My parents got married at City Hall. My mom was wearing a caftan over her baby bump (I was born a few months later) and my dad wore a V-neck sweater, high-heeled boots and five o'clock shadow. It was the '70s and the whole thing cost as much as the marriage license. Granted, it didn't last, but as I'm sure you've noticed, most marriages don't.
I can't imagine having a wedding like that, though I try to; it would certainly be within my budget. But when I close my eyes, I can't help but see a big white dress, bouquets of roses, maybe a romantic boat ride. And I'm not one of those girls who's dreamed about getting married since I was five, and in fact, I don't recall thinking about it much at all until the late '90s, when suddenly, it seemed, weddings were everywhere.
In the '50s and '60s, weddings were big, costly and serious. Yes, the whole shebang had a high price tag, but you only did it once. In the '70s and '80s, weddings were small, cheap and optional. If you bothered getting married, you could now do it outside of a church, and a divorce was quick and easy to obtain. Getting married was getting less and less important. Goldie and Kurt didn't bother, and neither did a lot of other people, bringing back a very old idea indeed -- common-law.
And then reality TV was born, Darva Conger married her millionaire, Trista married Ryan, Rob married Amber and perhaps coincidentally, weddings now cost an average of $20,000. Weddings of the new millennium have all the expense with none of the seriousness. They are beautiful, elegant but entirely disposable. The divorce rate is holding steady at the 50 percent established by the sexual revolution, but now getting hitched costs as much as buying a new car, and most weddings are paid for by the bride and groom, usually on credit. So, if you're lucky, you'll be finished paying off your wedding by the time the divorce comes through.
I'm not saying that television alone is responsible for the rise of the 'Me and My Special Day' brand of wedding insanity we now live under. But it's part of the storm of factors, including fear of AIDS and the rise of the religious right, that have led us to this pass.
I suppose it's bad enough that we can no longer conceive of a wedding that costs less than a university education, but what really gets me hopping mad is the way the new wedding industry makes fools of women. Is there anything we love to hate more than a bride? The worst of them, we call an actual monster, a "bridezilla," but even on shows like 'Say Yes to the Dress' and 'Rich Bride, Poor Bride' it's clear we're not supposed to respect, love or even really sympathize with the women portrayed. They are, no matter how nice, no matter the circumstances, spoiled and petty. The 'My Special Day' ethos of the modern wedding industry means the only time you really care about the bride's wishes and choices are when the bride is you.
While reality channels and other women's networks make sure we dream meringue dreams and secretly hate each other, network television holds up their end of the bargain by keeping marriage a central theme on dating shows. It's really kind of incredible. During the first hour of the 'Bachelor Pad' premiere, I lost count of the number of broken engagements referred to by the nubile and clearly hot-to-trot cast. In 'Bachelor'-land, we are almost all the way back to the '50s. You don't have to be married to have respectable sex, but you do have to be engaged. Sex is the subtext of every exchange -- just like it was in the heyday of the 'The Dating Game' and other racy shows -- but the message is that all this screwing around is fine as long as it's in service of finding a spouse. It's too bad, because other than the constant references to rejected rings and broken dreams of a future forever, 'Bachelor Pad' is a perfectly serviceable sudsy dating show.
The worst part about it is that it's all a great big lie. No one wants Vienna and Jake to get married and live happily ever after, and that's not what they've been hired to do. We want to them to f--k and fight, if you'll pardon my directness, and the fact they do so is why they continue to get screen time. What sucks is how this gets couched in terms of marriage, which simultaneously degrades the respectability of marriage and erodes the position of people who are excluded from it either by law or by choice.
Like I said, I know TV didn't did do this by itself, and certainly not without our permission. I've always said the boob tube is the ultimate democracy -- if we don't watch, it gets canceled, and at one point, the 'Bachelor' franchise was on the chopping block. It's come roaring back, but I do wish we could skip the nuptials and get straight to the sexy hot tub party with the rejects. If we insist on imitating what we see on the screen, at least sexy hot tub parties are less expensive and way more fun than weddings -- plus everyone is invited.