“Will the family and friends please rise at this time”, says the priest as the chapel doors swiftly open and bright light pours into the room. A harp is softly strummed as the bride takes her first step in her fabulously diamond-studded, red-bottomed Louboutin stilettos. Crimson roses cover the floor she walks on and the detailed ruffles of this season’s latest, ivory Oscar De La Renta gown sweeps past her guests in one graceful, rehearsed entry. The beautiful diamonds in her ears and around her neck gleam, simultaneously, with the large engagement ring wrapped around her perfectly manicured ring finger. She approaches a smiling man in the expensive tux that complements hers, with a silver, Michael Kors watch that came out just months prior. The Bride cries before she even makes it to the altar. Aww! This is what dreams are made of for the brides of TLC’s Four Weddings, Say Yes to the Dress, and WE TV’s Bridezillas. The cost of the materials for a wedding ceremony and reception may have been thousands, but these brides paid for their ultimate wedding day with a life sentence! By the end of every episode of these three wedding related, reality television shows, the bride continues to reflect on her “one perfect day” that was all about her. These shows reflect the hegemonic culture based society that values materialism rather than the value of marriage. Every little girl always imagined that “a happy ending was one with a man in it,” yet these shows suggest that young American women desire the wedding, not the husband (Crane, 34).
To Americans, “modern” means the furthest from traditional, therefore, in many cases, farthest from love and commitment. “Today’s wedding business is a staggering $70 Billion industry” and it relies “on a very powerful meaning-making apparatus guaranteeing our compliance and consent to participate” (Howard, 82). An immense amount of money is being poured into every aspect of this grand wedding every year as it growingly deviates from the small, traditional and religious ceremony that revolved around the coming together of two people. “The traditional (often romantic) notions of the wedding as primarily a religious ceremony, public declaration of true love, or communal celebratory event” have been consistantly dwindling away (Boden, 19). Instead, the wedding has become a “cultural event or performance which generates its meaning primarily through consumerism” (Boden, 19). The American wedding has become a platform through which to display one’s good taste, affluence, and proper consumption behavior.
But Wait!!!! Reality television shows that displayed ostensibly truthful representations of the bridal consumption experience didn’t come first, the materialistic American did! The wedding industry and consumption has been taught and sold to every little American girl: “our mothers may have had careers, but they married young; they got divorced but they got married again; they went to work but they still put dinner on the table. I understood early on that marriage, at the very least, shared the top spot on the list of goals” (Crane, 33). Even toys were created to reflect this desire to one day get married and have a wedding. Barbie dolls came all dressed in white with their partner, Ken, pre-arranged for marriage. The fairy tale aspect of the wedding ceremony has been the stuff that dreams are made of since the very moment on February 10, 1840, when Queen Victoria debuted her elaborate white gown made of heavy silk satin. The wedding became so much more than love and partnership, it became the colossal fashion show that it is today.
According to a survey reporting results based on “nearly 13,000 brides and grooms in 2013,” the cost of the average wedding is at an all-time high. Surely love didn’t persuade these brides to buy those $2000 shoes they saw in the Versace window display. The Knot says that “Couples are more focused than ever on creating a unique, personalized and once-in-a-lifetime experience for their guests.” According to the “Top 2013 Wedding Statistics the average American wedding costs $29, 858, a cost that excludes the price of the luxurious honeymoon (The Knot). This particular website then goes to list other significant statistics such as: most expensive and least expensive places to get married and average spent in each, the most popular month to get engaged and to get married, the most popular wedding colors, and percentage of destination weddings (The Knot). The average marrying age, number of guests, number of bridesmaids, number of groomsmen, and the length of engagement were also reported throughout the study. When given the title “wedding statistics” one might expect something different such as “how many weddings occurred in 2013,” but like other forms of popular culture these statistics are set up for brides to be. This information reflects something that is much more important to today’s American bride, they present ways in which the bride can make her wedding BIGGER and BETTER!
The wedding industry began growing due to this huge and meaningful event, but also hoped of incorporating reality television shows as a big “meaning-making mechanism”. In addition to websites, such as TheKnot.com that contributes to the over consumption of the amplified American wedding, the genre of reality television has become a reflection of the modern day bride. One of the most popular wedding related, reality televisions shows, Four Weddings, explicitly displays the competitive mentality of the modern day American bride. TLC’s Four Weddings, consists of four distinctly different brides that vary both in taste and style. The four brides have each decided to attend the weddings of three other brides in a chance to win a free honeymoon to some wonderful destination. However, in order to win the honeymoon the winning bride has to have the absolute best wedding according to the remaining three brides. This show literally turns the materialistic side of the wedding into a competition that demeans the value of marriage. Each wedding is gone to and scored by the other brides based on: ceremony, dress, venue, food, and entertainment. While some points are awarded for how sentimental one gets during their vows, and double points if they cry, the overall wedding is judged on the beauty of the ceremony as an event, not a coming together of two people. The authenticity of the emotional bride is not as big of an aspect as the ability of her make-up to stay perfect as she sheds her tears.At the end of every episode is disappointingly the only time in which the groom is even mentioned at all. The focus of the show, as a reflection of what viewers are responding to and asking for, is all materialistic. Throughout season 5, the groom (as in the other person in the marriage) is only in the show for 20 minutes. That is 20 minutes, out of 12 hours throughout an entire season, therefore, representing that the male is only a prop in the grand scheme of their competitive wedding.
Aside from the competition aspect of the wedding, there is an additional pressure when it comes to the bride’s wedding day; the pressure to transform into the beautiful and excessively hyper-gendered, princess whose desirable look should be one of fragility. This can be displayed through another TLC wedding, reality television show titled Say Yes to the Dress, a show that has been a hit in popular culture by the oh’s and ah’s of tuned in brides across America. This notorious show consists of several different brides that come into the dress studio surround by family and friends. The 30 minute show consists of a frantic bridal consultant that racks her brain and gown venue in order to assist the bride in picking out the dress that fits her literally and that, more importantly, fits her style. The brides in this show seemingly try to please the people that they are surrounded by, rather than themselves. Rarely do the brides have a focus of pleasing their significant other (or not so significant other) that will be waiting at the end of their elaborately decorated, ceremonial aisle. With the average spent on a wedding dress being, $1,281, this show has little to no mentioning of the groom throughout the entire show: “it seems their primary acceptable role is as financier” (Just Say Yes!). This show often highlights the unusualness of the man’s presence and deems him as problematic. The bridal salon is reaffirmed as a woman’s domain and as an inappropriate and unfamiliar arena for men’s involvement and opinions.
Then there is the reality TV show that many women turn on for a good laugh as they watch others try and plan the wedding of their dreams: We TV’s Bridezillas. “My mission was to have the “Best Wedding Ever,” and if you know a lot of people that are getting married around you, it turns into a competition” says Joraine in a blog following Bridezillas, “Yes, a wedding is about Love and Unity but once you know you already have that, you want more. I wanted everything “Better than yours” and everything I had envisioned turned out perfectly” (Bridezillas Blog). This particular show is a primary example that the wedding is all about the bride. Bridezillas is a show in which cameramen follow brides around as they literally stomp, yell, and complain all in attempt to plan and organize their wedding day. This show exposes brides who are angry, cursing, violent, screaming, crying and overall just impossible to please when it comes to their wedding. According to Amy Bloom, a former bride and author of the article, “Weddings for Everyone” argues that this is an indicator that the wedding is all that they are after: “brides who cannot enjoy their own wedding are either possessed of too much knowledge (the marriage is a mistake) or too much something else (like women who scream when the bouquet has one too many sprigs of baby’s breath)” (Bloom, 346).
Every episode of Bridezillas ends in a wedding so that the audience is able to see if all turned out as planned and then the bride reflects on how her day went. Every bride on the show is absolutely aware of what is being filmed and seems to willingly embrace it as acceptable behavior. Almost every bride in season 10, when asked about the show, claimed that their excuse for such terrible behavior was because “it was her big day,” “it was not going the way she envisioned her wedding day,” or some other similar lack of explanation. The brides of Bridezillas have come to focus more on the “I” in wedding than the “we. “When you dream of getting married as a little girl, everything is magical and perfect; however that is not the case in real life! Nothing goes according to plan, to achieve your vision you end up going over your budget and it seems to end up more of a headache than a once in a lifetime experience!” complains a bridezilla after all is said and done, with disappointed results from her day. “Everything went wrong” to the point that she is already planning a re-do because she hated her wedding day so much, (and only gained a husband out of the day). In addition to her hating her day, she can’t even enjoy time with her new husband because so much money was spent in the wedding that they have none to go on a honeymoon with!
As Bridezillas’ fan base grew larger, the audience demanded more about the brides after their wedding day and We TV then included a blog where bridezs from that season could log on and post about the difficulties and highlights of their big day. Ariel, a bride from season 10- episode 1, says in her blog that, “being selfish is really what makes me a Bridezilla when, in fact, every bride should be a Bridezilla on her wedding day. No one else matters that day besides you and your groom (more or so you and how you look than anything else)” (Bridezilla Blog). While Ariel mentions her groom in her blog, she fails to reflect this idea throughout the entire episode as she takes more of her anger out on him for not making her day perfect. The groom and marriage seem to matter less as Haley, another bride in the same episode, claimed that the planning took every minute that she had even neglected to write her vows (one would think was the most important part of the planning, however these brides had different priorities)!
“But when it’s over, we’ll be married,” could possibly be the most frightening statement to the brides of reality television (Chocano, 87). Although the purpose of a wedding is love, unfortunately the brides of these three reality television shows have confused their fairytale weddings with the idea that they will lead to a
fairy tale marriage. (Think again!) Bloom differentiates the two: “marriage is all about the long road, about terror and disappointment, about recovery and contentment, about passions of all kinds. Weddings are about a party—- which is why I think marriage should be approached with blinking yellow lights, orange safety cones, and all other signs of great caution, and weddings should be encouraged as things apart (Bloom, 347). It is because of the confusion, that after the height of the party and the honeymoon phase are over, the argument that the bride was only in it for the wedding, is made evident. One of the most important parts of these shows, that convey the truth about weddings, can be found in the inability to make the marriage work after the wedding is said and done. While recording the shows, the industry thrives off of the framing, and even create certain episodes where they check in on the brides of Bridezillas to see if they are still together. As Ingraham notes, “With nearly half of all marriages ending in divorce and the historical necessity of marriage diminishing, the wedding market ‘needs’ the fantasy of the once-in-a- lifetime extravaganza/spectacle or it would cease to exist” (Ingraham, 75). The desire for weddings even occurs several times throughout the lives of woman with reality television normalizing divorce and remarriage: “thirty percent of wedding industry revenue is estimated to be derived from remarriages,” so this statistic (along with the show’s claim to depict the “real”) may figure prominently in the choice to present this non-traditional narrative” (Ingraham, 30). Crane comments on the brides’ tendency to aim for the best day saying, “you want it to be wonderful, memorable day, but you don’t want to look back and say, ‘That was the best day of my life,” the implication being that all that followed wasn’t, and I have been to some wonderful weddings that ended in divorce” (crane, 37).
After closely analyzing these particular shows it was concluded that only the first or last minute allows a short segment of the groom, only as it was relevant to how the female became a bride, or as a prop. The majority of the narrative in these three reality television shows focus on the attention, investment, and angst of it all. The amplified American wedding process has become an exclusively female domain over an event for couples as it has now shift to the female’s day to throw her fairytale event. Four Weddings, Say Yes to the Dress, and Bridezillas reflect this female dominated space that deviates from the initial purpose of the occasion, which was once for commitment. The wedding is so bride oriented that, in all actuality, the groom sneaks to the altar through the side door (a procedure that was not questioned in the opening of this article when the bride made her GRAND entrance). Brides want weddings due to the aspects of: competition, chance to play dress up, and their perfect/fantasy day, therefore showing the modern day view of women. Popular culture utilizes framing in these three reality television shows by offering emulative wedding fantasies, normalizing them, and presenting consumption as a means of achieving these romantic ideals. Popular culture reflects the modern day American woman, in regards to the wedding, so much that the grooms of all these shows have been cut out. The absence of males in these shows leave America wondering what came first, the shows or the consummerism. The amplified American wedding is depicted through reality television shows as training mechanism to create wedding consumers that deflect attention away from the institution of marriage. The crisis of marriage is one that is cut out of television in order to use the shows as a powerful tool in supporting the wedding fantasy
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