“You’re delusional!”: Patti Stanger and Tabatha Coffey as aggressive heralds of reality

I have never seen Moonstruck, but because of its pop-culture ubiquity, I know the few-second clip of Cher’s famous “Snap out of it!” slap.  Without knowing its context, I still understand it as an aggressive act in favor of reality, and it is this scene I most often think of when trying to explain why I find pleasure watching The Millionaire Matchmaker and Tabatha’s Salon Takeover.  Both programs share a core of bubble-bursting sometimes hidden under troubling gender and sexuality conventions and/or the trappings of the self-adjacent (love, business, etc. as a way of becoming a more whole individual) improvement reality genre.  The idea that these two women and the shows they carry act as heralds of reality within a reality show, of course, troubles the idea of a reality removed from artifice, but the reality that these women preach ties into the percieved reality of the audience.  That is, Patti and Tabatha derive their power and induce viewer pleasure by engaging the unheard voice of the audience.  They often say what I and the friends with whom I watch these shows are thinking or have articulated among ourselves.  The reality aggressively wielded by Patti and Tabatha calls for their self-deluded clients to “snap out of it!” and thus be better able to interact with their fellow human beings.

Patti in the early seasons, ready to pop any delusional client's bubble

The Millionaire Matchmaker: “Truly successful people have to be somewhat delusional”?

In its first episode of 2011, The Millionaire Matchmaker featured a “millionairess”–as Patti calls them–Robin, who provided the above quote.  Patti accused her of being delusional for believing that her behavior on her date: including getting visibly drunk, physically groping her date, and implying that she would buy him an expensive motorcycle in exchange for his continuing to date her.  While watching the date, I was shocked, not only by her behavior–she blatantly broke a number of Patti’s rules and guidelines–but also by the obviousness of her date’s gold-digging tendencies.  He repeatedly told the camera that he was not attracted to Robin but would continue seeing her because of her money.  Moreover, his reactions to her advances–and her physical body itself (she was plus-sized)–verged on disgusted.  Robin chose him for his looks alone, and he followed her for her money alone, with both laying bare their superficial conceptions of each other to an unexpected degree.  Yet Robin, who as the client was given more follow-up camera time, seemed totally oblivious to her own shallowness, maintaining that her date was an excellent step on the path to finding love.  This is where Patti began yelling.  After spending a great deal of time before Robin’s date coaching her on what she should seek in a partner and how to behave to find that person, Patti sees her words fall on self-styled deaf ears and proclaims that she has nothing else to do with Robin.  This is a typical narrative for Patti’s interactions with her clients this year and illustrates how I can derive pleasure from such shrillness and schadenfreude.

While Robin’s crimes are mostly against propriety and expectations–perhaps in that she is the most self-aware of the delusional clientele Patti has found in New York–Patti’s most notorious clients, the ones that I derived the most pleasure from witnessing their breakdowns or comeuppance, have been those that think they are great human beings but their interviews, interactions with Patti and her staff, and most clearly in their dates prove them to be completely deluded in this idea of themselves.  Clients have: run away screaming from a man 5-10 years older than she, called or insinuated that their dates were low-class, and even brought their fiends or assistants on dates with them.  Most often they are rude, inconsiderate, and condescending, and to see Patti verbally eviscerate them for their behavior provides pleasure.  We had to sit through their abominable behavior and have encountered people similarly removed from the minimal consideration of others, so when Patti tells them exactly what they did wrong and how horrible they are to others, it’s cathartic.  Although the “reality” that Patti’s tirades reinforce is only what is presented through the editing and chosen narrative for each episode, there is only so much “editing” can create, emphasizing some form of reality amidst the artifice.

Tabatha Coffey: styled to aggressive perfection

Tabatha’s Salon Takeover: “I think I’m a great boss/hairstylist/assistant.”

Where Patti’s verbal smacks to her deluded clients are loud and occasionally mean-spirited, Tabatha almost always keeps a cool demeanor and an acerbic approach to the salons she’s been contracted to help.  Her criticisms are authoratative because of her personal success as both a hairstylist and a salon owner and manager (an authority that is always present but never provided with evidence) and give her aggressive characteristics legitimacy.  (This is unlike Patti who consistently draws fire from [anti-]fans and clients for being unsuccessful in love herself.)  Tabatha’s show premiered years after The Millionaire Matchmaker, but they seem two sides to the same coin.  Tabatha constantly battles with her “clients” to get them to see their own strengths and–more importantly–weaknesses in hairstyling and management just as Patti does for her clients in the field of love, but Tabatha’s attempts involve a whole microeconomic system in the salon.  To take Tabatha’s advice to heart impacts the livelihoods of multiple people, so the pleasure derived from seeing her pop the delusional bubbles of those in the salons add an element of social uplift to the shadenfreude.  For both to occur, though, reality must be forced onto those who choose not to recognize the reality of their effect on the world.  They must see how the way they treat others negatively impacts their love lives or business prospects; it’s a painful but necessary realization for those who can see it.  But from the viewer’s perspective,  it’s a necessary slap to the head.

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