Monday, April 30, 2007

Who begat Bridezilla?

I just finished reading Rebecca Mead's One Perfect Day: The Selling of the American Wedding, published by Penguin Press and will be hitting bookstores this May. In it, Mead sets out to get to the bottom of what she terms "Bridezilla culture" that sense of entitlement that turns normal every day men and women into self-absored monsters, by examining the $161 billion dollar wedding industry made up of people who she describes resent the very people on whom they depend.

From bridal media, wedding planners, officiants, photographers, videographers, churches to bridal gown salons, Mead travels the country, and parts of the world (that $3,000 couture gown you're eyeing, chances are, the skirt could have been assembled by a seamstress in a factory in China for as little as .40 cents an hour) observing and interviewing notables, such as Colin Cowie, Beverly Clark and Richard Markel, president of the AFWPI.

What Mead discovers in her quest is that American weddings no longer signal a transition into adulthood or a young woman's departure from her childhood home to her husband's home, and it certainly no longer heralds the start of a young woman's sexual life. Therefore, weddings today mark the transition of a young woman as a new kind of consumer: "The $100 Billion Dollar Engaged Woman," who will not only spend money like it's water to have a wedding that is representative of her lifestyle and tastes, but also with the hopes that said wedding will mean a real shot at happily ever after. Sadly, she points out, that many of today's marrying couples are without traditions, and therefore end up buying into what she terms the "Traditionalesque" (the wedding industry's marketing machine) and everything celebrity.

Funny, yet irritating, I could not put down this book, which was also at times encyclopedic. Mead examined the history of many popular contemporary ceremonial readings and rituals (i.e. the unity candle) - daytime television and movies - and the popular Mendelssohn's "Wedding March" occurs at the "wedding" of an ox to an ass in A Midsummer's Night Dream. It also answered a vexing question: why do Catholic priests dislike flash photography? Mead's comical description of her "characters," and uncanny ability to point out the absurd in bridal marketing had me laughing out loud many times.

However, as a wedding planner, I bristled at chapter two, The Business of Brides or "the novel career calling of the professional wedding planner." This career, novel indeed, as Mead points out that many women and their mothers, aunts, etc., now work full-time and don't have the time to make the wedding planning a family affair as was done in the past. A good thing too, because I remember all too well some of those family planned weddings from my childhood that often times turned into name-calling, food-throwing, family vs. family brawls that would make today's World Wrestling Federation matches look like afternoon tea parties. Yet somehow Mead manages to make us mediating and organizing professional wedding planners come across as pinata hitting, bride loathing lushes, who are just as caught up in the bright lights of celebrity as our clients and are partly to blame for Bridezilla behavior and the upward spiral of wedding day expectations. Generalize much? She even manages to tarnish some of the shine on my hero Colin Cowie.

Fortunately, Mead did put a nice disclaimer at the start of her book about such generalization, so I can't dislike her too much. I only wish she had stopped at my house for wine and to talk weddings. I could have told her about how much thought went into our business plan and the tagline of our company: "uncomplicated, yet undeniably elegant." I could have also told her about a whole segment of wedding planners out there who work tirelessly to keep their clients from being sucked into the vortex of Bridezilla culture, and only want to help them enjoy the process from I will to I do, but that doesn't sell books.

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