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Tuesday, June 12, 2007

 

Weddings

There was an interesting article in the Guardian magazine this weekend about the 'Bridezilla' phenomenon, making the point that all the stories about Brides Behaving Badly may express a deeper cultural sense that the wedding industry, with all its expensive paraphenalia and presentation of fripperies as essentials, is out of control. It reminded me of another article I read a while ago, which argues that the main aspiration expressed by an elaborate wedding is social status rather than romance.


What's really striking is that both articles talk about Disney. 'Ethnographers tell us that wedding ceremonies integrate the new couple into their social community ... providing a coherent definition of "who we are".', says the Boston Review article, going on to quote a magazine suggesting that brides learn how to dance by watching old movies. Both articles make the point that weddings tend to create a feeling of needing a tradition, while the Disney/old-time movie/princess-for-a-day modern idea isn't actually that traditional, in that it's not been around very long.


But I wonder. Does the fact that you got your idea from a movie mean that it's not traditional?


Movies are, after all, a central cultural experience in an unwieldy age. Communications technology means that we're part of a far bigger community than we can really get our heads around, and shared entertainment becomes a uniting force because it's one of the few things everybody has encountered. Meet a total stranger and try to start a conversation, and you'll probably find that TV and movies are a good beginning point. Besides that, movies are by their nature an overwhelming experience, designed to ravish your senses. Naturally they're memorable to the point of being formative: they're designed to be.

A lot of people knock Disney, either for being cutesy or for being a hugely powerful corporation. Politically I'd want to know more about them before I assumed they were an evil company, but that wouldn't necessarily prove that they produced bad art, and while they are sometimes cutesy, they've produced some good films over the years, and that deserves respect. The Disney princess works, because she's a complete assimilation of a little girl's ideas of what she wants to be when she grows up: beautiful, nicely dressed in those huge, elastically-swirling skirts that animation does so well, kind, beloved, admired. And, exposed to the idea when you are a little girl, it seems natural that it should make a deep impression on people.


Which is to say, dressing up like a Disney princess when you come to get married is not as deracinated as it seems. We don't have traditional dances or traditional foods, at least not if you're WASPy, but we have traditional movies that are as much a part of our everyday culture as a dance or a song. They are all, after all, works of art.


I can see that there's something embarrassing about wanting to be Disney's Cinderella for a day, or possibly so: it's not as couched in organic, ethnic tradition as a Fiddler On The Roof style party (but then again, I'm getting that idea from a movie). I know I've particularly enjoyed weddings between people from different religions or cultures where the ceremony combined the two - a Catholic-Jewish ceremony, a British-Sri Lankan one - partly because they seem to express the idea of combining two people's differences to create a harmonious whole, which is one definition of a happy marriage, and also because it's interesting to see how other cultures do it. But if a wedding is about tradition, about what we remember knowing all our lives, then Disney films are part of that.

None of which is a reason to bankrupt yourself, of course, or shout at your bridesmaids, or in any way act stupidly or unpleasantly - but let's be fair to the big-white-dress fantasy. It's not a sign of our removal from our culture: it is our culture.

Comments:
It's not so much that the Disney princess encapsulates what little girls are striving for; it's that little girls accommodate that as what they should be striving for. Viewed that way, it becomes less innocent :D.
 
True enough. But the desire to look pretty doesn't necesarily mean the desire to be nothing but decorative, no? I've known brides with quite forceful personalities who still go the who bit on the white dress...
 
Indeed not. But there's something reprehensible about our society presenting girls with these ideals and then sneering at them for adopting them, no?
 
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