Sunday, February 03, 2008

She Likes to Watch

There's a reason Heather Havrilesky is one of my favorite media critics. She writes very tasty copy. Here's are excerpts from today. The column is much longer. Read it free on Salon.com

I Like to Watch

From Bravo's "Millionaire Matchmaker" to HBO's "Bernard and Doris" to NBC's "Lipstick Jungle," boss ladies reign supreme!

By Heather Havrilesky


Feb. 3, 2008 | Philosopher Immanuel Kant argued that free will formed the basis for morality. This was 200 years ago, back when human beings could be trusted to use their free will to enrich civilization. Sometimes they did this by exploiting or enslaving other human beings, but hey, at least they were industrious.

These days human beings are oversize toddlers who need to be spanked and sent to their rooms without any supper. In the absence of external punishments or rewards, most of us would lie about in our beds all day, soiling ourselves and crying for someone to bring us a cheeseburger. Isn't that what becomes of the very rich, who answer to no one and have the money to pay people to clip their nose hairs for them?

Today, we must be robbed of our free will if we're to accomplish anything at all! We need ruthless bosses who know just how to shame us into being a little less useless and repugnant. Whether they're our overbearing supervisors, our pushy wives, our disrespectful therapists, our opinionated mothers, our meddling spiritual gurus or our overconfident, domineering children, it doesn't really matter. Without them, we limply await our marching orders and become unbearably depressed when there's no one there to give us detailed, slightly demeaning instructions, or to hold our hands and confirm that we're just as worthless as we feel.

Personally, I've been looking to hire a Boss of Me for years now, but qualified applicants (pushy, intimidating professionals) aren't generally in the market for such a thankless unpaid position. Even knowing this, I hold out hope that one day I might be oppressed by a tyrannical overlord who never tires of saying things like, "What are you reading? Don't you have a column due in an hour? Close your browser and get to work, maggot!"

Make me a gold-digging sea donkey!

Others must share my longing for a personal oppressor. What else would explain the proliferation of Bossy Expert reality shows from "Tim Gunn's Guide to Style" to "Flipping Out" to "How to Look Good Naked" to "Make Me a Supermodel." TV teaches us that, with the right team of despotic consultants, we might shed our sorrowfully incompetent skins and join the ├╝ber-human race.

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...Take the imperious matriarch of "Millionaire Matchmaker," Patti Stanger, whose calling in life involves bringing together two subsets of society that would otherwise have trouble finding each other: men who want women who are hotter than hell, and women who want men who are richer than hell.

"Millionaire Matchmaker" (10 p.m. Tuesdays on Bravo) covers all of the basic requirements of the Bossy Expert reality-show formula: We start with a pushy, outspoken professional, throw in a team of helpful but oppressed underlings, add a few hapless rich guys and a gaggle of gold-digging sea donkeys, braying over the idea of landing a man with lots of cash in his pockets. To these basic ingredients, we add that crucial spice of all reality recipes, shamelessness. Patti doesn't need to be coaxed into playing the Colorful Egomaniac. She's more than happy to loudly demean her underlings and her clients for the sake of the cameras.

As Patti drives to one client's house in a particularly aggressive mood, she snappily informs the camera. "We're on our way to see Jeff, the millionaire rocker who's still living in the '70s. And he's not really rocking, he's a software guy, trying to live out his childhood fantasy that didn't really materialize into anything!" Um, the guy's got bad facial hair, wears cowboy boots and plays piano -- does that really make him a self-deluded asshole?

But don't tell that to Patti. Patti sees self-deluded assholes ... everywhere! "Millionaire men who were perpetually geeks in their youth, once they make a few bucks, they automatically think that gives them the card to get into the cool club. Sometimes they go over the top without an ounce of style or taste. It's my job to tell them that they don't look so cool," she explains. Sweet mother of Mary. What does give you a card to the cool club? Flat-ironed bangs and a TV show on Bravo?

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We meet some of these mythical ladies at a party Patti holds for two clients during each episode. Now, far be it from me to cast aspersions on these young women. Even the best of us sometimes think, "Why not replace the regular, reasonably nice guys I date with filthy-rich, reasonably nice guys, and then I can spend most of my time getting spa treatments, shopping for uncomfortable shoes, and jetting off to Italy to snack on cured meats instead of toiling away at a pointless job for the rest of my life?"

Ed:r Heather Havrilesky is always a blast.

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