Monday, June 04, 2007

Weddings and Death

I've been reading a lot of non-fiction lately, written in engaging journalistic styles. Recently, I completed One Perfect Day: The Selling of the American Wedding by Rebecca Mead, who writes for The New Yorker.

Mead examines the culture surrounding the modern American wedding, including the concept of "Bridezilla", which she sees as an indicator of how the industry is influencing the way Americans get married. With an average of 25,000 dollars spent on a wedding, those involved in providing the products for the event are part of group that wants to make sure the consumer--brides, especially--feels they need to spend, spend, spend in order to create a successful ceremony (and hopefully a successful marriage). "Bridezilla" is a fabrication of the wedding industry because while she is fearsome to behold (and not entirely an invention), she is their best consumer because she is willing to pay for what she wants. And she wants a lot.

Pointing out the rising divorce rates and uncertainly surrounding marriage, Mead demonstrates how Americans are emphasizing the actual wedding ceremony. Marriage is no longer a rite of passage from childhood to adulthood, from virginity to sexual experience (for a growing number, anyway); it is no longer a movement from the parents' home to a home of one's own. For couples who co-habitate before getting married, there may be few differences between being unmarried and marriage. Culturally, weddings have begun to take the place of this ritual transition, with all its perceived traditions (which were actually created by the wedding industry itself).

Mead could have easily taken a sarcastic, condemning tone on some of the gimmicks and blatant consumerism taking place in the weddings she attended researching for her book. And occasionally she points out the almost ridiculous choices people make for their weddings. However, she is often moved in spite of herself; even though she may barely know the bride and groom, she understands that underneath the spending and irrational consuming, there can be true sentiment and drama at a wedding ceremony.

She closes her book by briefly discussing gay marriage and commenting that if heterosexual couples had to fight for the right to be married in the same way homosexual couples do, then perhaps we would think differently about marriage. It was a subtle political commentary, but I thought an effective way to end the book. (In the epilogue, we learn that she got married in the course of writing and researching, and that her own ceremony was small, but what she wanted).

I've been enjoying my non-fiction books. I spotted the title of this one in a New York Times article, and since I know lots of people who are getting married (and I will presumably get married at some point), it sounded interesting. And it turned out to be so--I recommend it, even if you are married already, but are interested in culture and consumer sorts of things.


Justin Ray said...

If it had been up to me, Kerry and I wouldn't have had a traditional wedding ceremony, which is basically what we're doing despite all contrary comments. We would have eloped...maybe in San Antonio, maybe on a beach, maybe on a cliff or in a forest...somewhere with visceral, natural connections that imply longevity and other Earthy things. I can't say I'm excited by connecting my wedding ceremony with the place where I went prom-dress shopping with two other girls.

But I can't complain too much. It isn't in a church, and it will all be over soon. We've come to a compromise on this thing...more in her favor than in mine...but to her credit, she is far from a bridezilla OR a princess (if she were, I wouldn't be marrying her). I'll have plenty other opportunities to drag her out into the boonies, and I intend to use them.

pseudobunny said...

i will mail it off tomorrow with some of the other goods.