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The Wedding Industry Has Gone Off The Rails

Date January 04, 2012
The Wedding Industry Has Gone Off The Rails

I used to want to get married. I'm sure my boyfriend will be surprised (and perhaps relieved) to read that in the past tense. I still want to be married one day, but I'm less and less sure I can hack the getting married part. The actual wedding, I mean.

As "Four Weddings Canada" debuts this week on Slice -- the fourth edition of this franchise, after the original UK, then American and Australian versions -- it finds me depressed about the state of blessed unions. The show has a simple format: four brides attend each others' weddings and then rate them. The highest score wins the happy couple a luxury honeymoon. Sounds pretty innocuous, I suppose, except I'm fairly sure it's just formalizing something people do at weddings anyway. Judge them, complain about them, and try not to laugh or yawn too obviously.

But is it innocuous? I can't help but find it less and less so as I attend the weddings of my friends; friends who cannot afford to buy homes, escape on a luxurious honeymoon or even save for the future. Or worse, these friends have to hear of the divorces of couples who are still paying off the debt they incurred to throw their weddings. In the debut episode of "Four Weddings Canada," the brides (combined) spend over $100,000 on parties that are condemned by their compatriots as too long, too plain, badly catered, and in one instance, "crazy." Three of the four spend more than the national Canadian average on their weddings. That's more than $23,330, and in some cases, significantly more. No wonder one of the brides gushed about how much she wanted to win the honeymoon -- she and her husband can't afford one.

What really disturbs me about the trend away from simple city-hall and at-home weddings for my generation is this idea that it's a return to some Camelot-like past, where weddings were pricey, dresses pouffy, and people stayed together. In 1945, the average wedding cost about $2000 and happened at church or at home, often in a dress the bride sewed herself (though yes, they were often meringue-like). Between 1945 and 1990, the average cost of a wedding went up by 700 percent, then doubled again by 2007 -- massively outpacing inflation.

You would think with the recession, Occupy movement and the new awareness of debt as a major threat to financial stability on both the macro and micro scale, that the amount two people are willing to spend on a party would be declining, but it continues to go up. In Canada, it jumped by another couple hundred dollars in 2011.

And knowing all this, it's hard not to think of the contestants on "Four Weddings" as anything but fools. But in case you managed not to, the snarky announcer who lightly ridicules them will remind you. Because as we all know (sigh, we're still on this too), the only thing sillier than a woman is a woman planning a wedding. It's enough to make your head spin the way the show asks you to take both the wedding and the brides seriously and yet mock them at the same time. One of them may win a fancy vacation, but when it comes to how they are portrayed on television, they can't win.

So instead of having the desired effect on me -- namely, to get me to spend a lot of money on a wedding (and if you doubt this is the aim of the show, watch the ads that come up during the hour) -- it's part of a churning industry that's turned me off the idea completely. Why would I want to spend the equivalent of a down payment on a house or the entire price of a quality brand new vehicle so I can look and feel like an idiot, all over a party people will think isn't good enough anyway?

There is one group, however, that does win with this show. Since the locations, decorations and venues are part of the ceremony, the most expensive elements of the show are paid for. And it counts as Canadian content, so the producers qualify for subsidies to keep the Canadian television industry strong. Those subsidies come, of course, from taxpayers. So enjoy the party -- because you helped pay for it!

 

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