'Tis the season: Phil and I are loading up the TiFaux with holiday movies and unwinding after our hectic days by watching and heckling them, one by one. Last Thursday's showing was a particularly risible little film, A Christmas Wedding, starring Sarah Paulson as The Drip, Eric Mabius as The Blockhead She's To Wed and Dean Cain as The Guy She Should Have Run Off To Aruba With But Won't.
The plot was clearly grown in a test tube; DNA contributors included Preston Sturges, InStyle Weddings and Donna Van Liere (the woman who "wrote" the "novelization" of The Christmas Shoes). Usually, these holiday films are good for giving Phil and I a good laugh or twelve as we notice unintentionally sinister set-ups or patently ridiculous plot developments or actors' obvious "Just give me the check" performances. But this movie just made me exceedingly cranky.
I don't care if Sarah Paulson did play the awesome snake-in-the-grass Miss Isringhausen on Deadwood; she nuked all her goodwill with this ho-ho-horrible story about a woman who just has to have her Christmas day wedding but, oh, the demands of being a career gal mean she might be late! Oh, no! Will her blockhead fiance survive going to a bridal shower? Will she be able to break in her (name-checked) Blahniks on time for her first dance? Will the wedding be everything she's ever dreamed of since she was a little girl?
The minute this aired, Rebecca Mead felt a chill run down her spine but didn't know why. Mead is the author of One Perfect Day, a book seeking to examine how the so-called "wedding-industrial complex" pressures women into making insane financial decisions regarding their wedding. I don't entirely buy the book's repeated argument that American women are but brainwashed puppets of unscrupulous capitalism. However, Mead's secondary point -- that women may be striving to give their wedding a deeper cultural meaning and the only tools they have at their disposal are their consumer choices -- is the one worth pondering. Our weddings are reflections of the culture we aspire to belong to as much as they are reflections of the culture we do belong to.
As I move further and further away from my own wedding date, I comprehend less and less of what's being presented as mainstream wedding culture. While home visiting my mom, I read "One Ring Circus" (WaPo, Sep 7, 08), and gaped in baffled incomprehension at the author's narrative.
I can't provide a telling quote because the prose's black magic lays in its cumulative impact. Loosely abridged, that article goes thusly: our heroine got hooked on the TLC show A Perfect Proposal, and had yearned for a similarly excessive spectacle for herself. When she hits the ripe old age of 24, she tells her college boyfriend it's time to propose to her. She hectors the boyfriend until, at last, she gets the ring. That she might engineer a memorable proposal for her life partner never even came up.
The telling detail for me was not the author's desperate yearning to be the star of her own fairytale, but rather that television had fueled her fantasies. And then yesterday, the WaPo ran another piece, "Here Comes the Bride. The Question is Why?" The argument for why we're fascinated by reality-wedding shows:
We're attached to the idea that with enough money and coaching, anyone can rise to the professionally styled rung of the meritocracy where the not-so-well-born rich hang out. We can't talk about class (or the nexus of money, education and privilege) directly, but we can still broach the subject as long as we couch it in purely aesthetic terms. Problem solved!
Shows that elevate the nuptials of the non-famous to A-list levels of showmanship and expense, or that expose the bad behavior of spoiled, entitled, self-centered brides, or that simply submit the average bride to the same homogenizing ministrations now endured by stars before they're allowed to range free on the red carpet, all imply that it is always preferable to emulate the rich and famous than not to. Even if we can only afford to emulate them at their worst.
My daughter is getting married to a very special young man from a
wonderful family. She and her attendants are wearing Priscilla of
Boston, and the reception will be at the Ritz Carlton. My husband and I
are paying for it. We are all extremely excited about everything and
having a great time with the planning, including the shopping trips,
the tasting, everything. I have no idea what this "Wedding Industrial
Complex" is. All I know is that this is a happy event for all
concerned. Both my daughter and her husband are mature people in their
early thirties who have never been married before, do not live
together, and have strong religious beliefs, so I have no doubts about
the marriage. So why can't they have a lovely event to celebrate the
start of their lives together?
I like how the querent begins with the brand-name checking, then moves into piqued "Why must you begrudge those who can afford it their nice things?" territory. Way to convey how you're above all that vulgar spectacle while reminding everyone what you can afford!
And it hit me: This is why I loathed A Christmas Wedding. In the movie, good-hearted working class people repeatedly go out of their way to get the yuppie bride to her nuptials on time, while back at home, good-hearted working class people ignore years of snobbish behavior from the bride's well-to-do family and rally to the wedding cause. The miracle of Christmas is a total absence of class resentment. Wedding princesses are even more magical than family gatherings or commemorating the birth of Jesus!
Not only did you have the usual as-seen-on-TV Christmas, you had the as-seen-on-TV wedding on top of that. It was the television equivalent of combining chlorine bleach and ammonia. The blend of entitlement, out-of-control consumption and princess fantasy was too much. I only hope Carina Chocano was right in today's chat when she predicted that the wedding tide is about to turn.