Millionaire Worthy TV
There is an overlap between the visual arts (video art specifically) and certain video essay formats and practices. (I think I’ve said this before. More than once, probably). Here’s another case in point. Angela Washko is an artist whose varied output touches on all aspects of feminism. Specifically, she aims to start discussions of feminism in places that are at best not welcoming of feminism, and in the worst case openly misogynistic. She has for instance staged several artistic interventions in the massive multiplayer game World of Warcraft.
Another audiovisual format that has attracted her attention is that of daytime television and reality shows, and in particular Bravo TV’s The Millionaire Matchmaker. That show grooms women in such a way that they become desirable for millionaires who are looking for a wife. Needless to say, feminist it is not. Washko fights fire with fire: she makes a “public access TV show” in which she offers her own advice on how to land a rich husband. But her version is steeped in irony and takes the tips and tricks of The Millionaire Matchmaker so far that they become laughable. She made a primer that spells out the genesis and goals of the project.
In the introduction to the equally baffling and enthralling first episode of Millionaire Worthy TV, she introduces herself as a “first generation data analyzer of the gospel of Patti Stanger” (Stanger is the host of The Millionaire Matchmaker). After watching all six seasons of the show, Washko has compiled a list of the 100 most desirable traits in a woman according to unwedded millionaires. She is deliberately unclear as to just how scientific her methods were, although it must be noted Washko is Assistant Professor of Art at Carnegie Mellon University. What follows is an investigation of how to become more spiritual (because that is one of the aforementioned 100 traits) by way of an interview with a self-flagellating floral healer who lives in a mobile monastery. Trust me, it is even weirder than it sounds, but Washko never resorts to easy ridicule of her interviewee. Her sights remain set on reality television series such as The Millionaire Matchmaker, and her takedown of it is both hilarious and honest.
In addition to staples of reality tv, Washko also uses strategies and formats that are commonplace in video essays. There’s a desktop video segment (around the 3 minute mark) to illustrate her drive to the floral healer’s place. She uses video game footage and avatars as cutaways from the interview: an unexpected approach that hints at the similarities between those virtual personas and the fakery that comes with posing as the perfect millionaire’s bride. Ten minutes in, there’s an extended supercut of tv, film and anime scenes of flower petals floating on the wind – a romantic cliché that Washko immediately deflates afterwards. The sum total of all these wild and intentionally lo-fi segments is a hilarious takedown of the casual sexism in reality television. Washko’s extremely performative approach takes the battle to television’s home turf, in much the same way her video game interventions were infiltrations of that world.