Understand that MTV’s “Ghosted” is in no way a reflection of reality. Much of it — like its prosperous cousin, “Catfish” — is fabricated for the optics of television. However, the fabrication is what lingers long after the show ends, much like a hazy memory or the unresolved feelings from having been ghosted.
The concept of being ghosted, or having all communication with another person abruptly and inexplicably cut off, provides the show with its formula (even if it is one liberally appropriated from “Catfish”). Hosts, musician Travis Mills and former “The Bachelorette” contestant Rachel Lindsay, meet with the “haunted,” the person who had been ghosted. They interview the haunted and inquire about the person who has ghosted them. A timeline is built. Friends are contacted and leads are established. They attempt to get the ghost to meet face-to-face with the haunted, and facilitate the couple to a point of closure.
The series premiere follows Julia from Marine City, Mich., who was ghosted by her best friend, Delmond. Julia neglected to attend Delmond’s party celebrating the anniversary of his coming out. Julia was promptly ghosted. Now that she’s pregnant — and wants Delmond to be the godfather — she seeks out answers.
It turns out that the ghosting wasn’t because she failed to show up to Delmond’s party, but because Delmond had slept with Julia’s ex-boyfriend, Devin. The two carried on a two-month long relationship. Delmond ghosted her out of guilt. In the end, the two decided to make up and push the past aside.
“Ghosted” achieved widespread criticism almost instantly. Some critics suggest the show promotes stalking. It’s said that those who ghost are entitled to privacy. Some people who ghost do so out of fear for their safety. By hunting down the ghosts, the show’s hosts endanger people for the sake of entertainment and violate a person’s privacy. Another criticism suggests that the show discourages people from fully understanding their own relationships. Where one might think their relationship is mutually intense, they might discover that they’d only projected their intense feelings onto someone who didn’t reciprocate it. The ghosting would just be because they didn’t feel the same, thus ending unromantically flat. Both are fair, certainly, but they miss the point.
What “Ghosted” fails to do is make any kind of meaningful contact. At the end, the ghosts are confronted. They are asked to explain themselves, much the same way “Catfish” connects the catfish with their deceived partners. All we get is the reason why someone was ghosted. What’s left uncertain is the reason why ghosting occurred in the first place. “Ghosted” chooses not to address why people decide to leave their partners in a communication void rather than having a conversation about why they feel they need to leave. The show presumes, without basis, that ghosting is a justifiable practice and all reasons are valid.
The show has the opportunity not only to reunite people through concentrated acts of communication, but also to confront the social consequences of our very digital culture. “Ghosted” has fundamentally forgotten why “Catfish” succeeds. For all its fiction, “Catfish” was sincere in that it didn’t just connect two confused people who were hurt and in love. It made the effort to question why people catfished in the first place. It was not a show about relationships, but instead about honesty. “Ghosted,” however, is only about relationships, neglecting to understand what even makes them work. It has the space to try to better understand human connections in an era when the way we communicate is becoming increasingly transient. In the end, it’s clear that it’s neither the people nor their connections that matter. It’s their melodrama, here reduced to spectacle, leaving behind only the specter of significance.