At least 25 different bridal magazines sit on the shelf at my local bookstore. Not one of them is aimed at the half of the soon-to-be-married couples who possess a Y chromosome. Actually there is one called Bride and Groom, but I’ll bet the number of grooms who purchase it is even fewer than the number of grooms who agonize over cake toppers.
There is Modern Bride and Asian Bride and Rocky Mountain Bride, but no Burlap Bride, or Bride Who Can Barely Give a Damn and Is in the Coffeeshop Eating a Doughnut Instead.
Each magazine contains a variety of articles on losing five pounds or choosing between damask and silk table runners, but little actual valuable information, such as: How do you get red wine stains out of a wedding dress? Can you refuse to pay the DJ if he plays more than one ABBA song? If the best man and the mother of the bride disappear into a closet, how long should you wait before knocking on the door?
Mainly, the magazines seem like the equivalent of the Eaton’s Christmas catalogues I got as a kid, which is to say, full of wonderful crap that you didn’t know you needed but must certainly have if your future happiness is to be realized. One of the gift registries advertises itself this way: “Before you say your ‘I do’s’, we make sure you get your ‘I wants!’”
What does the modern bride want, according to the insanely sexist algebra of the wedding industry? Wine aerators, it seems. More bowls than you could use in a lifetime, even if you end up in one of those marriages where all the crockery is regularly smashed at dawn. Honeymoons in places with barracudas. Bed sheets, because apparently up until now you’ve been sleeping on a tarpaulin on the ground.
Weddings, to my ancient eye, are now all about stuff. Maybe they always were. Perhaps the earliest cave-bride, clad in a veil of finest mammoth hair, looked at her pile of booty and snorted, “Org give only five dung balls stead six! Door-boulder shut to Org!”
By now, you have probably all heard about the bitter wedding fight that was revealed in The Hamilton Spectator, and rocketed around the world (as if the world needed additional proof that Canadians are more shark than gentle manatee in the global aquarium). The letter-writer was invited to the wedding of acquaintances, and provided a gift – a basket containing what sounds like a charming array of foodstuffs. However, the two brides took exception, feeling that it was “cheap and embarrassing.” They told him that other guests had mocked the gift, and asked him to provide a receipt for the basket – although I’m sure they would have settled for a PayPal transfer or even a fistful of crumpled twenties.
Getting married is, after all, an expensive business merger – I mean, venerable tradition – upon which Western society rests. The average cost of a Canadian wedding with honeymoon is now $32,000, according to Weddingbells magazine, up 5 per cent from last year. In this context, the Italian tradition of a busta, an envelope stuffed with cash, seems an honest solution. (Maybe I’m just jealous that I didn’t have a lavish wedding: I got married on a hill in Nova Scotia with three people watching, and afterward, we drank all the bottles of champagne in Digby, which was both of them.)
This week, it was also was revealed that American celebrity chef Paula Deen, testifying in a lawsuit that accused her of racial discrimination, had always dreamed of a “Southern plantation” wedding, complete with black waiters in period dress. It would bring to mind the Old South, she said, although she didn’t mention that there was a word for black people who worked on antebellum plantations, and it wasn’t “caterer.”
Where does this appetite for excess come from, this need for weddings with martini luges, cigar bars and $100,000 flowers? It might have to do with the way excess is fetishized in the culture – mocked, yes, but celebrated too. There are shows called Bridezillas and Say Yes to the Dress and My Big Fat Fabulous Wedding and Platinum Weddings, and not a single one called We’re Going to City Hall at Noon if I Can Get this Report Finished and Find a Hairbrush.
“I want this to be the wedding of the century,” shrieks a woman named Tammie in an episode of My Big Fat Fabulous Wedding, while a wedding designer named Pavel, whose sole job appears to involve draping crystals on trees, looks on in terror. This is how weddings are presented on screen, not as a dance of love and affection but a transaction, a spectacle, a really big show. All brides are screeching harpies and all grooms are sad Dagwood Bumsteads who trail after them silently with open wallets. (Did I mention how insanely sexist the bridal-entertainment complex is?)
“The choice of gift is always up to the giver,” according to the Emily Post rules of wedding etiquette. I’m afraid that Emily, or whatever unpaid intern is writing under her name, is a quaint relic of an earlier age. These days, it’s an extravagant show, and the ticket prices are high.