Monday, May 07, 2007

Wedding Bashers

Why all the misplaced invective?

Hating on weddings--not necessarily on marriage; weddings provide enough hate-worthy fodder on their own--is a cottage industry on the internets. On Slate, Megan O'Rourke takes a superficial stab at this popular topic. Each of her assertions--that lavish weddings are an extreme manipulation of existing consumerist habits, that couples' desires to have "personalized" accoutrements is an unfortunate extension of advertising culture's narcissistic demands, that parents pressure kids into having ridiculous ceremonies--is true, but she misses the point a few times.

First, as is common when smart people get mad at institutional problems, she directs her objections toward weddings themselves and doesn't instruct us to dismantle the underyling cultural issues that make wedding such a nasty manifestation of rampant consumerism. There's nothing inherent to wedding ceremonies that makes them objectionable; they're just a handy example to point to when we want to laugh about how silly capitalism is.

Second, if we want to blame deeply-seeded, misplaced cultural ideals for the ridiculousness that is the modern wedding, consumerism has to share equal weight with patriarchy. Don't try to tell me that spending $28,000 (the average cost of a ceremony these days) to make 250 guests pretend that a jewel-encrusted woman is a virgin and that her deed is happily being transfered from one man to another isn't the modern equivalent of a dowry. Mothers, fathers, and couples are willing to spend the median annual income on enlarged princess fantasies. But, again, this isn't the fault of marriage or weddings themselves; the onus belongs to couples, their families, and a social heirarchy that treats women like beautiful children. O'Rouke only briefly alludes to this dynamic, choosing instead to spend her essay blaming wedding planners for her silly preference for square invitations.

Finally, and most obnoxiously, O'Rouke refuses to accept that couples and their families choose to have outlandish weddings. Certainly we could debate the existence of free will and the role of advertising in consumer behaviors, but at some point we have to recognize that intelligent, meta-cognitive women like O'Rouke are capable of pulling the plug when a wedding gets too expensive. You can blame magical thinking and "white blindness" all you want, but I don't see a crafty, well-groomed wedding planner swiping your credit card for you. I have a hard time working up sympathy for families who can afford $130 a head on pasta salad and personalized sugar cookies. By claiming that "the wedding juggernaut can persuade us to spend so much more money than we feel we should," or saying that "you're made to feel guilty if you try to cut corners," O'Rouke shirks the resonsbility of self-control and adopts a passive voice in the face of consumerist pressures. And ladies, I don't need to tell you that passivity is the last think we want from our women.

This isn't akin to tobacco companies denying that cigarettes give you throat cancer. This isn't like the Cattleman's Association telling Americans that beef is good for them. This is simply another example of capitalist embellishment, not deception. Wedding planners tell you that this is the Most Important Day of Your Life, just like Coca Cola tells you that caffeinated sugar water makes you look sexy. Since when is Crest morally bound to reveal that having whiter teeth won't make my friends like me more, and since when were wedding planners obligated to explain that, no, having the perfect centerpieces won't guarantee delighted guests?

Ultimately, the build-up-followed-by-disillusionment O'Rouke describes rests on the shoulders of the consumers who fall for the sparkly notion that a $4,000 wedding dress is going to make them happy. She correctly notes that this over-the-top wedding epidemic is rooted in culture-wide unrealistic consumerist ideals, but she still fails to take responsibility for her own choice to give in to the Wedding Industry Machine.

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