If you love tales of catfishing, then Sweet Bobby is for you. I’m not sure I count myself amongst those ranks, but I watched both the Catfish film and a bunch of episodes of the subsequent MTV show. So, maybe I am. You’d think these things would just be sensationalist and a chance to shake your head at gullible rubes. But, often times, there is something seriously revealing about the broken people in our broken online society who would both catfish another human, as well as fall for the catfish itself. Both sides usually have motivations that are not your typical one-sided scam for money or greed. And Bobby’s motivations — even after the pod ends — still are unclear and super-weird.
The Sweet Bobby pod tells the tale of a Londoner named Kirat Assi and her long-term relationship with a man she knows as Bobby. A man she had a friendship with and then dated over the span of eight years without ever meeting him in person. Or ever seeing his face. Two facts that would lead most folks to ask, “How could you be so gullible?” A question that Assi attempts to answer herself on the podcast, as she details all the ways the catfisher quelled her suspicions, or manipulated her feelings when he felt her pulling away. After all, Bobby always seemed to be on the edge of death and would pull out that card whenever Assi’s patience seemed to wain. After all, how could she leave this dude if he could be dead tomorrow? But even through his fabulist stories of being shot, being in witness relocation and multiple death-defying battles with physical breakdowns and harrowing nonsense, she stayed. Until eight years passed and she found herself at the end of a really, really elaborate web of a scam that seemingly had no point other than to keep her captive inside of this imagined relationship.
Unlike a lot of the catfish tales on the titular series, this scam was obviously run by someone smart. This wasn’t a lonely teen pining away for a boyfriend in his Kansas bedroom. This seemed to have a sophistication that either involved several people, a group of people or one incredibly devious and dedicated person. Usually these catfish scenarios are a one-to-one endeavor. One person talking to one person. But this one had the benefit of a web of family members (some real and some fake) and others who seemingly backed up Bobby’s claims (all fake). Vouched for him. Gave advice that pushed Assi toward him. Which seems odd to an outsider, but made her feel more secure in her feelings, and often times brought her back from the brink of finally separating herself from an increasingly creepy and controlling relationship. Which, again, is with a man she’s never met and has barely even talked to via voice communication. Because, of course, Bobby’s vocal cords were damaged by one of his illnesses or some such lie. But he still managed to control her movements, convince her to ditch her career and essentially be loyal to a ghost. For years.
Even with all this, it’s still a struggle as a listener to not judge Assi for her naïveté. Even if she has her feelings constantly assuaged by her cousin and close confidant, Simran Bhogal. And many others connected with Bobby, including large groups on Facebook and other comms platforms. These others also people she is only communicating with online and not in person. Hmmm. So when everything ultimately blows up, the twist isn’t surprising per se (because we knew something was, uh, fishy all along), but the person behind the scam and the length to which this person went is kind of insane. Well, not kind of, but totally insane. Like certifiably insane. Narcissistic and just plain evil, honestly. Which kind of changes our perspective on Assi. Or at least mine. Because for the majority of the pod I wondered how she could be so, so gullible. But the way in which this thing went down, even I couldn’t believe that someone would do this shit to another human being. Nobody would. The level of deception and the personal connection is just devastating.
What’s most interesting in the follow-up is Assi looking for some sort of recompense. She reports the deception to the police. She’s in England, so the laws are a bit different, but the cops basically say there’s nothing they can do about it. After all, catfishing isn’t illegal in and of itself. Also, her loss is not typical for a scam. This person didn’t ask her to invest in non-existent land. Or get her bank account info and drain her life savings. Nope, this was purely a control play. The power in some twisted way to manipulate another human to do what the scammer wanted Assi to do. Which isn’t something that fits cleanly into a police report. After all, Assi could have just cut off communication and everything would have ended. This person didn’t have her captive in an apartment. Didn’t even really threaten her in the traditional sense. There’s nothing that is notably illegal about any of it. Because remote emotional manipulation isn’t on the books.
Thing is, even when Assi is able to confront her tormentor, and even bring them to court to get a formal apology using an oddball British law, the motivation for this whole thing is never really rendered. It’s clear that this person is a damaged, soul-sucking weirdo, but it’s never really made clear why Kiran Assi was chosen as the target to begin with. By all accounts, she was a nice, relatively innocent woman with a close family and a promising career. To prey on her seemed random, but also perhaps targeted. After all, the perpetrator may have seen all these qualities and seen in her the perfect mark. But when that perpetrator is revealed, this makes even less sense. Because this person is also a seemingly well adjusted, nice (at least outwardly) person with a very promising career and tight family. None of it makes a whole lot of sense on a human level. Unless you believe in the inherent darkness that can surface in the least likely places. True psychopathy. Which I suppose is what makes for good content.