three-dimensional person. And the love of her life.

Though, predictably, are parts where as a listener it’s hard to believe this ruse could be sustained on either side, Kirat has our sympathy. Who could ever imagine that anyone would have the motivation to go to such extents? She is never the butt of a joke. Never positioned as a fool.

It’s a fascinating exploration of this type of activity. Her catfish has never had to account for her years of deception. Is she a psychopath? Should this be punishable by law? What might be the longer term effects of literally stealing someone’s affections for such an extended period?

The culmination feels a little flat in contrast to the story itself. No retribution for Kirat, nor much sympathy from her family (who honestly seem more embarrassed at her choice to go public than anything). Nevertheless, there’s lots to learn from Sweet Bobby — not least about the secret and shameful lives of other people.

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